Kathryn Sancho broke glass ceiling with Albany police

Feb. 27—ALBANY — Kathryn Sancho says it all started with a directive given by Chief Leslie Summerford to soon-to-be Chief Washington Long.

"The officer came to me and said, 'Chief is looking for a female to be an officer, and I thought about you, a person that I felt would fit the position,'" Sancho recalls. "So I came down, I was interviewed. Then after the interview, I believe he must have interviewed others; I was called back, and he said I want you for the job, so I was chosen."

The hiring process for Sancho was unconventional. She underwent the same training all the male officers had to experience, but hers was one-on-one with a certified training officer so she did not attend the Police Academy with other recruits. Later, though, she went to the police academy a second time with the new recruits, which included two to three more female officers, one being Johnnie Gibson.

"The chief did not reveal it to the department or the public," Sancho said. "He wanted to do it right and do what was best for the protection and the serving of the citizens of Albany."

Sancho told Sgt. Marita Williams it was tough when she started working in the male-dominated, majority-white department. Internally, she said, was not welcome. Instead of driving a patrol car, her supervisor trained her to walk her entire beat. During her shift, she walked the downtown Albany area up and down Pine Avenue, Washington, Broad and Jackson Streets, while her male counterparts rode in vehicles with a partner.

"My sergeant would not drive me in his car," Sancho said. "He walked me to show me where he wanted me to be. I didn't know anything, what to do, where to go. He walked steps ahead of me, and I was trying to keep up.

"I was by myself. They didn't have a uniform for a female officer. They didn't have a restroom for females, no. The chief, he found a jacket and a hat from a meter maid. I had to go into the neighborhood to find someone to alter the pants he found to fit me. I remember getting my pants altered to fit me by a lady in the neighborhood name Ruth."

Sancho said her children (twin boys and one girl) were apprehensive about her becoming an officer. They felt it was a man's job, and it was dangerous. Later, they understood once they saw how the community loved their mother and respected her role as a female police officer. The citizens of Albany wrote letters to the police department, commenting on how she was polite and helpful.

Citizens compared Sancho to the actress in the 1970's show "Police Woman." While walking her beat, she stopped by stores and employees expressed how happy they were with having her patrolling the downtown area. She became known as "Officer Friendly" and worked in the Community Relations department.

"The chief would get calls; they wanted me to come as a guest to all the schools, including Albany State College, churches, and social and civic organizations," Sancho said.

Times are very different now, Albany's first female police officer says. If she were to give any advice to the officers of the Albany Police Department, she would tell them to be honest, remember the job they signed up for, and provide service to the community.

"Be careful, stay alert, be on the job; that's alertness," she said. "Do the right thing, especially when you think no one is watching. Be respectful and respect the rights of the citizens of Albany and even your fellow officers."

When she left the Albany Police Department, Sancho became an investigator for the Dougherty District Attorney's Office.

Sancho said she recently saw a female officer as she walked out of the APD Museum. She admitted to being amazed at the equipment on the officer's bulletproof vest. She remembered that all she carried was her assigned duty weapon during her time on the force.

Sancho has a grandson, Rod Porter, who works with the GBI. Porter said when he talked with his father (a former Stone Mountain Police Officer) about going into law enforcement, he found out about his grandmother. He said he is proud to know the magnitude of his grandmother's paving the way for female officers and is proud to have followed in his father's and grandmother's footsteps.