Fairbanks’ first black policewoman is part of a growing female presence in the force
by Tim Mowry
The toughest part about becoming a cop for Temeka Rott was taking a polygraph test that all recruits are required to pass.
It wasn’t that she had anything to hide, but having to answer a bunch of questions — she’s not allowed to divulge what they were — and knowing her future dream depended on the responses, was enough to put a person — even a future cop — on edge.
“You know you’re not going to lie about anything, but the fact you have to take it makes you anxious and nervous,” Rott said, flashing a big smile that belies the tough cop image.
Rott passed the test and now wears badge No. 313 for the Fairbanks Police Department, becoming the first black woman officer in the history of the department.
Not that Rott, 24, considers herself a pioneer who is breaking down racial barriers. She didn’t even know she was the first black woman on the force until she was told by Lt. Dusty Johnson, a 29-year Fairbanks police veteran who has retired and is now an instructor at the Tanana Valley Campus Law Enforcement Academy.
“I honestly had no clue,” said Rott, who moved to Fairbanks a year and a half ago from Colorado Springs, Colo., with her husband, Travis, who is stationed at Fort Wainwright.
She is one of five women on the 46-person force, the highest number ever, said Lt. Tara Tippett, the highest-ranking and longest-tenured woman on the force.
“When I started in 1994, there was only one other woman,” Tippett said.
The national average for women officers in law enforcement is 10 percent, she said.
“This is the first time we’ve ever reached 10 percent women,” Tippett said.
Tippett said there are advantages to having more women on the force.
“The women’s locker room used to be an oversized bathroom,” she said. “You literally got out of the shower and stepped into a locker.
“Now the women’s locker room is as big as the men’s.”
It would be nice to have another woman move up in the ranks and be promoted to sergeant or lieutenant, she said.
Someday, that could be Rott, who said she hopes to make a career out of her job in Fairbanks. But for now, she’s still trying to get a handle on being a patrol officer.
“Right now, I just want to get a grip on patrol and maybe move into a specialized unit down the road,” Rott said.
Her first day on patrol was May 18. She will be accompanied by an experienced officer for the first three months for training purposes.
There have been some exciting calls in her first month on the job, a few burglaries, some reports of shots being fired, but the biggest adrenaline rush came last weekend when she and her training officer, Doug Welborn, responded to a standoff involving an armed man with a gun in an apartment in east Fairbanks. The man, who police said was coming down from a three-day cocaine high, had threatened his girlfriend during an argument by shooting through the wall of a house in South Fairbanks before taking refuge in the apartment.
Rott and Welborn were among the first to arrive on the scene. They “assisted with establishing a perimeter around the building and making contact with the suspect,” said Rott, demonstrating that she has police-speak down.
The suspect and another man in the apartment surrendered to police without incident, but just playing a small role in the standoff was a big lesson, Rott said.
“It was definitely a great learning experience,” Rott said. “We talked about how it could play out, why we were parked where we were, the reason we hold our guns the way we do.”
Rott was 16 when she decided she wanted to become a cop. She was inspired by a female police officer named Mereesha Hale she met at a school job fair in Colorado Springs, where she grew up. Hale, who stood 5-feet-3-inches and weighed 115 pounds, made a big impression on Rott, who isn’t much bigger at 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds.
“She was so little, and I thought, ‘If she can do it, I can do it,’” Rott said.
Hale, whom Rott still talks to, suggested Rott go on a ride-along with her. Rott got her parents to fill out the paperwork and accompanied Hale on patrol.
“It was very interesting,” Rott said.
When she got out of high school, Rott joined a local volunteer fire department in Colorado Springs and became an EMT because she was too young to join the police force.
“You had to be 21 to be a police officer but 18 to be a medical assistant,” she said.
Rott was studying to be a dispatcher in Colorado Springs when she found out her husband was getting stationed at Fort Wainwright. She contacted the Fairbanks Police Department to see about becoming a dispatcher here. The department mailed her an application, she filled it out and mailed it back. Within a month, she was working as a dispatcher.
Working as a dispatcher gave Rott a taste of what cops do, but she wanted to take a bigger bite out of crime.
“I wanted to be on the other side and have an active role with people,” she said.
In her off-time, Rott calls herself a “homebody.” She likes to go hiking, and this winter she took up snowboarding. Rott is bracing for her husband’s third deployment to Iraq in September. He is part of the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
“It’s going to be tough, but I’ve got great support from people here at work and in the community,” Rott said.