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The Women Officers of Ingleside Police Station

There are 335 sworn female officers in the force today, making up 17 percent of the department. What few know and may be surprised to learn is that while Ingleside Police Station may not have as many female officers as the other ten stations, it does have the most in positions of leadership.

Photograph by Emma Chiang for the Ingleside-Excelsior Light

Ingleside Police Station is responsible for an area of the City as large and populated as the entirety of Daly City.  The district it serves significantly different than others, encompassing supervisorial District 11 and parts of four other districts and containing numerous schools, public parks and more homeowners associations than days in the month. Moreover, every day, the officers of Company H, as it is called in the San Francisco Police Department, go out and get the job done.

This November marked the fortieth anniversary women were able to patrol the streets of the City. There are 335 sworn female officers in the force today, making up 17 percent of the department. What few know and may be surprised to learn is that while Ingleside Police Station may not have as many female officers as the other ten stations, it does have the most in positions of leadership.

“You’re always looking to diversify the standard for anything,” Capt. Joseph McFadden says of the female officers at Ingleside Police Station. “I didn’t have to. I didn’t even think about it until we were at the anniversary event and I thought, ‘Jeeze I have them all in positions of power and it’s not by my doing.’ It’s just that they raise the level, they do the job.”

I met and interviewed three officers—one lieutenant and two sergeants—to better understand what makes Ingleside Police Station special in its success with diversity. Read about their experiences.

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Lt. Arline Gilmore

Lt. Arline Gilmore is the go-to officer in the station. Officers go to her for all manner of issues for her wide experience in community policing to internal affairs.

Gilmore came to visit San Francisco by way of Galway, Ireland in 1989.

“I had no intention of staying, but I fell in love with San Francisco,” she said. “I kept saying I would go home next year but I never went back. Though I do go back every year, my family are back there.”

She had been working in an office but didn’t like it.

“I was looking for something different with a bit of adventure,” she said.

In 1995, a friend was applying for the police department and she didn’t want to go by herself. “I actually tried to talk her out of it and when I couldn’t talk her our of it I said, ‘OK, I’ll come with you.’ Then they called us six months later for your first interview,” she said.

Her friend changed her mind, but Gilmore was steadfast. She went through the academy in 1995. There were about 10 or 12 women in a class of about 40.

“It was enthralling. It was nerve wracking. It was stressful. It was fun. I enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed every day in this career,” she said.

Gilmore trained at Northern Police Station and spent probation at Taraval Police Station. The Ocean View-Merced Heights-Ingleside neighborhoods were plagued with issues related to drug use. Sgt. Mike Williams created the Taraval Neighborhood Team, six officers to focus on street enforcement and narcotics. Its members were all male, but they wanted a female officer.

“They told me it was three months probation, but I think all they wanted to know was whether they would get along with me and I would get along with them and we could all work together.”

Gilmore had a great time in TNT from 1996 to 2005 when it was temporarily disbanded.

“It was community policing,” she said. “The team had been going for a year by the time I joined it. For the first three months, they just went out there and tried to get to know people in the neighborhood. Got to know the neighborhood, got to know the community leaders, got to know the problems they were having. Went to all the community meetings. They went to the schools and the officers got to know everybody that was out. It’s a small community.”

Because the area was plagued with drug dealers, Sgt. Williams wanted to set up a team that was assigned to specifically to it.

“The idea of the TNT was that you can’t change adult behavior. You can eventually, but it is easier to change children in the way they look at officers. That’s where the team focused. We went to the schools. We took them camping. We did barbecues. Got to know them in the community. At the same time, we told the drug dealers that they were not going to be tolerated and gave them a few weeks to realize. This is what happened in the beginning and when it didn’t improve, a lot of arrests were made,” she said.

They did a lot of undercover operations. The community was up in arms about the drug dealing in plain view on the streets

“They allowed us into their houses and we watched the deals going down across the street and we had arrest teams ready and we would arrest the culprits and they had no idea how we could see what they were doing. We arrested a lot of people and we did a lot of social events,” she said. “We got some people to change their ways. We got help for users. Some of them changed their lives around. We helped them get jobs and get set up again and get into programs.”

She went back to patrol at Taraval. In 2008, she was promoted to sergeant and went to Mission Police Station to work investigations. Later, she spent eight months working on the administrative side of internal affairs. She was promoted to lieutenant and moved to Ingleside Police Station in early 2015.

She likes the district. “It’s very diverse. It’s busy. The citizens are involved and I think that makes a big difference. The community get involved in SAFE and their local organizations. They go to the meetings. They bring stuff to the captain’s attention. They make it easier for the police. They call in complaints and stuff like that. We need more of it of course.”

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Sgt. Ava Garrick

A San Francisco native, Sgt. Ava Garrick grew up and was educated in the neighborhood.

