As the director of the Ada County Jail and Court Services bureau Scown now oversees a busy—and growing—prison population and its staff. But running a tight ship is nothing to the single mother who raised seven children.
While she's not physically imposing, there's little question she's not a woman who messes around. Rising through the ranks from jail deputy to patrol officer to detective and beyond, Scown has forged her own path. She took time out to talk to BW about being a cop and a mom.
What does it mean to you to be the first woman to be promoted to captain?
I'm proud of that. The distinction is that I'm a female, not that I'm doing the work any differently or any better than anybody else—male or female.
Did you experience any prejudice as a woman?
I have been asked that question an awful lot and I can honestly say I have never felt that.
Do we work a little bit differently? I think we do, in that women have great communication skills. I think men have great communication skills, but I think women depend on them a lot more to de-escalate a situation and buy time.
I say it's a smart way of doing business, where you can talk and stall for time until backup is there and then do the hands-on if that's what's necessary to make an arrest or whatever the event is. I would suggest that men do it that way as well. That's just smart business, smart management.
What experiences stick out in your mind?
I do remember back in patrol. There was a time [when] a man with a gun standing in the middle of State Street, and it was a shotgun, and he was firing at houses and cars.
This was back in '88. It was shift change, meaning most of the team was coming in and the team was waiting for cars to go on out ... I was the only one out there and had to stop traffic, identify the player—who was surrounded by three civilians—get him to [lay down], and all that waiting for backup to come. That was pretty intense.
How do motherhood and police work overlap?
I think I learned the tactics in trying to raise my kids that were successful, that I use in the leadership style here. That is setting clear expectations. For my kids, this is what I mean: You go to school, you have to be up at this time, you need to be at school and here are your chores that need to be done by 5 o'clock. And if they aren't done by 5 o'clock, here's what's going to happen and follow through on that as well.
My kids still talk about that today because, they all laugh and joke, mom gets off at 5. At quarter to 5, they see me turning the corner and they run in the house and get the chores done, because they knew they had to be done.
But in this setting, it's also taking all the staff, commissioned and non-commissioned alike, saying, "This is what we need to get done today, here's our action plan, we need to be done by 5 o'clock. Let's go get it, work as a team."
Did your kids worry about breaking the rules more than most?
They did. If they were stopped in a traffic stop, they would call me immediately, because they knew I would find out. Because I would share with them, again, the expectation, "if something happens, it's OK to call me, I need to know." So they would.
Where their friends a little afraid of you?
I think the kids thought it was cool that I was a cop. But there's certain little things that they knew drove me crazy, so to speak. At the time when wearing the baggy pants and the hat backwards, and that kind of look was in style, going with the crowd was not OK with me in [terms of] respect. That to me was your pants up with a belt and make sure your hat was turned [forward]. Again, I set that expectation, "I don't like that look, it says this about you, I don't want that there, so don't do it."
So you have the ultimate mom look?
I do remember one special event, at Taco Bell arena, where my work assignment was on [one] side of the arena and I knew that a couple of my kids were at the event. So I was watching clear across the arena for the kids to see where they were sitting, and I noticed that their hats were on backwards. So I go walking around the event and I got to about the apex there, and my kids look up and see me, and it was like clockwork [they turned their hats].
What are your responsibilities with the jail?
I have a huge population here. I have sometimes 1,000 inmates here, 50 to 60 commissioned and non-commissioned employees in the immediate area. Well, the odds are against us so to speak. So, as the captain, I want to make sure that the system that we have in place—from geography to movement to training—all maximizes the safety of the officers and for the inmates. We do have inmates who are enemies among themselves. We have to know that, we have to evaluate that, we have to classify that. So understanding both what the mission of the jail is to keep staff safe and inmates safe and how I want to accomplish that is, again, I'll say my mantra is, give respect, get respect.
What's the biggest change since you started?
The growth in women committing crimes.
What do you attribute that to?
It's probably directly related to drugs.
What's your biggest challenge?
I think we have a great system in place. We have great people here at the Ada County Sheriff's office. I think my immediate goal for long-term issues is to raise up the next set of leaders here. We have great talent, and giving them the tools to do their jobs and to rise up in the agency just as I have.
Do you have grandkids?
What do they think about grandma being a police officer?
They're very proud. In fact, I really enjoy when my grandsons like me to turn the lights on in my unmarked vehicle. That's my way of saying hello to them when they come over to the house. They really do like that and they talk about grandma's police car.