When the two newest members of the Fullerton Police Department recently went out in public for the first time in uniform, three words really stuck with them.
Girl police officers!
Three little girls who saw Danielle Riedl and Victoria “Tori” Thayer on their lunch break blurted out those words.
When Riedl and Thayer got back to the station, they both thought the same thing.
For the rookie cops, wearing their badges and uniforms for the first time during orientation week Jan. 18-22 was a moment of deep pride and happiness that had nothing to do with gender.
But hearing those three words reinforced in Riedl and Thayer their desire to someday grow into role models for girls in general and, in particular, for women in law enforcement — a special sisterhood.
Females, on average, make up only 13 percent of all officers at larger agencies, or those with 100 or more sworn personnel, according to national statistics.
Of the Fullerton PD’s current 145 sworn officers, 14 (including Riedl and Thayer) are women, for just under 10 percent.
Riedl and Thayer, who have bonded like sisters after spending the last seven months together training to become cops, are among the first of a wave of new hires planned at the FPD.
A May 2015 report that assessed staffing needs at the agency recommended the hiring of 25 new personnel over the next five years — mostly sworn positions.
In addition to 14 new patrol officers, the report, prepared by Eric J. Fritsch, professor and chair of the University of North Texas Department of Criminal Justice, recommended the hiring of one captain, one lieutenant, two motor officers, six detectives and one communications manager — a civilian position.
On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the Fullerton City Council, at the urging at Chief Dan Hughes, voted 4-1 to increase the FPD’s staffing level by five new positions, effective immediately (which will bring the current number of sworn personnel to 150).
Riedl and Thayer are thrilled to be new members of an agency they say is highly supportive of its employees — a place where everyone has a role to play and values and morals to uphold.
Riedl and Thayer recall being pulled aside in class by their tactical officer midway through the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy, from which they graduated Jan. 14.
“Your chief is here to see you,” the tactical officer told them.
Hughes, accompanied by Capt. Scott Rudisil, popped in to tell Riedl and Thayer they were doing great, and that they had the full support of the FPD.
The visit was highly unusual, even prompting the tactical officer to ask Riedl and Thayer if everything was OK.
“That’s the type of agency we work for,” Riedl says.
Thayer is the sixth police officer in her family.
Riedl is the first.
Both share similar upbringings in middle-class, church-going families.
Thayer grew up in Yorba Linda, Riedl in Rancho Santa Margarita.
And in what both say was critical to their eventual success at the academy, both worked at police agencies beginning in their late teens.
Thayer, who was ASB president at El Dorado High School in Placentia, served as a cadet at the Fullerton PD from 2011-2013. She then worked as a public safety assistant in investigations at the Irvine PD from 2013-2015.
Riedl graduated from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana in 2011, and worked at the Cal State Fullerton PD as a community service officer from 2011-2015.
Thayer graduated from CSF in May 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration.
Riedl also graduated from CSF in May 2015, majoring in history with a minor in criminal justice.
Now both are practically joined at the hip as rookie cops.
They have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences.
“We have the same personality,” Thayer says.
“I think it’s because it’s rare to find another woman in law enforcement,” Riedl says.
Thayer’s deep connection to law enforcement was evident during academy graduation Jan. 14.
There, her father, Patrick, a retired lieutenant at the Orange PD, presented her with a pair of handcuffs that belonged to her paternal grandfather, retired Tustin Police Chief Charles Thayer.
Thayer’s mother, Susan, worked for 36 years at the Irvine PD as a dispatcher and dispatch supervisor. Her maternal grandfather is a retired Gardena sergeant. She also has an uncle who is a retired Downey sergeant.
“I wanted to be a police officer ever since I was a little girl — before I even understood what being a police officer was,” Thayer says.
Riedl says the loss of a friend in high school and, shortly after, being the victim of a DUI accident (along with her father; both escaped serious injuries) inspired her to become a police officer.
“I wanted to help people and protect people who can’t protect themselves, basically,” Riedl says.
Like Thayer, Riedl says her parents supported whatever career decision she chose — although her decision to be a cop at first surprised her father, who works for an electronics company, as well as her mother, who owns a hair salon.
In addition to working at police agencies, the Fullerton PD’s five-week pre-academy made a huge difference in preparing Riedl and Thayer for the very demanding six-month sheriff’s academy, the two say.
“It was so rewarding, not just the way they set us up physically and mentally, but also the support that they showed us,” Thayer says. “They genuinely cared about us and wanted us to succeed.”
Thayer and Riedl were standouts at the sheriff’s academy.
Of the 64 recruits who started, only 39 graduated — eight of them women. Thayer and Riedl finished No. 1 and 2, respectively, among the female recruits. They are more proud, however, of both finishing in the top 10 overall in categories that include arrest and control techniques, firearms, report writing and physical training.
Riedl and Thayer say they weren’t treated differently from the male recruits during academy training.
“They (tactical officers) treated us the same way as the guys next to us,” Riedl says. “And that’s how it should be.”
Reidl started working patrol alongside her field training officer Saturday, Jan. 23. Thayer started Monday the 25th.
After field training, both will be out on their own – rookie cops trying to do their best during times when being a police officer comes with an unprecedented level of scrutiny.
“I’m absolutely honored and humbled to wear a badge and these Fullerton patches, and I take this as an opportunity to contact the community and prove we are not all bad,” Thayer says.
She adds: “My father always had a saying that I grew up with: ‘As police officers, we need to be at our best when people are at their worst.’ That’s so true, and that’s what I’m going to take with me when I go out on duty: the desire to be that officer who will change the community’s mind (about cops).”
Says Riedl: “Today’s climate is challenging, but law enforcement has always been challenging. It goes through cycles. This is just another cycle and will probably change soon.”
As for advice to teens or youngsters mulling a career as a cop, Riedl and Thayer both stressed the importance of experience — becoming an explorer and/or cadet, for example.
Thayer says her career goals include working on the directed enforcement team and as a sex crimes detective.
“My dad was a great detective,” she says.
Riedl hops to someday work on the FPD’s gang unit.
“I find the whole gang culture fascinating,” she says.
For now, it’s time for the FPD’s newest cops to soak up a lot of learning.
And should Riedl or Thayer ever hear those three words again from little girls they encounter while in uniform, they know what they will tell them.
“Being a police officer is an incredible profession,” Riedl says. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”
For more information, visit the Fullerton PD’s recruiting site.