Ooh, today’s a good post! I’ve got former police officer Rebecca Hendrix here for an interview! Like a tough chick in fiction? Well, she’s one in real life! Read on.
What got you interested in being a member of law enforcement?
My name is Rebecca Hendrix. I started dispatching for a sheriff’s department right out of high school. I was barely eighteen and needed a job and my ex’s sister was a dispatcher. I would sit with her at night and learned how to dispatch before I ever graduated. I learned a lot from her, in life and in law enforcement. I was still dispatching when I turned twenty-one, but I wanted out from behind the radio. As a dispatcher, I would always make the officers give me the details of the call and I always wanted to see the crime scene pictures, it didn’t matter how bad or how bloody they were. I fell into the profession, but it gets in your blood; once it’s there it’s hard to do anything else. I handled some of the toughest calls of my career as a dispatcher, being a voice and an ear to people who are going through hard times.
I imagine that being a dispatcher would be emotionally taxing. After all, you’re sitting at a desk while the nightmare’s happening out there and there’s only so much you can do.
You mentioned getting into being a 911-dispatcher because of someone you knew, but I’m curious if you came from a family of cops.
HA! No! I’m the black sheep of the family. My mom went to prison for drug trafficking when I was fourteen and my dad was in and out of jail all my life up until he died from drinking and driving. I can’t remember my dad ever having a valid driver’s license. There are many other family members that have been in and out of jail and still are all the time.
If I could classify my family as anything, I would say I come from a military family. Both parents were military and most of my uncles and cousins have gone into the military. It’s something my kids want to do as well. I was unable to join the military, due to being born with congenital hip dislocation. I tried. They said it was an automatic disqualifier. That is how I got into security contracting and going Qatar, Iraq and Afghanistan to work on military bases as a civilian-security professional.
Wow, very impressive. What police departments have you worked for?
I have actually worked for a few. I started my career with the LeFlore County Sheriff’s Department and have worked there twice, I have worked for the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Department and worked part time for the Heavener Police Department. My last position before I went to Afghanistan was with the Wagoner County Sheriff’s Department where I worked as the tax deputy. All departments were in Oklahoma.
Tell us a bit more about your journey in law enforcement.
Oh man, where do I even start? It has never been easy, but it’s always been worth it. I knew as a dispatcher that it was something I wanted to do, and I pushed myself to get there. I was certified as a reserve officer in 2005 and worked unpaid as a reserve to prove myself. Back then, where I’m from it still wasn’t to common to have female deputies. It wasn’t until 2013 that I was able to go through the full-time state academy. In 2008, I was told that I would never go full time without sleeping with someone.
Just inserting here, “What the hell?!!!” Sorry, continue…
That’s not who I am. In 2008, I took a job in Qatar, a middle eastern country on an American Military Base with Dyncorp. Leaving my kids to go overseas was the biggest decision I think I have ever had to make. When dad does it, no one bats an eye. I learned a lot and grew up a lot in that first year. I met some amazing people and then later transferred to Iraq with a different company. When I came home in 2012, I feel like I had grown a lot as a person, as a parent, and as an officer. After that is when I really got started with my full-time officer career. After the academy I fast tracked and got as many certifications as I could. I am now a certified investigator, instructor, forensic photographer and many others. Anything pertaining to investigations intrigues me and I’m always wanting to learn more.
You’ve shared pictures on social media about your time in Afghanistan. What was your mission over there or what capacity did you serve in?
I was a civilian security contractor. The Department of Justice and the Department of State will use civilian professionals to fill jobs on military bases to keep from sending more and more troops overseas. In Afghanistan I was working as a guard that controlled access control points to flight lines and ammunition supply. I also did some administration work but that’s not as cool sounding, lol
We were first connected when you reached out to tell me you really relate to my character Detective Madison Knight. What is it specifically about her? In my books, Madison has to put up with old-school mentality among the brass. Is it tough being a woman in law enforcement? (Aside from the lewd—and very inappropriate comment you were told!) Is it still thought of as a boy’s club? Will you share your experience and viewpoint?
When I first read about Madison, all I could think of is, “Oh My, this chick is me.” Her personal life is as much as a disaster as mine is! I don’t know that it was any one thing about her, it was so many things, her entire personality and persona describes me to a T.
To an extent it will always be tough for women in law enforcement, some areas are better than others and it’s getting better for females. There are more females now than their ever have been. You have to be a tough chick with a hard shell and be able to roll with the punches. Most of the time it’s all about attitude. If you have the faith and the desire, you can achieve anything you want. It’s not as much of a boy’s club now as it was when I first started. I’ve been at departments where I was the only female and sometimes that meant being the only female in neighboring counties and departments as well. It also meant you couldn’t blame anyone else if someone called to complain on you. When you’re the only female, there’s no denying anything! LOL. Females bring a different type of attitude and expectations to law enforcement. There are things women can accomplish that men wouldn’t be able to. People look at women as being more “motherly” and that can work in your favor.
