by Olga Ford
I joined the New York City police department in 1958. At the time, I was one of only about 35 African American women on the force. All female officers were assigned to the Bureau of Policewomen where we had limited responsibilities, such as searching female suspects, transporting foundlings and patrolling Times Square theaters for "deviants."
The woman in charge of the bureau, however, was determined to change this. Through our efforts we built up a very solid arrest and conviction record. Based on this, she requested two detective shields for women, one of them for me. I thus became one of the first female detectives ever assigned to the Bureau of Policewomen.
In those days, the New York City Police Department had a corruption problem and, like the rest of society, had a problem dealing with racism. Drugs had come to Harlem in a big way. Standing on any street corner, you could see drugs being sold openly. But little effort was being made to stop the drug trade that was devastating the community.
In the late 1960s, women sued the City of New York for their equal rights and won. As a result, the Bureau of Policewomen was disbanded and I was assigned to intelligence investigations. Because I was female and not assigned to anything specific, I was able to set up an observation post from which to videotape dealers coming in and out of the bar where they congregated. This later proved to be crucial evidence in convicting the entire gang.
In 1970, I was introduced to Buddhism by a fellow policewoman and began participating in SGI activities. Buddhism taught me to take full responsibility for my life and, as a result, I was able to overcome a severe drinking problem within two years. I also developed the courage to deal with death threats that came as a result of my work against drug traffickers and other criminal organizations. In the early 1970s, I was able to obtain information that helped identify one of the perpetrators of the execution-style murder of two New York City Policemen. For that work I received an award for "exceptional merit" and a promotion to detective first grade.
I attribute these achievements to my Buddhist practice. Through Buddhism I learned persistence and also how to talk to people. No matter whom I am speaking to, whether a top executive or a street criminal, I treat people with respect and require respect in return. One of the big drug dealers I testified against later told me that he knew that when I testified in court, I only told the truth. In fact, there were times when I was pressured to make statements that weren't true in order to gain a conviction. I think it was through my Buddhist practice that I gained the inner strength to resist injustice--wherever it comes from.
I have found that women tend to have a calming effect on situations. They are much less likely to take the first shot. I am very grateful that I was never shot at, despite being in some very tense situations, and I never had to fire my gun.
After retiring from the police force in 1983, I became the Director of Internships and Cooperative Education at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This was a big change, to go from criminal investigations to an academic setting. Once again, I drew from my Buddhist practice. In the SGI there is a strong emphasis on encouraging young people. I saw this as an opportunity to do just that. Based on Buddhist principles, I was able to create an outstanding internship program.
Many competent young people, especially women and minorities, are intimidated by the culture of the NYPD and are hesitant to expose themselves to it. I just encourage them to do their best, never giving up or compromising. Because if you do that, you'll win people's respect. Many of my former students have gone on to wonderful careers in law enforcement and that is a deep source of satisfaction to me. Even more satisfaction than all those years of locking up bad guys.
[ Courtesy April 2003 SGI Quarterly ]