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Former police sergeant pens book on facing sexism, discrimination

Debra Gauthier, who made many pioneering contributions during her 21 years on the Las Vegas police force, she said her efforts were largely unacknowledged by the department's top brass.

Gauthier was the first woman police officer hired by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officer under the same standards as men in her field back in 1980. But both latent and open hostilities at the hands of men in the department, derailed her career in 2001.

"I think the most serious part was up in the upper ranks, where there were very few women and that was what I was doing," she said. "I was breaking ground and pioneering. Back then, being the first as a pioneer, I paid a price in terms of sexism, chauvinism and more."

Gauthier, now an author, speaker and spiritual coach, is telling her story by way of a new book she authored, "Bright Lights, Dark Places."

On Sunday, she shared her story during a lecture and book signing in Pahrump with parishioners at the Covenant Lighthouse Church along Highway 160.

The book is stories of a vibrant career, from teaching at the department's academy, to pioneering the bicycling patrol the department still relies on along the Las Vegas Strip.

As explained in a brief book description, Gauthier excelled and quickly moved up the ranks of the male-dominated profession, establishing herself as a decorated officer in a career she loved.

However, beneath the surface lay what is described as the "ugliness of discrimination, gender bias and betrayal from fellow officers."

Gauthier at the time, also struggled with same-sex attraction and identity as she faced discrimination in the male-dominated profession, suffering demotions and unsafe working conditions when other officers failed to provide backup during emergency situations.

After more than two decades as a respected police officer, Gauthier said she was devastated when her career and world crumbled.

It wasn't long after Gauthier was hired by the department, when she began to feel the antipathy from many of her male colleagues.

Gauthier made sure to mention that she was not the very first female in the department.

"There were a few women before me and they were grandfathered in so they had different requirements back then," she said. "I was the first woman hired under the same standards as a man. Not only that, it cost me my career, because when you're paving the way you are always targeted."

After 10 years with the department, Gauthier wanted to find a better way for police officers to patrol what is one of the busiest boulevards in the world.

She sought guidance from another west coast law enforcement agency in Seattle where law enforcement bicycle patrols began under the leadership of Lee Grady.

"Our sheriff at the time was open to any new, innovative ideas," she said. "Back in 1990, we were facing a lot of issues on the strip with traffic gridlock. We also had gang-related activities going on, like shootings and such so we had to get a police presence down there but we couldn't get in there and that was scary. I brought that concept to Las Vegas and started out with mountain bike patrolling and within a year, we cleaned up the strip."

Prior to Gauthier joining the force, she said Metro had strict policies regarding the physical abilities of police officers, as they had to meet certain height and weight requirements to get into the police department.

"When I came in, they had lifted that ban and said if you can pass all of the same tests as the men, they would hire you," she said. "I took the test and I passed. Not only did I pass, I came up in the top 50 of that group."

During her time at the academy Gauthier went head-to-head with her male counterparts, which she described at times as quite grueling.

"Back then it was an obstacle course that you ran for the physical requirements," she said. "It was a 440-yard course, but it was on sand. There are all kinds of obstacles like a six-foot wall that you had to scale. You had to climb up to the roof of a home. There were all of these obstacles along the 440-yard course. You had to be quick and you had to run it in under 100 seconds; I met it."

Gauthier laments that her pioneering efforts at the department are what she believes doomed her career after more than 20 years.

"Because I was paving the way for more women to come in, there were a lot of men who didn't want women there," she said. "And still today, it's a good old boys' club. When they took out the Pioneer, which they did in 2001, I lost my career, which set women back for years."

Though the number of female officers during her time with the department stood at less than 10 percent, Gauthier said she's not exactly sure how many women are now serving on the force at present.

She also gave her thoughts on women performing combat duty in the U.S. military, as standards are increasingly becoming more lenient.

"As far as American military women serving in combat, the way you are promoted in the military is through battle unfortunately," she said. "When you eliminate women, you eliminate their chances for promotion. Women, just like men, are wired for combat. You go through the same training and preparation. There is no gender when you are on the battlefield and if you look at the Israeli forces, all of the women and boys and girls go into the army right after high school as required so there is no male/female when you are on the battlefield. It is simply being prepared, being trained, and having the mindset and focus of a warrior."

Gauthier's book can be purchased through Amazon.com, as well as her website, debragauthier.com.

"Sales are going great and we are getting the word out," she said.

Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at sharris@pvtimes.com

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