Lesa Noblitt, a 4-foot-11 law student who majored in criminology at the University of Maryland, decided last year that she wanted to be a police officer.
First, she went to the Prince George's County police and asked for a job.
They quickly turned her away, saying she was too short, so short, in fact, that her feet could not even touch the accelerator in their squad cars.
Undaunted, Noblitt ventured, over to her hometown, Annapolis, and sought a position on the city's police force, which at the time was all-male. She got another short story. This time, as Noblitt recalled: "They said there was no hat to fit me, that there was no uniform to fit me."
Stung by those two rejections, Noblitt went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Baltimore and claimed that she was being discriminated against because of her height. The people there, saying they had never before heard of a height discrimination case, advised Noblitt to file a sex discrimination charge.
Finally, Noblitt, who knew the ins and outs of the police business from her college studies, turned to the U.S. agency that has some funding leverage over local police departments, the U.S. Justice Department. The people there took an immediate interest in her case and quickly worked out an agreement with the Annapolis Police Department to discontinue its minimum height standard for officers, which was 5-feet-4.
Under the skeptical eye of a training officer at Annapolis, Noblitt took a written test and a rigorous physical examination that consisted of push-ups, pull-ups, a 60-yard dash and lifting a 75-pound weight. She passed every test with ease.
The supervisor said he was "really surprised." Noblitt was not. "I'm really in better physical shape than most of the men," she said. "Some of the men can't touch their toes."
The job offer came last week, and Noblitt, who works by day in the Prince George's County public defender's office and attends night classes at Potomac Law School in Washington, said she probably will accept. "Annapolis," she remarked, "wouldn't be an unpleasant place to work."
Still, Bernard Kalnoske, the city's cheif of police, has trouble with the idea of his short rookie fitting into the uniform. "Whatever clothing is available, we'll have to cut it down to size," he said. "Belts, hats, clothing -- they might be a little loose, but we'll do the best we can."