Largo Police Officer Paula Crosby has been on the force for 28 years. She says being a woman was not a disadvantage for her during her career.
LARGO – If you are looking for a female police officer who will talk about how tough her job is because she is a woman, don’t ask Officer Paula Crosby of the Largo Police Department. The 28-year veteran of the force says she can’t remember a time when her gender had anything to do with her job.
“I guess what was unusual about my joining the police department back in 1985 was that I was so young. I was only 19,” she said. “I was right out of high school, still trying to find my way, but I knew I wanted to go into police work.”
Crosby, 47, grew up in Pasco County. She said back in those days, if you wanted to go to the police academy, you needed a sponsor.
“I went to the Port Richey Department and told them what I wanted to do and asked them if they would sponsor me,” she said. “I don’t know if they took me seriously or not, but they told me they would sponsor me, but they wouldn’t hire me. I don’t think they said that because I was a woman; more likely because I was only 18 at the time.”
Once again, the fact that she was a woman didn’t play a role in her time at the police academy. She said she and the other woman in the class had to do everything the men did, no exceptions. She graduated second in the class and then began an unusual road toward her job in Largo.
“I actually wanted to work for the Clearwater Department,” she said. “I had never been south of Tarpon Springs, but I got in my car and headed out to Clearwater. All police applicants had to go through a screening service; it was called PASS, the Police Applicant Screening Service.”
Crosby said she was met in Clearwater by a Captain Glover who took her to the PASS office. It still appeared she was on her way to a career in Clearwater, that is until it was time for her oral board exam.
“It turns out the Oral Board was in Largo. I went there, took it, and when I finished, Largo PD called me and offered me a job. I graduated in the summer, and by the fall I was working.”
Twenty-eight years ago, the Largo Police Department already had a considerable number of women on the force; 20 percent in fact. Crosby was nothing new or unusual to the force, and in fact, her first training officer was a woman.
That woman was Robyn Walk who is now a captain in the Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General. She remembers Paula Crosby well.
“Paula was assigned to me as a new probationary officer, and she was like so many of them, excited about her profession and wanting to learn everything and do it all,” Walk said. “She clearly was doing very well during her training and surpassed each level as it came along. Largo had a progressive program back then, and Paula passed it all, and that has been good for her long-term career.”
Walk agrees with Crosby’s take on whether being a woman made any difference, at least for the most part.
“On the large scale, I think being a woman was a disadvantage, but not in Largo. Largo had a large percentage of female officers and was doing a fine job recruiting and made large efforts to qualify females. They were very progressive, much more so than other places.”
Being a woman or not, there comes a time in every police officer’s life that could be defined as a career turning point. Paula Crosby remembers when it happened to her.
“It happened one evening. I was only 20 years old and got a call to pick up a man who was wanted. I had a warrant. He fought and threw me up against a tree and broke my nose,” she said. “I had to go to the hospital and when I went home, I remember thinking that I was either going to go back out there right away or I was going to quit. My mom was upset of course, but I said no, this is what I want to do and I’m going to stick with it. I’m going to do it.”
It was that incident and perhaps others like it that allowed Crosby to be accepted by the other officers. Especially, she said, by the older ones.
“The older generation officers may have taken a little longer to accept a woman,” she said. “But once I got my butt kicked, then I was accepted. Once they see you are not going to give up, then they know you can handle your own and you are going to step up to the plate. Once they know that, it is good.”
In her career, Crosby has received two Distinguished Service Medals, one Distinguished Service Medal with Valor, and in 1999 was Officer of the Year. She spent 10 years as a school resource officer and seven years as a recruiter for the force.
Never having risen above the rank of police officer is fine with her.
“After doing all that I did, I just didn’t want to be a supervisor,” she said. “I enjoyed the job and my time to move up just came and went. I was busy having kids and living life. I have no regrets.”
Crosby married another Largo police officer, Howard Crosby, shortly after she joined the department. He is now a lieutenant with the force; they have been married for 24 years. They have two children, an adult daughter who is a teacher and a son who is still in high school.
Her days as a Largo Police officer are numbered. She will be retiring on April 1, 2014, just over a year away. She says she is ready.
“Things have changed since I started,” she said. “These days with all the phone cameras and technology, you are constantly being scrutinized and watched, so you have to be appropriate in how you do things, which is the way we should be doing them anyway. And there doesn’t seem to be as much respect for the police now as there was when I started. I’m glad I’m on the way out and not on the way in.”
But that doesn’t mean she won’t miss some parts of the job, and she says she already knows how she’s going to feel on that last day.
“I’m going to feel pretty darn good that day,” she said. “I’ve had lots of accomplishments and had a great time, but it will be time to go. I’ll miss the people that I work with definitely, but not so much the situation on the streets that we have to deal with now.”