There was once a male subject in a predominantly black neighborhood where drugs were running rampant. This male subject had gotten into fights with every deputy we had and the first time I had to deal with him I was alone—and a lot skinnier than I am now. Well, I approach this six-foot-five, very large man and he was not at all happy to see me. He knew that since I was a female, I was going to arrest him for the domestic I was called on and not the ex-wife who broke into his house. As soon as I got out of the car, he was cursing me and calling me everything in the book. I knew he was a tough fight, and I knew who he was. He hated the cops and he made it clear. Scared to death, I stood my ground and with my hands on my hips, I walked right up to him and told him to shut up and listen. There may have been a few other things said, but when I was done, I had his respect. Any time after that he would request me. He still managed to get into altercations with a few of the other guys, but if I ever had to arrest him, he never fought me. It was never white or black when I was involved and he knew that neighborhood inside and out. He made it known to everyone that I was fair, and I never had issues that some of the other deputies had when they had to go there.
That’s fantastic! Now, is the “thin blue line” something that’s blown out of proportion in the media or is it as strong as it’s presented?
The thin blue line is a funny thing. When you are active law enforcement, it’s an unbreakable bond and as strong as they come, a second family. You spend more time with your partners than you do your family, but that same line isn’t as strong when you leave. Some communities it may be different, but my experience is that when you aren’t working, you aren’t always remembered.
Rebecca, hopefully that will change one day. All officers—active or former—dedicate a portion of their lives to such a selfless and just cause. It’s sad to hear that bond may have limits, considering the amount you have in common. Testing that bond further, have you ever been in a position where you had to turn on (or report) a brother in blue?
I’ve worked in departments where officers got themselves in trouble and were investigated and/or charged, but I have been lucky to not have to do the paperwork myself so far. I have left a department in the past because of actions of others. I have strong morals and I refuse to work in a dirty department if I know that it’s going on.
Awesome on you!
One question that always comes to my mind is, how do you handle the emotional toll of the job?
Wine. Just kidding.
Hey! No judgment here! LOL Red or white?
In all seriousness, though, I learned early on that even on some of the worst calls you need to have a release of some sort, a sense of humor, but a coworker to talk to helps the most. We see things that most people pretend doesn’t exist and then we have to go home to our family. Law enforcement has the highest suicide rate because of this. Some calls are easier than others, but you have to talk to someone. Even if it’s just talking through the call with your sergeant. That always helped me.
What is one of the toughest spots you’ve been in as a cop or in Afghanistan?
That’s a tough one to answer. I think that even with all the daily rockets and mortars being shot onto the base in Afghanistan, I never really worried about them.
Wow, you’re one tough lady!
It’s just a way of life over there. I would hear the “incoming” siren and if I was in bed, I would roll over and listen to see if I heard the boom after, and if it didn’t sound close, I would roll over and go back to sleep.
There was one time in Iraq when a rocket was shot onto the base and the C-ram shot it out of the air right above us and we hit the deck. There is a fin that spins on the rockets and that end landed next to us. We weren’t aware at first that it had been shot in half. We kept waiting for it to blow up, unable to move, but it never did. I believe I got pretty lucky on a few occasions.
I’d say and thank heavens!
Is there one case that sticks with you more than others? If so, what was it? Can you share?
I remember one of the first fatal car wrecks I responded to as a rookie reserve. The car had been destroyed by two semi-trucks and one of the passengers had been thrown from the vehicle and when it came to a rest, it landed on top of him. He was pinned from the shoulders down. I knew from the scene that he had been thrown pretty far and had been hit hard. I sat there holding his head in my lap calming him until we could get the medic helicopters to land. He kept asking if he was going to die, and I didn’t know how to answer him. I knew he would die as soon as the car was lifted off of him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that. I often replay that scene in my head. I can still see his face, I can still smell the blood, I can still see him die. The only comfort I have is that I would like to think I offered him some comfort in his last moments.
There are others but that is one that will always stay with me.
To take this interview to a more personal level, tell us about you, the woman behind the badge. What do you like to do in your personal time for fun?
I love photography. I’m always taking random photos. I like to read. I have a stack of books on my nightstand now waiting for their turn. But mostly I just try to enjoy my children whenever I can. They are growing up on me so I try to do as much as I can with them. We like to go to the beach, the movies, parks, and I love some Oklahoma Sooners football.
I also love going new places. I have been to all but 13 states. My sister and I like to take a trip to somewhere new at least once a year. Usually around my birthday in July. Some of my favorite places have been New York, New Orleans and Vegas.
Awesome! Thank you so much for letting me put you in the “hot seat.” I’d love to end our interview here, but I think there’s something else people should know. You’ve been recently diagnosed with colon cancer.
I have stage-3 colon cancer and will be enduring chemo treatments for the next six months. Being diagnosed with cancer has been a very surreal experience for me—that and the fact I was in-between jobs at the time and there is no insurance. It’s not a cheap treatment but I’m very grateful it was caught.
Now, I know you’re not looking for any pity party—and personally, I find your positive and fighting attitude inspiring—but is there any way people can help you with the expense?
I do have a GoFundMe page and also an awareness T-shirt. You can also follow my story on a public Facebook page @ RebeccaStrong.
Terrific! If you want to help Rebecca, you can do so here: