|"Women in law enforcement still face
Rolling Meadows Review, Arlington Heights, IL
March 14th, 1996 -- BY ANDREA L. BROWN, STAFF WRITER
began working as a police officer in Bartlett, Joan Kopanitsanos
ordered an equipment belt for her uniform.
When she showed up for duty the day her uniform belt arrived,
her fellow officers wore it around their hat bands to
illustrate its tiny size.
Kopanitsanos took the kidding from her colleagues in stride.
It was all part of her experience as the first female
officer on the small-town force back in the early '80s.
"You have to be a little tough-skinned if you want to
be a female cop," Kopanitsanos said during a program on
women in law enforcement held at Harper College last Thursday.
After 15 years with the Bartlett Police Department, Kopanitsanos
is now a lieutenant in charge of support services. She
was one of three woman who spoke about their law enforcement
careers during Women's History Week programs at Harper.
Completing the panel moderated by Harper professor Deb
Scerbicke were Carol Lusky, a sergeant with the Hanover
Park Police Department, and Karla Osantowski, Chicago
Heights chief of police.
By the time she was 14 years old, Lusky knew she wanted
to be a police officer.
But when she was assigned to the investigations section
at the Hanover Park Police Department, her supervisor
did not know what to do with her or even what to say to
"Sure is nice to have some fluff around the office," was
about all the man could muster, Lusky said.
On a subsequent rotation, Lusky was placed on the toughest
patrol detail in town.
"It was kind of a make it or break it," Lusky said. "I
guess I made it."
While Lusky and Kopanitsanos rose through the ranks in
their respective departments, Osantowski started at the
She was named chief of the Chicago Heights Police Department
after a career as a state's attorney. Her charge was to
clean up a corrupt department that was under federal indictments
"I think the thing that cinched it was the six months
I spent in public integrity," Osantowski said, referring
to her state's attorney stint.
All three speakers last week agreed that whenever women
find themselves among the first to join a police department,
they have to get used to bucking stereotypes, including
perceptions that women might not be up to the physical
demands of the job, prone to panic in a fight or just
Kopanitsanos balked when she was asked to sign up for
extra drivers training not required of the other officers.
She felt her driving skills were just fine. After all,
she learned to drive from her father, a Chicago truck
Despite such small slights, Kopanitsanos said she had
the support of her male colleagues and eventually earned
respect from a handful of detractors.
"No one really hit on me. They were protective, but they
weren't sickeningly protective," Kopanitsanos said.
Still, many departments have not established appropriate
policies for dealing with matters unique to women.
"They don't know what to do if you're pregnant," Kopanitsanos
said. "They treat it as an off-duty injury."
Lusky said she managed to get along well with her male
colleagues - to the point where she even married one.
"I advocate police officer marriages," Lusky said. "Being
married to a police officer, you can relate."
As far as the physical demands of the of job, there are
ways to deal with situations without them escalating into
Lusky said she has been in two physical confrontation
in all her years on the Hanover Park force.
"Both were started by male officers, where you jump in
to assist," Lusky said.
For Deborah Damore, an Elk Grove Village DARE officer
who attended last week's panel, 95 percent of the job
Her colleague, Sgt. Lynn Atkinson, who also attended the
seminar, said she has been involved in a number of fights
in the process of arrests.
But physical altercations involving police officers and
offenders in Elk Grove Village have become increasingly
rare as departments increasingly stress communication
skills, she said.
The key to success as a female officer is to be yourself,
maintain a sense of humor and not try to outdo the male
officers, because each person has his or her own talent
at which they can excel, Kopanitsanos said.
"You can never be one of the boys, and who the heck would
want to be?" Osantowski asked.
© Reprinted with permission from the Rolling Meadows Review