As a female entering a traditionally male-dominated field, Kelsey Garrabrant faced plenty of obstacles on her journey to becoming a North Ridgeville police officer. But with self-discipline and determination, and training from the Police Academy at Lorain County Community College, she has carved out a successful career in law enforcement. In October 2017, she made history when she was hired as the first female officer in North Ridgeville.
“The LCCC Police Academy prepared me for my career by giving me the tools I need as an officer,” says Garrabrant, who, after being hired, attended the academy and graduated in March 2018. “The academy gives you a strong foundation of what it means to be an officer, how to conduct yourself and how to adapt to the career lifestyle.”
Although it wasn’t easy, Garrabrant took advantage of every opportunity to pursue a career in which she is excited about making a difference.
Heeding the call
Inspired by TV crime dramas such as “Law & Order,” Garrabrant initially wanted to become a lawyer. She entered the political science program at Ashland University, but an intro class in criminal justice shifted her focus from the courtroom to the police force. She graduated from Ashland in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minors in criminal justice, Spanish and coaching.
While interning at the Ashland Juvenile Probation Department in 2014, Garrabrant worked part time as a dispatcher at the Wellington Police Department. As she talked to officers about their experiences in the field, she realized she wanted to be in their shoes, patrolling the streets.
Wellington Police Chief Tim Barfield encouraged Garrabrant’s advancement by offering advice and support. “He never once second-guessed a young female wanting to go into law enforcement,” she says. Barfield said Garrabrant’s disposition as a dispatcher made her a great candidate for a badge.
“I’m big on [officers having] a servant attitude, because we are public servants,” says Barfield, who earned his police science degree at LCCC and recently began instructing at the Police Academy. “Garrabrant certainly has that attitude. She’s very helpful, very friendly, and always willing to go above and beyond. The desire to serve people is an incredibly important trait for this job, and she displays it.”
Pursuing a badge
Garrabrant stayed in touch with Barfield as she moved on to other positions, working as a detention officer in Portage County, a dispatcher in Westlake and a corrections officer in North Royalton. Barfield kept her informed about local opportunities, and in March 2016, she began testing for patrol officer positions. Although she tested for other police departments, Garrabrant had her sights set on North Ridgeville, an area she was familiar with as a result of her work in Westlake dispatching fire and EMS responders there, and to several surrounding cities.
“The size of the community is perfect for me,” says Garrabrant, who grew up in a small town outside of Columbus. “North Ridgeville offered opportunities for me to advance my career and really make an impact. It was the only city I really felt drawn to when taking my tests.”
Garrabrant aced North Ridgeville’s test, and in October 2017, she was sworn in as the city’s first female officer. “It’s a huge honor to be the first female officer for North Ridgeville,” she says.
“The city and its culture are rapidly growing, so it’s important to have a female in the department to match the diversity. It’s a huge opportunity for me, and I’m extremely grateful that they chose me.” But before Garrabrant could hit the road as a patrol officer, she had to complete more than 700 hours of training to earn state certification. The North Ridgeville Police Department sent her to the Police Academy at LCCC to get the hands-on training and real-world skills she needed to excel in the field.
Training for the force
LCCC’s original Police Academy closed in 1993, leaving a gap and forcing regional law enforcement agencies to send job candidates outside the county for training. To close that gap, the Lorain County Chiefs Law Enforcement Association in 2002 turned to LCCC to form a police academy so its members could keep officers local instead of sending them out of the county for training.
Today, LCCC’s Police Academy program spans five months of full-day classes and drills designed to prepare cadets for the state certification test. The Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission mandates the curriculum for police academies statewide, requiring 728 hours of training that includes legal coursework, firearms training, driving, subject control, investigation, physical conditioning and more. The requirements cover a mix of classroom learning and hands-on work that exposes cadets to real-life situations like vehicle stops and building searches.
LCCC added several extra hours beyond the state requirements to provide cadets with additional training in areas such as report writing and dealing with active shooters. The additional hours develop more well-rounded cadets, Garrabrant says. Cadets earn 36 credit hours through the academy that can be applied toward
an associate degree in criminal justice.
The academy accepts 20 students in each class, reserving several spots for commissioned officers like Garrabrant who are enrolled by local agencies, before opening enrollment to other candidates. And when they graduate, the academy’s relationship with the Lorain County Chiefs Association helps ensure good job placement rates; if students put everything they have into the program, they are very likely to have a job opportunity in Lorain County.
Overcoming the odds
Garrabrant quickly rose to the top of her class, both academically and athletically, and her fellow cadets elected her the first female class president in the history of the academy. But despite that support within the academy, outside of it, Garrabrant faced skepticism when she told people of her career choice. Academy leadership met with Garrabrant and the other three women in her class to caution them that they would encounter doubters and counsel them on how to deal with it.
“They said, ‘Look, you’re going to come into hardships, because there are some people who still don’t think females should be here. You just need to work harder, and don’t let it get you down,’” Garrabrant says.
The supportive camaraderie at LCCC’s Police Academy pushed Garrabrant to excel, breaking barriers as she pursued her dream of becoming a police officer.
“The LCCC Police Academy helped me overcome the challenges of being a female in a male-dominated field by pushing me harder in the classroom and in the gym,” she says. “Personally, I never wanted to stand out as a female in this career; I want to stand out based on my skills and talents. It’s a huge accomplishment to be the first female officer in North Ridgeville, but for me, it’s important to just be the best police officer I can be.”