“It’s exciting, it’s fun, I love it,” says Jennifer Kuhlmann from behind her desk in an office near downtown San Angelo. She’s got a smile on her face as she describes how following God’s direction, she started her career some four years ago as a Patrol Officer for the San Angelo Police Department.
“I wanted a career that I knew wasn’t going to be mundane,” Kuhlmann says. “I knew that as an officer I’d have the opportunity to meet different people.” And experience different things.
Entering a male-dominated field at the age of 29, one of Kuhlmann’s first assignments could have easily become her last. “It happened when I first hit the streets,” Kuhlmann says. “I was an APO, Apprentice Police Officer. My PTO, Patrol Training Officer and I had been dispatched to the home of a suspect who had shot at one of our officers and holed himself up in there,” she continues.
“…we positioned ourselves to where we thought was safe, but we later found out that we were standing at the window to where the suspect was at. We could have easily gotten shot in the head and never known it,” she says. “Sometime later we were told, nope, wrong place, so we had to take cover in a different position and the SWAT guys came in and took the suspect into custody.”
Kuhlmann describes the feeling thereafter as an unbelievable adrenaline rush that she wasn’t prepared to let derail her plans of following her calling. She spent the next four years on patrol and loving it, but had started to notice a change in her family life that would ultimately influence the direction of her career.
“My conversations at home with my daughters had become ‘Who did you arrest today?’ and ‘How many times did you go to jail?’ and ‘So and so said you arrested their mommy and daddy, did you arrest their mommy and daddy?’,” Kuhlmann says. “I thought, ‘man, they just don’t see the other side of policing, there’s more to policing than that.’ So when this position came open, I thought ‘this will give me the opportunity to make a difference out of it, but not just me, but my family as well.’”
The position was one as Sector 2 Liaison Officer, a post meant to promote communication between officers of the law and the community under non-emergency circumstances to foster an open and collaborative relationship with citizens.
“I think the biggest difference between being a patrol officer and a liaison officer is that as a liaison officer, I can be more proactive and help people prevent becoming victims of crime, whereas patrol, I’m usually responding to people that have already been victimized,” Kuhlmann says.
Part of the job is providing training and giving instruction on how citizens, business and other groups can keep their homes and offices safe, which Kuhlmann says is mutually beneficial. It frees up the time officers spend on petty calls that are preventable and allows them to focus on areas where more pressing help is needed.
Having started in 2009, Kuhlmann says the job is everything she’d hoped it would be when she applied, but the dream had taken a while to develop. “I think my first contact with a police officer was DARE,” Kuhlmann says. “In high school, my best friend’s mother was a police officer, and that’s when I first started playing with the idea that women could be police officers. As I got older, I started seeing more female officers…at that point I decided it might be something [I wanted to try]…God had laid it on my heart, this is where I wanted to be.”
After her two daughters had started school, Kuhlmann decided it was time to pursue her career. With the support of her husband, she picked up an application at the Police Department and was soon on her way to the Academy.
As a female, Kuhlmann worked extra hard to push and prove herself in a male-dominated field. “Being a female in a male-dominated workplace, you have to work harder, you should be able to work harder, because you don’t want to be that female,” she says. “When I was in the Academy, I strove hard not to be the last one ever. But that’s just me. If there was another girl, I would have strove hard to beat her too.”
Neither in the Academy nor the Police Department did Kuhlmann experience any real skepticism about her abilities due to her sex, she says, adding she’s formed a close bond with the Officers she’s trained and works with.
And while she’s only just started as Sector 2 Liaison Officer back at the end of August, she still feels that might not be it for her career. “I wanted to be a detective or a narcotics officer [when I started],” she says. “I’ve got a job to do here now as a Liaison Officer, and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability until it’s time to move on.”
Kuhlmann has participated in a few undercover operations already, and says this is what draws her to the job. “Most people see me outside of uniform and they don’t realize that I’m an officer,” she says. “I think just being incognito and busting the bad guys [is what makes me want to do it]. It’s the undercover work.”
But it’s also about helping people. Kuhlmann says she once received a thank you phone call from a suspect that she had ultimately arrested for Public Intoxication, Possession of a Controlled Substance and Resisting Arrest.
“I’ve seen some out and they thanked me, but this one actually took time out and called dispatch and had them give me the message that they’d thanked me,” she says. “He said he was spiraling downward and that that was a wake up call for him.
“That’s when I knew that I was doing the helping part. I never arrest someone with bad intentions, just to throw them in jail. They get arrested because of something that they did and for him to be able to acknowledge that it wasn’t personal, I knew that that was why God had led me there,” she says.
Kuhlmann is a native to San Angelo and chooses to stay here “because it is home. This is where I grew up, this is where I’ve raised my family, this is where they’re (kids) going to grow up. As cliché as it sounds, I want to protect and serve my community here in San Angelo.
“I just want to see the community reach out to us,” she continues. “We’re not just here in times of bad, we’re here when the community needs us. These police officers, they have families too, they’re citizens just like everyone else is.”