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Behind the Badge: Strayhorn redefines what it means to be a cop

Behind the Badge: Strayhorn redefines what it means to be a cop

By Logan Watson

If I asked you to close your eyes and picture a cop, what would you see?
Likely someone with a stern, expressionless face. A white male, over six feet tall, muscular, probably in his late thirties or early forties. Someone that has been in his fair share of serious situations and is still able to wrestle a perp to the ground. Someone you wouldn’t pick a fight with.
Enter Chasity Strayhorn.
Young. Vibrant. Female. Black.
She doesn’t wear dark glasses or buck up to look more intimidating. She can’t help but smile. Her personal locker at the station is covered in glittery stars and, off duty, she could give Martha Stewart some serious competition for the title of “domestic diva”.
Officer Strayhorn is almost none of the things that we would consider cop-like, which is just one of the numerous reasons that the Milan Police Department is lucky to have her.
Raised by a single mother in Huntingdon, Chasity Strayhorn had none of the light bulb moments or personality traits that would typically lead one into the field of public service. A shy girl with no real male role models for the first ten years of her life, save her absentee father and her mom’s abusive boyfriend, Strayhorn’s chief experiences with law enforcement officers came when they responded to her home on domestic violence calls.
“I was a nervous kid. I remember hiding and calling the cops; wanting to protect my mother,” she said. “I saw a lot of that going on, so I saw the police as any other kid would. As heroes. But I didn’t want to be one myself.”
Strayhorn found her escape in sports as a four-year member of Huntingdon High School’s Lady Fillies basketball team.
“My coach, David Hale, was the first man to be hard on me,” she said. “It helped me learn to respect my stepfather more. He also helped push me to give my all. To be the best I could be. I was terrified of failure.” Coach Hale’s influence was one of the reasons Strayhorn pushed herself to achieve her goals after high school. “I didn’t know what was next, but I wanted it,” she said.
After studying forensic biology at the University of Memphis, Strayhorn joined the U.S. Army Reserves, but never had a desire to go to Active Duty.
“I was helping to raise my niece at the time,” Strayhorn intimated. “I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving her behind.”
From the military to a factory job in Lexington, Strayhorn was leading an everyday life until she decided, quite literally, to follow a dream.
“I had a dream that I was a cop in a car chase, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I quit my job on Friday.  That Monday morning, I walked into the Huntingdon police station and walked out with a badge. I knew it had to be a calling.”
On a lark, Chasity Strayhorn became Officer Strayhorn, the first black female police officer in the history of Huntingdon.
“It was great. I knew the area and the people, but people wanted to use that familiarity to try and get me to cut them some slack,” said Strayhorn. “Coming to Milan was the best step I could make for my career. I’ve had a lot of new experiences that I would not have had in Huntingdon. SWAT training, homicides, gang activity…If it seems sleepy for the citizens of Milan, it means we’re doing our jobs, because there is plenty to do.”

Taking a position at the Milan Police Department also afforded Strayhorn the opportunity to become a D.A.R.E. Officer at Milan Middle School, a role she has grown to love.
“I always knew I wanted to do something with kids,” Strayhorn said. “We begin the D.A.R.E. Program around October and have a class every week for about 10 weeks.” When the D.A.R.E. Program originated, it focused specifically on warning children about the dangers of substance abuse, but now the program covers a broad variety of topics from coping with stress and cyberbullying to drugs, with a new focus on prescription drugs.
“It’s more than just saying ‘no,’” she said about D.A.R.E. “The kids have some really tough questions, and I just try to answer them as honestly as I can.” Strayhorn also said that many students take advantage of the D.A.R.E. Box, a place where they can write her anonymous notes. “It has become pretty cruicial to what we’re trying to do with the program,” Strayhorn said of the box. “Kids ask me silly things, like who my favorite band is or if I’m married, but I’ve gotten notes from kids telling me that they’re home alone, or they haven’t seen their dad in days.”
Strayhorn also stated that being a female law enforcement officer has opened up new doors for her female students at MMS.
“I’ve had girls tell me that they didn’t know women could be cops. I’m looking forward to one of those little girls going into law enforcement one day.”
“Of course I can’t say that I specialize in domestic violence cases, but I certainly take them seriously,” she said. “I’ve been there. I’ve been the one that’s had to call the police because I was scared. I’ve been the one hiding in the corner praying that the neighbors would hear and call them for me. My sister was there, so I wasn’t alone, but yeah, I can see myself in those kids.”

It’s safe to say that, no matter your background, a career in law enforcement isn’t a cushy gig that you can leave at the door when you clock out, but being an African-American female in law enforcement brings its own set of challenges, especially in today’s unstable social climate.
“The pros definitely outweigh the cons,” said Strayhorn. “When I’m writing tickets or responding to a domestic violence call, men sometimes react differently. If a male is the aggressor, they don’t want to hear a woman telling them what they’re about to do. Especially if they’ve been drinking.”
Strayhorn said her first experiences on the job were much like other rookie officers, but she found it harder to be taken seriously than her male counterparts.
“I’ve had to show that dominance. I really thought it was going to be hard to get that point across…but it’s a process. Over time, you earn that respect from the public, but it was very hard starting out. The other officers realized after a while that I could hold my own. I had to. I didn’t want them getting hurt because they were too focused on protecting me. But I’ve never had to step outside of myself and find a mean bone in my body. I hate that.”
While it took some time to prove that she was capable of carrying her weight when it comes to reaching cop-levels of intimidation, her softer side is a plus when it comes to calls that involve children.
“When you go into situations involving kids, especially on domestic [violence] calls, a lot of times, we’re so focused on the aggressor, but the kids are also in the house seeing all this stuff. I grew up around that, so I understand.”
“Of course I can’t say that I specialize in domestic violence cases, but I certainly take them seriously,” she said. “I’ve been there. I’ve been the one that’s had to call the police because I was scared. I’ve been the one hiding in the corner praying that the neighbors would hear and call them for me. My sister was there, so I wasn’t alone, but yeah, I can see myself in those kids.”
Officer Strayhorn has also found that it is easier for her to diffuse situations than her male counterparts.
“Say two males are in an argument. The last thing they need is another male in the situation. A female can soften it up. Sometimes our presence just stops it.”

While the media’s focus has seemingly moved away from the recent senseless acts of violence involving police, the last few years have been tough for law enforcement officers. Already viewed by some members of the community as “the bad guys”, Officer Strayhorn’s background makes the hostility toward police even more problematic.
“I call it ‘The War’,” Strayhorn said, recounting an incident where her “loyalty” was called into question by a member of the public.
“I’ve been asked by a black man before, ‘how do you wake up and put that uniform on?’ I asked him, ‘if you don’t want me to put it on, who do you think should wear it? If all cops are crooked because all cops are racist, do you want it to be an all-Caucasian police department?”
“It has its days, though. Especially as a black, female officer. If I wake up and see that something has happened overnight, I know that someone is going to come to me incorrect. It’s not just my white, male partners that are getting the backlash. If I have to write a ticket to someone that looks like me, if I have to arrest someone that looks like me, they go into defense mode just like everyone else. Before we got these [body] cameras? I can’t tell you how much stuff I’ve been called. Thank God my skin is thick. I may get called the N-word in Huntingdon one day, then get criticized for wearing the uniform the next day in Milan.”
Regardless of the obstacles she has faced or the occasional backlash against police, Chasity Strayhorn has not been deterred from her goal of making Milan a better place to live.
It’s really a lose-lose situation, but the only way you can win is to continue to put the uniform on. You get up. You watch everything on the news while you’re brushing your teeth, and you put the uniform on anyway.”

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