“I worked for the Unified School District and Inspector Kelly Waterfield was a very good friend of my dad—I called him uncle—said they were looking for women in the police department and they had just dropped the height requirement. They were trying to beef up the females in the department and then plus I worked for the school district and kids were complaining that the cops were harassing them and stuff like that so the best way to fix a problem is to become part of the system, to help make everybody get along well.”

She  joined the force in September of 1986. Almost thirty years later, now she is preparing to retire from the department.

“The first female officers that came 11 years before me, paved the way for me and the group behind me,” she said.

It took two tries to go through the academy. She was not used to the paramilitary aspects and had difficulty with using firearms and driving. But she persevered.

“It was a challenge, particularly firing a gun for the first time and driving a police car,” she said. “Everything I struggled with I became proficient. The first time I came through the academy I was let go because I couldn’t drive and went to a school for driving.” 

Within three to four years, she was an instructor. “I made all my weaknesses a positive,” she said.

She spent 15 years at Bayview Police Station and then went to the academy to teach. In 2010, Sgt. Garrick moved to Ingleside Police Station and plans to retire at there.

“I love the officers here,” she said. “I love the district. I grew up across the way. The community is wonderful. There’s always that one percent who have issues with the cops but they’re doing things to draw attention”

She is trained in hostage negotiation. And aside from her station duties, she is a supervisor with the Garden Project, an entry level job program for 13 to 20 year olds and helps manage a tutoring program.

“My biggest challenge is juggling being a parent and supervisor. As far as law enforcement goes, going into any situation where there is kids. I’m a kid advocate. I love to see kids thrive. “

She coaches track and field. Makes jewelry in her spare time.

Sgt. Garrick thinks the force will attain a better gender balance but sees that the difficulty for single parents right now is slowing it down.

“If you get them when they’re coming out of college, I’d say there’s a good shot of getting more women because they’ve dealt with some life expectancies and they’ve had jobs. What I’ve seen in the last few years is second careers in the force,” she said.

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Sgt. Melonee Alvarez

Sgt. Melonee Alvarez has been at Ingleside Police Station off and on since she graduated from the academy in 1998. She trained at Ingleside and after her probation period, she put in request to return. She back once again, this time leading its undercover unit.

“The thing I like about Ingleside is that you get variety,” she said. “You get nice parts then you also housing developments and Mission Street, the gangs on Mission Street, Sunnydale, Alemany Towers.”

When she first started, officers could chase cars. “That was something I really enjoyed doing. It was sort of an adrenaline rush,” she said.

She also discovered she liked taking on gang members and arresting people with guns and dope. She made a lot of arrests.

“When I first started taking them on I was just an officer in uniform. It was a fight every time. They’re defiant. They’re gang members. They think they own the streets. After a couple of encounters, we established our roles. No, they don’t own the streets. We are the police. We are here to do our job. Even though some of the encounters didn’t go so well, we still treated them with respect. They always kind of remember that. They would tell me if they were carrying weapons—knives were big with them. Sometimes I wouldn’t have to ask. They would just hand it to me.”

Sgt. Alvarez was asked to go to the Gang Task Force downtown.

“It was a coveted position,” she said. “You couldn’t put in a request to go there. You had to be asked. I was asked and I jumped at the chance.”

She was there for five years. For the majority of the time, she was the only female of 45 officers. While there, she was promoted to inspector and then to sergeant.

Now, she is back at Ingleside and in charge of six officers.

“It’s a lot of responsibility. You can imagine we’re all Type A. I love my guys. They work hard,” she said. “It was fortunate for me because I’m very familiar with the problem areas, people who commit the same types of crimes, the gang members.”

The gangsters still call her Ms. Alvarez.

“The people we arrest know us really, really well,” she said. “Whether it be in Sunnydale or the towers or the gambling shacks, they us, they know our cars, they know the schedules we work. They curtail their actions when the patrol car rolls by. They stop and they wait and we see. You know, when they see us they sometimes run half a block away. They give themselves away to us. No one else, expect for that particular element, will really notice us.”

What makes Ingleside such an interesting police district is that it’s not obvious what’s going on.

“You don’t get the open air drug sales or prostitution,” she said. “What makes the Ingleside unique is that you have to dig. There’s a lot of layers. There’s a lot that goes on here but not at the street level. My theory: you have to dig whether it be with informants, just getting information that leads to search warrants. I tell my guys, talk to the people you arrest. You would be surprised what type of information you get just by establishing a rapport with somebody or showing mutual respect. They remember that and they’ll tell their associates and you garner a reputation on the street. You’ll be surprised with the type of information you will get that can lead to even more significant arrests.”

She led the efforts that took down the illegal gaming establishments Net Stop and Kingston Shack. It took a lot of resources but her ongoing relationship with the City Attorneys office from her time at the GTF helped.

“When I first brought to them Net Stop, they were really excited about it. I brought that to the table and they were overjoyed with it,” she said.

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