In the previous novels, Will was wearing the hat of Under-Sheriff (along with several others of course). On a Pale Horse finds him getting a promotion he really doesn’t want. With the Sheriff very ill, Will is appointed to take his place.
Now he has to spread out some of those hats, and one in particular goes to a woman. We’ve met Pam Harmon in the previous novels. In them, she was a Town Marshal. She worked closely with Will and company, and accompanied them on raids and arrests and helped in investigating sexual assault cases. We also confirmed she’s a former Marine where she served as an MP.
Now, she’s a free agent in the universe courtesy of a run in with her town board.
When Will needs an Under-Sheriff, he asks her to come aboard.
So what does she do?
If the Sheriff’s Department were a ship, and the Sheriff is the Captain, she’s the Executive Officer. While she lets the Captains of the different departments run their own shows without interference, she stays briefed and in contact with them and strives to maintain a good working relationship. The reason for that is should Will get sick, or just go on vacation, she’d run things in his absence. As such, she worked closely with the different divisions while letting the Captains of those divisions run their own shops.
She does run the patrol division, and is a hands on supervisor. She makes up the duty rosters, figures out time off and coverage for events, such as court, and handles training and personal actions for the patrol deputies. She also patrols the county and in that role works closely with other law enforcement and county departments. One supervisory duty she wishes she didn’t have is Dispatch and Search and Rescue. In books to come, she’ll push to get someone else to watch over those.
It was a hard decision making her Under-Sheriff. Will would have preferred to move RJ into that spot, but with the vacancy in the Detective Division (Will had been Captain), and needing to keep it up and going, he had to make the hard decision of moving RJ into his old slot.
While technically second in command, Pam keeps her nose out of Detective Division and only watches those Jail Operations that impact her road deputies or dispatchers.
While I’d used Pam in my novels before, it wasn’t until recently I started giving her more depth. In my role as security with my church, I’ve had to opportunity to work with several female officers who have given me some real insight into women in law enforcement.
First, there’s still an attitude out there that women aren’t as tough as guys. Having worked with female MPs, I know that isn’t true. They trained just like we did, froze in the snow storms, got sunburned, and just kept on going. In one incident one officer related to me, she and another female officer were in a foot chase with a suspect. She’s a marathon runner and she chased the suspect for miles. Eventually they caught up to the perp and wrestled him to the ground.
When a male officer showed up to transport the perp, they all got a good laugh at the bad guy’s expense. The male officer asked the perp how it felt to “have been done in by two chicks.”
The point there is that she isn’t just as tough as the guys (most of them dropped out of the foot chase miles before), but she has to be just a little tougher than the guys. While it might have been OK for the guys to have fallen out of the chase, it wasn’t for her. It might have been viewed as weakness by superiors. As she put it, “It’s hard to be one of the boys when you don’t have a dick. We’re judged for our lack of one.”
On the reverse, folks will talk to her before they’ll talk to a male officer. As a woman, she’s viewed as more approachable and more understanding. In a bad situation, that can pay dividends.
Of course some of her customers have viewed her being a woman as a weakness, and while they might not attack a male officer, would think nothing of going after her. That causes her being a little more alert (not entirely a bad thing), but it also plays hell on her mind. Fear of attack is very real thing, and she deals with it on a more or less constant basis. She has, in some respects, become fatalistic about it, and determined that when (it is when, not if) they’re going to come after her, all she can do is to be alert and ready for them.
She’s encountered something very interesting by being a woman in what was an all male playing field. Some people assume she’s a lesbian. The idea that if you’re tough makes you a lesbian is alien to her. She’s just in a woman in a job that demands toughness, but that has nothing to do with her sexual orientation.
She feels people arrive at that through stereotyping. On television, a lot of female officers are portrayed wrong. On television, a number of them are portrayed as models with guns. In reality most female officers either wear their hair short or in a pony tail (which is also short). The TV show 911 gets that right. The idea here is manyfold. One is to give someone less to grab onto, and the other is simple care. Long hair can be a problem to care for when you’re in the trenches, and trips to the beauty salon might be far and in between.
She also doesn’t wear makeup on the street. It’s a hindrance, and not a help. Jewelry is kept to a minimum. She wears an engagement ring, a watch, and her earrings are studs. Anything that dangles is just something for someone to grab hold of. Her job is to be a Police Officer, not a super model.
The other is that she wears body armor. Body armor tends to hide that she’s a woman. Her shoes aren’t something fashionable, but the same black boots the guys wear. They’re meant to be comfortable, offer protection from the elements, but still be such that you can run and fight in them if needed.
A lot of what she’s told me is being folded into Pam’s continued development as a character. She’ll surely end up facing some of the same issues.
In one scene I’ve written, Will goes before the Board saying he wishes to bring her aboard. His suggestion is met with “amusement,” shall we say, and finally just some old fashioned disapproval. He gets his way by asking the billion dollar question, “Are you objecting on the basis of her qualifications which are perfect? Or are you objecting because she’s a woman? Think carefully about your answer.”