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YPD women in blue reflect on 30 years

By Katie Seminara

Monday, March 23, 2009

By Katie Seminara

Anita Davis wanted to be a translator. So she studied Russian at Youngstown State University.

Delphine Baldwin-Casey dreamed of becoming a nurse. So she took a job at St. Elizabeth’s Health Center.

Neither woman’s original career aspiration came true. Instead each has proudly worn blue for 30 years.

When they joined the Youngstown Police Department in 1978, Detective Sgts. Davis and Baldwin-Casey were two of the first women police officers to have patrol duties.

Davis was 25 years old and Baldwin-Casey was 27 when they started riding in cruisers and were sworn in with Wanda Cordero, Susan Colucci and Sharman Simon.

“For me it was just a fluke,” Davis said of her law enforcement career.

“It was no where in my mind set to be a police officer,” she said admitting that she was naive to what police work entailed.

Baldwin-Casey, too, was hesitant about signing up for law enforcement.

“Since our bunch [of women] was the first to do patrol work, we met with various resistance,” Davis said.

On a daily basis the women had to overcome the struggles of being in a “male chauvinistic work place,” she said. The two had to tolerate the sexism and comments, like “I don’t want to work with a woman.”

Even their restroom was substandard.

The department turned a small storage closet into the ladies room, Davis said.

“The bathroom was in the closet for 15 years,” she said, able to laugh about it now.

While Davis, Baldwin-Casey and their three cohorts were the first females to do patrol work, Lottie Mitchell was the first woman officer in Youngstown, according to Vindicator files. Her job title in 1921 was “Inspector of Private Places.”

The duties of her post included, “seeing that dancing in public places was proper, that youngsters conducted themselves with proper deportment in movie shows, parks, etc. and who sometimes had to see to it that elopements were nipped in the bud ...”

Mitchell and the women who proceeded her on the force were generally assigned to cases dealing only with women or juveniles, Baldwin-Casey said.

“To my knowledge, they weren’t able to carry weapons either,” she said.

In 1925 the “Inspector of Public Places” post was abolished and Mitchell became the matron of the county jail.

The title “policewoman” wasn’t used until the mid-1930’s, and even then women didn’t go on patrol.

By the late 1970’s, rules at YPD relaxed and Davis, Baldwin-Casey, along with Cordero, Colucci and Simon were assigned to routine patrol work. Of those five, Davis and Baldwin-Casey are the only two left at YPD.

“We all made a pact to stay one year,” Baldwin-Casey said.

It was a year full of being tested by men on the force, said Baldwin-Casey who believes she was purposely put on the toughest cases — decomposed bodies, fatal shootings and stabbings, among other gruesome crimes.

“What it takes most officers to see in five years, I experienced in my first year,” she said.

Neither Davis or Baldwin-Casey have lost that sense of toughness, which has helped keep them respected members of the force. After 10 years, Davis and Baldwin-Casey were finally promoted to detective sergeants.

“I’m pleased with what I’ve done on this job,” Davis said.

“I do like getting the bad guy, because I’ve seen the victims and the damage being done,” she said.

“Being able to make a difference when it came to violence against women and children,” is how Baldwin-Casey described her biggest achievement.

While Davis and Baldwin-Casey have witnessed many changes at the YPD, they’d like to see women should climb even higher on the law enforcement ladder.

“We still haven’t totally broken the glass ceiling,” said Baldwin-Casey noting that there haven’t been any female captains or chiefs.

“I was interviewed for the chief spot and that was exciting for me,” she said. “That’s something 30 years ago I never would have thought of.”

The closest a woman ever came to being chief was Norma Jean Higgins on Nov. 1, 1974.

At that time, Higgins was a 20-year veteran of the YPD and claimed the spot of Police Chief Donald Baker for one day, while he fulfilled a civil service requirement, according to Vindicator files.

“I can’t wait to see the day when we have a female police chief,” Davis said.