Reflections Behind the Badge
Wednesday, April 5, 2006
They've heard it before.
When yellow police tape is streaked across a struggling Prince George's County neighborhood, the telltale sign someone has been killed, homicide detectives Kelly Rogers and Meredith Bingley show up on the scene. It's 3 a.m., and they've been called out of bed.
"Which station do you work for?" Rogers has heard more times than she can count. With her smooth makeup, hot-pink fingernails and sleek chestnut-colored hair, people in the community think she's a television reporter.
Bingley, a stylish blonde who has down-to-earth looks, is pegged as a social worker. "Nobody thinks I'm police," Bingley said.
No matter that they have their police badges prominently displayed. They are not men in suits and ties, the typical look of Prince George's 26 homicide detectives.
Cpls. Rogers and Bingley are the only female homicide detectives in the county. There have been just six before them in the 75-year history of the department.
The small number of women is typical of area homicide units -- three of 15 homicide detectives in Montgomery County and one of 10 in Fairfax County are women.
The Prince George's detectives work in the most violent of Washington's suburbs, where last year there were 173 homicides, an average of one slaying about every other day.
"You have to be able to balance this job," said Rogers, explaining that every fourth homicide on rotation, they are called away from their husbands and children, usually in the middle of the night, to go to a scene. More often than not, they are greeted by a bloody body and hostile witnesses.
Male detectives also have to leave their families in the wee hours to go to homicides, but once they get there, nobody in the community is likely to address them as "honey." There have been times when Rogers and Bingley show up at a scene and someone will ask when the "real" detective will be there.
Although the gender barrier may have crumbled in many respects, the world of guns and violence is still fueled by testosterone. Of the department's 1,348 officers, about 17 percent are women.
"People say, 'You don't look like a police officer,' " Rogers said. "I tell them this is all I bring. What does a police officer look like?"