Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018
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Blazing a trail



The 5-foot, 5-inch, gun-toting police lieutenant is about to conduct roll call for the noon shift of about a dozen Toledo patrol officers.

Standing behind a podium, her silky jet-black hair, curled at the ends just so, shines under the fluorescent lights in a second-floor room in the Safety Building downtown.

She adjusts her glasses and begins reporting on drug deals going down in a neighborhood, citizens complaining of heavy traffic on one street, recent house break-ins in another part of town. Without breaking the flow of her sentence, she says to a patrolman who is coughing, “You alright? You're never getting over that cold,” concern in her voice. That's just Shirley Green's way.

The 27-year veteran and first woman to reach the rank of lieutenant with the Toledo Police Department recently retired; she worked her last day on Feb. 12. That day, officers she supervised had her brought to work in a limousine. Patrol cars with lights flashing lined the street in front of the Safety Building when she arrived, and dozens of officers greeted her with applause when she walked in the door.

“She's a great role model to women and to men also,” said Officer Maureen Wade, 31, after Lieutenant Green's roll call. Officer Wade joined the force in 1993.

“November of '76 is when I hit the street,” recalled Ms. Green, who turned 49 today.

At that time, when the retired lieutenant was sworn in at the age of 22, there were few role models on the force for women, especially African-American. But there were some notable African-American women who broke new ground decades ago in the Toledo Police Department.


In 1922, the year the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which provided for women's suffrage, was declared constitutional by the Supreme Court, and the first female U.S. senator, W.H. Felton, was appointed to a vacant seat, one Toledo black woman was making her own national history.

Toledoan Esther B. Ferguson, born on May 10, 1896, is recognized as one of the top 10 earliest hires of an African-American policewoman in the country.

Toledo Police Department personnel records and a book by W. Marvin Dulaney, Black Police In America (Indiana University Press, 1996), are sources for information about the local history-maker. Dulaney's book is the first complete history of blacks in policing from the Civil War to modern times.

According to local police records, Ms. Ferguson was hired on March 6, 1922. The move made the 26-year-old about the eighth earliest hire of an African-American policewoman in the United States. According to Dulaney's book, the first was in 1916 in Los Angeles; Pittsburgh's department hired a black policewoman in 1919.

Before joining the force, Ms. Ferguson's previous job was a manager of elevators. She later married, but was listed as a widow at the time of her resignation from the local department in January, 1931, making her tenure on the force just over nine years. Her badge number was 122.

Ms. Ferguson set the path for other early hires of black policewomen, including the late Dorothy Brown and the late Nina Hunt. Both were hired by Toledo in 1946 — a period still considered early for the hiring of blacks, either male or female, to city police departments.

Another Toledo woman, Ida M. Fox, is listed as the first black probation officer, hired locally in the 1930s. The first black Toledo policeman was Albert King, hired in 1900 — the same year that the city's first black firefighter, James Miller, was hired, according to retired educator Edrene Cole's 1972 thesis, “Blacks in Toledo,” for her master's degree in education from the University of Toledo. Mrs. Cole's thesis is frequently cited by historians, librarians, and the press for black history research.

Mrs. Brown and Ms. Hunt, who both said their police careers began by accident, worked in the crime prevention bureau for about 18 years before their retirement in 1974. Trained to be a schoolteacher, Mrs. Brown had just been discharged from the U.S. Army, and a friend suggested she apply to the division.

Ms. Hunt told The Blade in 1974 at her retirement that she applied to become a policewoman because a former husband and another friend thought she would be good at the job.

Like most female police officers assigned in the early years, their duties mainly involved juvenile delinquency and child abuse cases.

By the time Mrs. Brown and Ms. Hunt joined the force in the 1940s, they were members of the former women's bureau, which later was absorbed by crime prevention. They walked beats and worked on vice and rape cases, as well as juvenile and child abuse cases.


It was a friend who first encouraged Ms. Green to apply to be a police officer, but it was the retired lieutenant's father, Marshall Swan, whose footsteps she was actually following. Her father, who worked as a detective, primarily in the crimes against persons section, joined the academy in 1959 and retired in 1985 — just two years before Ms. Green was named Toledo's first woman police lieutenant.

About a week before her last day, Ms. Green, a divorced mother of one son, Michael Green, Jr., 29, sat at her desk with boxes filled with personal belongings. “They were actively recruiting women at the time. . . my son's godmother encouraged me to take the test, I felt I should go ahead and try because I was separated (Ms. Green married a month after high school graduation) and working as a bank teller.

“At the time the department was paying about $14,000 a year, which doesn't sound like a lot today, but it was more than I was making at the time,” recalled Ms. Green, who attended Spring Elementary School and graduated from Notre Dame Academy.

Ms. Green's father initially was “shocked” at the news that his eldest child of six wanted to join the force.

“Out of the clear blue sky I was buying her a doll one minute, and that went to a gun. I was constantly worried about her,” said Mr. Swan, who describes his daughter as an ideal eldest child and police lieutenant. The two get together regularly for breakfast chats.

Ms. Green and her father come from a long line of police officers. Mr. Swan's brother, Irving Swan, was a captain in Internal Affairs, and an uncle, the late Joe Carnes, also served with the department. Ms. Green now has two cousins, Robert Malone and Kathy Swan, and a cousin by marriage, Mary Swan, on the Toledo force.

Ms. Green said although she is proud of her place in local history as the first woman lieutenant, and of being a high-ranking woman of color on the force, she wants to be remembered more for her competence and fairness.

“I couldn't get caught up in the fact that I was a woman, you just had to do the job. When supervising I tried to never forget that I was once one of them [a patrol officer],” said Ms. Green.

Debbie Woodard, who retired last year from the department and now works as a case manager at the Zepf Center, recalls Ms. Green as a shy, unassuming young woman when the two entered the academy. Ms. Woodard and Ms. Green were the only two African-American women in their class of about 36, which had fewer than 10 women — and that was considered a high number at the time, said Ms. Green.

Ms. Woodard added that she and Ms. Green and other female officers benefited from a generation of women before them who fought for equality on the force, including the late Rose Reder, a white female officer who in 1969 was promoted to sergeant, becoming the first female command officer on the Toledo Police Department.

Sgt. Gloria Burks, who considers Ms. Green a mentor, said she connected with Lieutenant Green when she went through the academy in 1983.

“She was kind of an automatic role model. I had never seen a female officer before.

“Actually, I didn't consider the force as a career until after I met Lieutenant Green. I started watching her and seeing how she excelled and the respect she received from guys much older than her. When I met her she really made an impact on me,” said Sergeant Burks, whose husband, Gary, is also on the force. Like Ms. Green, Sergeant Burks, 42, will be eligible to retire at age 48.

Although leaving the force was an emotional move, she is excited about the next chapter in her life, Ms. Green says.

She is to graduate this summer from the University of Toledo with a bachelor's degree in history, and plans to also pursue a master's degree.

A genealogy and history buff, Ms. Green also is researching her family.

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