Belinda Gatlin knew her entire life that she wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a police officer. However, as she grew older, her physique stayed petite. Jerry Gatlin knew there was more to being a cop than stature and wasn’t about to let his daughter’s size stand in the way of her dream.
“Belinda had come to me and said ‘I really want to be an officer, but I’m just too small,’” he said.
Jerry, who retired as the police chief of the Lawton, Oklahoma Public School Police Department, called on another female officer he knew who worked for the Lawton Police Department.
“They are exactly the same size and Kelsey tells her ‘You can do it,’” Jerry said. “And so, she did it.”
Gatlin started at the Grandview Plaza Police Department part time in 2019 and graduated from the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center on Oct. 9 with a 92% overall score. Although she missed honor grad by two points, she said she is satisfied with her accomplishment, which did not come without its challenges.
Standing 4 foot 11 her stature required Belinda to approach her training different than her peers. However, most of the challenges had more to do with equipment than the functions of the job.
“I have to modify a lot of things,” she said. “I had to learn different ways, even down to just carrying a patrol rifle. The rifles are as big as I am. I had to rely a lot on the sling. When we were doing high risk-traffic stops I had to modify how I sat in the car … because the way that they normally did it I was just too short to do it like that.”
When she arrives at a scene, she’s aware that people may look at her different than they would her larger counterparts. However, a police officer does not need to be an imposing figure, she said.
“It's all about attitude,” she said. “It doesn't really have anything to do with stature as long as you come off as confident — as long as you're confident — you can generally do just about anything. Honestly, I forget how small I am at times. I feel like I'm just as big as the biggest guy on that department.”
Whether she was working in a city like Lawton with a population of 93,000 or a small town like Grandview Plaza with 1,600 people, Jerry knows the job is inherently dangerous. Despite the dangers he said he encourages and supports her 100%.
“I think that she just needs to trust her instincts and training and she'll probably be fine,” Jerry said. “But she was the ultimate daddy's girl. So, for me to think she's out there working streets and doing all these things — It's just scary.”
Belinda knows her father worries about her, but said he never tried to talk her chasing her dream. Growing up around police officers it was something they both said gets in the blood. It’s more than just a job and it runs in the family. Besides her father, her cousin is the sheriff of Childress County, Texas and her great-uncle was a police chief in Mississippi, Jerry said.
“Being around the lights and the sirens and all the police officers my whole life, it just felt like a big family,” she said. “My father knew pretty early on that this was the route I wanted to go. I don't know if he really thought I would take this route but he knew that I wanted to.”
What he may not have fully realized at the time was that as he was doing his job, Belinda was watching, learning and absorbing traits she said will serve her well now — namely his strength, physical and emotional.
“When he came home and he had a really bad day he would just keep a brave face on — it was that strength and pride that he gave off all the time,” she said.
Now that she is on the road, she sees and understands the reasons he stayed in the profession. Even in the short amount of time that she has been an officer, being able to make changes in people’s lives has been rewarding. It is also the reason she would like to eventually move up to investigations, which her father also supports.
“But first, she needs to get her time on the street,” he said. “You got to put your time on the street before you become an investigator, there's no getting around that.”
Although a position in investigations is in her sights, she said she is enjoying her time on the street now and she is looking forward to immersing herself into the Grandview Plaza community.
“I just I look forward to getting to know everybody a little bit more,” she said. “I know there's a lot of people that encountered me and there's a lot of people that haven’t. I look forward to introducing myself, especially once COVID is over and I can actually go outside and play basketball with the kids or interact with the community more. I'm really excited to be able to get out there and actually meet people.”