In field of law enforcement, badges come in gold or silver. Not pink or blue.
But when Cass County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Denise Davidson, 50, made the decision to go into law enforcement as a young woman nearly a quarter century ago, she was entering a territory where not too many females had gone before her in Cass County.
In time, a career in law enforcement for women has increasingly become more accepted by others, she says, but not any easier. Women must prove their strength and fearlessness when they put on the uniform while bearing the weight of stereotypes and naysayers.
Davidson never resonated with the thoughts of her peers who didn’t think she was capable of the job.
Instead, she worked harder prove them wrong.
Today, Davidson holds the rank of a captain and is a top member of the Sheriff’s Office administration, working directly beneath the leadership of Sheriff Dwight Diehl and Major Jeff Weber.
After several years of working as an EMT on a Harrisonville ambulance following graduation from high school, Davidson was approached about taking a job at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office as a dispatcher.
She took the job in April 1987.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she said. “I really didn’t know anything about the Sheriff’s Office and didn’t realize how many aspects were involved between court services and civil processing.”
During her tenure in the Communication Unit, Davidson would find herself helping the deputies responding to a call.
“As a dispatcher, I found that I was not only giving them direction to where they needed to respond physically, but what to do when they got there,” she said.
As she became interested in the profession, she felt called to earn a uniform and a badge of her own to wear. In 1989, Davidson decided to go to the academy and enrolled in a program in North Kansas City through the University of Missouri. Following graduation, Davidson would become the first female deputy to join Cass County’s patrol division.
There were only a couple other female police officers in other municipalities throughout the county at the time. They would occasionally bring light to issues they were facing based on their gender.
“I kind of got used to being the only female for a lot of things,” she said.
Over the course of Davidson’s career, the percent of sworn law enforcement officers who were women has increased only slightly in federal, state and local agencies, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
But like other women who would later join the Cass County force, Davidson has excelled in her work.
In 1992, she was promoted to the role of a corporal under Sheriff Homer Foote. The next year, she got married and ended up leaving Cass County for three years. During that time, she worked at the Branson West City Hall and did reserve work for the Stone County Sheriff’s Office.
When Davidson and her husband returned to the area, she had a brief stint in 1996 at the Raymore Police Department.
In the following year, Diehl was elected into office and Davidson was approached about coming back to the county to work in investigations. She accepted the offer and eventually earned the rank of sergeant in 1997 and later a lieutenant in 2000 within the detective division.
During her career, Davidson was also assigned to the Kansas City Metro Squad, a team of detectives from around the region to work collaboratively in homicide investigations.
The last homicide she worked was that of 76-year-old David Zeller, a retired preacher who was murdered at his Harrisonville home during a robbery by acquaintances of his granddaughter.
Zeller’s granddaughter, Stacy Holmquest, was not present at the murder, but was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her role in orchestrating the act when she believed her grandfather to be hiding a large sum of money in his home. Authorities would later report that the break-in only netted $350 cash, several guns and the victim’s pick-up truck.
Davidson’s work as a detective was critical in convicting one of the robbers.
“It was satisfying in that it was my last Metro Squad and I was able to obtain a confession from one of the suspects,” she said.
Davidson then became captain of the jail in 2005 before taking on the role of captain in patrol and investigations in June.
In her current rank with the Sheriff’s Office, Davidson is also responsible for overseeing aspects of community services and special operations.
“I was told when I first went out that I wasn’t going to make it by people I was working with,” Davidson said. “Those were the naysayers, but when somebody tells you can’t do something, you’re more determined.”
More women have chosen careers at Cass County since Davidson first started.
“As the first female deputy on the road, I had to work harder,” Davidson said. “I had to prove myself. Once you’ve proven yourself, your acceptance is there and respect in earned.”
Oftentimes, Davidson said, the interpersonal skills women traditionally possess are an asset to effective tool in law enforcement.
“I think the majority of my success at first was being able just to talk to people,” she said. “I would have drunks, or somebody who was intoxicated, tell me ‘You’re not taking me to jail.’ We would wind up in jail without force or anything else because that was the way I needed to deal with it.”
In addition to having an active career in law enforcement, Davidson is a mother of four children. Her husband also works in law enforcement with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
“My children have a double-whammy when it comes to law enforcement...they don’t get invited to many parties...but they embrace it,” Davidson said.
As the years go by, Davidson says, fulfillment in her work comes when she hears from victims she has helped.
Recently, Davidson had the opportunity to meet Kim Case, a sexual assault victim that she and Deputy Kevin Buerge responded to years ago.
Case now works as a victim advocate case manager for the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association’s Crime Victims Unit to ensure law enforcement agencies within the state have the information and tools needed to effectively assist crime victims through the criminal justice system.
“Even if it’s 20 years later, it makes your day to know that you’ve done something right to affect somebody’s life in a positive way,” she said. “It may be in a terrible circumstance that you meet, as hers was, but it’s nice to know that there is a positive that comes out of it, as well.”
Davidson said deputies must continually be at the top of their game, and do so by participating in ongoing education and training opportunities to make sure criminals pay for their mistakes and that they maintain a level of personal safety.
“I don’t know if there’s any way to prepare mentally other than trying to go through the steps that you know you have to do so that you can do your job correctly and that you don’t miss anything that could lose a case,” she said.
“And when you’re at a scene, you have to make sure you’re safe and that you’re going home at the end of the shift.”