HILTON HEAD ISLAND — For this group of women, a discussion of accessories and style has more to do with bullets and badges than handbags and bracelets.
The women – 18 deputies and officers from across the state, and three trainers – spent Thursday and Friday participating in the Female Officer Survival Program, hosted by the S.C. Law Enforcement Officers Association. Among the group were officers from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and the Bluffton Police Department.
The program is designed to help female officers, who usually are smaller than many of the suspects they apprehend, survive in a profession dominated by men.
Basic law enforcement training often plays to men’s strength, size, upper-body power and larger hands.
“We learn it because we have to,” survival program creator Lt. Teena Gooding said. “But it doesn’t really work for us.”
Gooding’s survival program teaches the officers to use their legs and core muscles to subdue larger foes.
They also learn to shoot with their “weak” arm if the other is injured.
But they learned something else just as important: to build a supporting network of female officers.
They seemed to have learned that part of the lesson well Friday at the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office shooting range off Shanklin Road in Beaufort. Though many had never met before the training started on Thursday, they were calling each other “sisters in blue” by Friday morning.
Gooding began the class about year and a half ago and holds about four of them a year in different parts of the state. She works at the law-enforcement operations bureau at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and specializes in self-defense training.
She started the program after attending a larger, more expensive five-day program. State law enforcement officials asked her to design a less expensive, shorter course.
Bluffton Police Department Capt. Angela McCall-Tanner called the two-day session some of the “best training” she’d ever had, both physically and mentally. She was particularly impressed with the focus on using female characteristics to an advantage.
“I’m more capable than I believed I was,” she said between firing rounds at the shooting range. “Now, I know I have the skills that will get me home each night.”
The Bluffton Police Department has eight female officers and one trainee among its 31 personnel, McCall-Tanner said.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office has 31 women among its 231 deputies, according to Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Sgt. Robin McIntosh.
Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Melissa Macphee helped train the women this week.
Although she said she enjoys working with male officers, some of them joke about a program designed specifically for women.
When some of them ask, “Why aren’t there special classes just for men?” Macphee just rolls her eyes.
“I actively seek advanced training,” she said. “… You just have to think like a warrior.”