Females are not new to the ranks of state police in New York, but they are to Niagara County.
This month, for the first time ever, three female troopers began patrolling the county's highways and byways, said Capt. Ralph E. Pratt, State Police Zone 1 commander
Kimberly K. Feinen, a seasoned patrol officer with close to 13 years' experience, started things rolling when she came aboard late last year at Zone 1 Headquarters on Dysinger Road. The big change came Feb. 1, when Troopers Christine A. Ringo and Jill A. Pezzino transferred to Niagara County from Warsaw and Albion, respectively.
Ringo, a 10-year veteran, works with Feinen out of Zone 1 Headquarters. Pezzino, with seven years of experience, works out of the Niagara Station on Witmer Road, Town of Niagara.
Their addition brings to 23 the total number of female police officers involved in road patrol work or criminal investigations for law enforcement agencies across the county.
Why did it take so long for more female troopers to be assigned here?
"It was pretty much the luck of the draw," Pratt said. "(Troopers) tend to be moved around, either because of transfer requests or promotions. Transfers are done on a seniority basis. Male and female has nothing to do with it. It basically falls to seniority; whose name is next on the list."
Pratt said if a position in Niagara County opens up because of a retirement or for some other reason, troopers across the state can request to be stationed here. "The trooper who gets the transfer is the one with the most seniority," he said.
Based on Pratt's information, it appears female troopers here have been rare in the past because they either did not request to transfer here or did, but were low on the seniority list.
Also, despite active recruitment, there are only 330 female troopers in the state. There are about 4,300 state police officers in New York, some 3,500 of which are uniformed troopers, police officials said.
Ringo, Feinen and Pezzino said they all transferred here because they are originally from the area and have relatives in the Western New York.
"This is home," Ringo said. "I'm originally from West Seneca. My family still lives throughout the area here."
She said she worked her way back to Western New York over the past 10 years after taking assignments in Watertown, the Syracuse area, Canandaigua, Falconer and Warsaw.
Ringo, who holds an associate's degree in science from Erie Community College, said she believes she became a trooper because, "I've always been fascinated with police officers and police work" and always wanted to do public service.
After seeing the state troopers examination advertised, she said, "I just decided one day to take a shot at it. I took it once, did well and got in."
"I wanted to do something where I could help people in some way," she said.
And while she has had many opportunities to help others, Ringo said, "Unfortunately the public doesn't perceive it as that sometimes . . . as far as vehicle and traffic law enforcement" is concerned.
As for being a male-dominated profession, Ringo said being a woman officer has not been a problem for her.
"I've been treated very well by all the men I work with," she said. "As long as you walk into it knowing you are going to have to make some allowances here and there, make some changes and be one of the guys, you're not going to have a problem. I've found as long as you can do the job, that's what they care about."
When troopers need backup, "They don't care if it's a man or a woman," Ringo said. "They want to see a uniform. And if it's a competent person wearing that uniform, they don't care who comes in."
A 1988 Buffalo State College graduate who studied journalism, Feinen said she started thinking about becoming a police officer in high school.
"In high school, I had all that career testing about what my strengths and weaknesses were, and I scored very high in law enforcement," Feinen said. "That got me thinking about it."
Evaluating that option toward the end of college, Feinen said, "I liked it. It's different every day. I like being outside. I like being on the road. I like seeing a lot of people."
Pezzino said she chose to be a trooper because she "wanted to be out helping people in a job that changes day to day."
"I thought this would be a great job because it's always different . . . and you're continuously learning new skills and different ways of dealing with situations. I just said I was going to be a trooper. No one else in my family is. I just decided this was what I was going to do. I liked the way it looked. I liked the aspect of being a New York State trooper," Pezzino said.
Besides these three troopers, there are 20 other women in Niagara County actively on patrol or involved with criminal investigations.
Pratt said the new state police facilities constructed here and in the Town of Niagara in the late 1990s were intentionally designed by state police policy to accommodate female troopers.
"It was in the blueprints," he said. "Albany has a policy about what's required in our buildings. They have to be handicapped accessible, for example, and they have to have accommodations for female troopers."
The Niagara Falls Police Department has 13 female officers on its staff, including Lt. Laurel Sheehan, one of only two high-ranking women officers in the county. The other top-ranking officer is Niagara County Welfare Fraud Chief Sheila Lawrence of the Sheriff's Department.