The half-dozen women slowly made their way through the main hallway inside the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Regional Training Academy.
Both walls in the 52,000-square-foot facility in Tustin are lined with plaques listing the names and pictures of all the graduating classes from the academy, beginning with Class No. 1 in 1965.
On Nov. 4, 2019, Class 240 starts.
Five of the women who toured the facility Oct. 22 – Barbara Scott Hall, Carole Carpenter, Laurie Tayco, Carol Nease, and Linda Paul — were members of Class 7 in 1968, among the 18 first female deputies to graduate from the academy.
Another woman, Elizabeth Aguilera, who graduated in 1975 (Class 24) when her last name was Thornton, joined them.
“Seems like yesterday!” Hall said.
Until last week, the six former deputies — now all in their 70s, who meet monthly for lunch — had never seen the facility, which opened in 2007.
They were trained at the OCSD’s facility on Katella Street in Orange that today is the Tactical Training Center (TTC), which includes a mock town for tactical training, a shooting simulator, and a shooting range.
Times have changed — a lot.
Back in 1968, the OCSD academy lasted seven weeks. It now lasts 26 weeks.
And back then, sworn female deputies – well, the concept was new to the OCSD. Male recruits had their own locker room, but the female recruits used the gym bathroom.
Up until 1968, the OCSD had hired “matron per diems,” or women who worked part time, to work as non-sworn personnel in the jail.
“I was hired as a matron per diem in 1967 making $3.60 an hour,” said Paul.
The OCSD hired the 18 females deputies in 1968 so they could work in the newly opened Orange County Jail (as it was known then) at 550 N. Flower St. in Santa Ana. That facility, which now includes the Men’s Central Jail, Women’s Central Jail, and the Intake Release Center (IRC), replaced the old Sycamore Street Jail that opened in 1924 across from the Old Orange County Courthouse.
In 1968, the new female deputies’ duties were restricted to the women’s section of the jail, or as drivers in the Transportation unit.
After working the jail for 10 years, Paul and three others became the first female deputies assigned to patrol.
“It was a ‘pilot program’ for women in Patrol — they referred to us as ‘pioneers,’” Paul said as she showed a 1979 picture of her as a south county patrol deputy holding a pump shotgun.
“This is what I call my macho picture,” Paul said.
DEPUTIES IN SKIRTS
The women who went on the tour this month recalled their uniform as jail deputies: Instead of pants, they wore skirts, panty hose, and low heels.
“It was tough to fight in that outfit,” said Nease, who after spending five years at the OCSD transferred to the Santa Ana PD. “We just accepted it. We got pants later when female deputies were allowed to go into patrol (in 1978).”
Why the switch to pants?
“Probably because we ruined so many stockings,” one of the women joked.
“We did ruin our stockings during the academy because we were always in such a hurry to change from our (physical training) clothes back into our uniforms,” Paul said. “We changed from skirts to pants because it was more logical for our job.”
Nease, who was Carol Miller when she was an OCSD deputy, became the SAPD’s first female investigator and first female patrol officer. She became the first female officer to be involved in a shooting in the state.
“When I went to Santa Ana,” recalled Nease, “there were guys that said behind my back they wouldn’t work with me. This was all before women’s lib. Some also told me to my face they wouldn’t work with me. I would tell them, ‘Well, that’s your choice.’
“Two of them, however, took me out to lunch my first day and they said, ‘Carol, we’re going to spend more time with you than our wives. So as long as you pull your own weight and protect us, we’ll protect you.’ They gave me a chance. And after my OIS (Officer Involved Shooting), everyone wanted to work with me.”
Carole Carpenter, who was Carole Lemke when she was a member of Class 7, spent seven years as an OCSD deputy. She was the OCSD’s first female tactical officer (for Class 9) and the first female on the agency’s pistol team.
She’s the one who came up with the idea of touring the OCSD Regional Training Academy.
“One day at lunch, I asked if anyone had been to the (Tustin academy), and nobody had,” Carpenter said. “So I thought, ‘Why not?’”
For the last seven years, the six women have been meeting monthly for lunch.
Some of them live in Riverside County, so they alternate between Anaheim Hills (Macaroni Grill, Ricardo’s, or BJ’s) and the Dos Lagos shopping center in Corona, where they lunch at TGI Friday’s on Wednesdays to take advantage of the Full Rack of Baby Back Ribs special for $14.99.
Carpenter recalled almost being kicked out of the academy because of her height. She was 5 feet 2 ½ inches, and the minimum height requirement was 5 feet 3 inches.
“My tac officer called the captain to report me, and the captain told him, ‘No, keep her.’ And I said under my breath to the tac officer, ‘I’ll show you, you son of a bitch.’”
Carpenter went on to work for the Costa Mesa PD after her seven-year career at the OCSD, and then for a department store chain. She currently works as security supervisor at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
“I learned that I was a fighter,” Carpenter said of her days at the OCSD. “It didn’t matter what came my way, I could handle it and I could get through it.”
The six former deputies started their tour in the lobby of the training center, where many historical items are on display as part of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Museum.
Hall spotted a picture on the wall of members of Class 7 during training.
“That’s Dick Waters, one of our tac officers,” Paul noted.
Sgt. Ronald Rhodes (Class 168, 2005) led the tour, joined by Tactical Officer Dep. Andrea Bogdanovich.
Lt. Guy Coffee, who runs the academy, also spent some time with the six former deputies, as well as Lt. Margie Sheehan, former chief of police services in Dana Point who now works at OCSD headquarters in Santa Ana as executive aide to Sheriff Don Barnes.
Paul, who spent 15 years at the OCSD, spotted a tac officer yelling at recruits.
“Stop it,” she joked to her friends. “You’re being mean to them.”
She added: “I love it.”
Nease brought along old photos of her to share when she was a blonde-banged woman of 25.
At one point during the tour, one of the women quipped: “Could we have oxygen, please?”
The women toured “The Beach,” an outside sandy area that is part of physical training for recruits, and also paid their respects to OC’s fallen deputies and officers at the Orange County Peace Officers Memorial in front of the academy.
The six women said they have great memories of serving as deputies at the OCSD.
“It was part of my life, but it wasn’t my whole life,” one said.
Said another: “Trust me, every day was a new experience.”
And these days, they have their monthly lunches.
“Over the years,” one said, “the stories have gotten better, and the jokes have gotten better, too.”