Proud female officers see gender as an asset

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Ready to roll: Jamie Mazuryk, left, and Jill Kaufman stand by an Altamont cruiser outside of the police station at Village Hall on Tuesday. “It’s a very unique community,” said Kaufman.

Enterprise file photo — James E. Gardner

Melanie Parkes, with the Altamont Police, rode astride her white steed, Jack, in Altamont’s Memorial Day parade in May.

ALTAMONT — Pride emanates from the three female police officers who serve and protect in Altamont, through their stories, their experiences, and their public appearances.

Altamont Police Department officers Jill Kaufman, Jamie Mazuryk, and Melanie Parkes patrol the village, respond to emergency calls, and serve when court is in session, and they use their female perspectives as tools on the job. They are part of a 13-officer department led by Chief Todd Pucci.

Kaufman spent 33 years as a New York State Environmental Conservation Police officer before coming to Altamont two years ago.

Conservation “literally means ‘wise use,’ ” she said. “That resonated with my personal philosophy. I knew that I wanted to have a responsible position. I was attracted to the idea of making a contribution. I could make a real difference as part of a team.”

Kaufman retired as a major with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s police force in 2012. She learned about the village of Altamont from another officer.

“I wanted to stay active. It was an ideal time and fit,” she said about coming to Altamont part-time. “It’s lovely. It’s a very unique community.”

Kaufman and Mazuryk both spoke of the police logo, which includes protecting and serving the populace.

“One, as an officer, is able to establish a knowledge base for protection and delivery of that service,” Kaufman said. Altamont “exemplifies all that is good about small-town America…There’s enough police work to keep one busy, but they’re very nice people, so it’s a pleasure to serve.”

Mazuryk is in her fifth year as an officer, after graduating from Zone 14 Training Academy for officers in Duchess, Columbia, Greene, and Ulster counties. She works the 4-to-11 p.m. shift on Saturdays and Sundays in Altamont, and works part-time for the Schoharie County Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s not all about traffic,” Mazuryk said about law enforcement in Altamont. “It’s about connecting with people and trying to make a difference. You have to call 911 for us to come there,” she said, noting that officers do not arrive at a call to cause trouble.

Mazuryk came to police work later than some.

“When I was younger, I thought I always wanted to be in the military, but I didn’t follow through,” she said. She tried other fields, including sales, and did “what I was supposed to do,” she said.

“I turned 30 and decided to pursue what I wanted in life,” Mazuryk said. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” she said of law enforcement.

Kaufman and Mazuryk find that being women works to their advantages often, they said.

“As women, I think we tend to nurture, and we tend to seek a solution in a different way than men do — not better, but certainly not worse,” Kaufman said. “There are times in law enforcement where strength is [important]. Our strength is above the shoulders.

“After six months in a police academy,” she continued, “we’re given all the same tools that all the male police officers are. I’ve never had a problem in a male-dominated field.”

Mazuryk said that being a female affects her work in a positive way, especially when dealing with other females, as when she is “pulling them over, or having to search them on some type of drug arrest. With men, too, they kind of calm down. It brings out their ‘chivalrous’ side,” she said. “We can intensify things sometimes, but it’s never been a negative by myself, or with other officers.”

Mazuryk does receive comments about her gender, she said, recalling that she has been asked more than once, “They let you ride by yourself?”

“That’s what I get a lot — not from people we serve and protect, but people who see me out in a car,” she said. Being a female does affect her work now that she has her own children, she said.

“The kid calls are not the best…dealing with a domestic incident…all of them kind of affect me. [The children] really don’t have a choice, and I have to speak for them. Those are the tough ones. You want to help them. Those are the hard ones, when the police are called over and over again.”

Kaufman said that she would “absolutely” recommend law enforcement as a career, but she would “caution anyone looking to get into a field where it tends to take over one’s life.” She likened the hours of police work to the hours of doctors and nurses.

“Police officers can be called to courts, or natural disasters,” she said. The work can be “self-actualizing, and self-empowering,” Kaufman said. “We rise to the occasion life presents to us.”

Kaufman was a lieutenant with the DEC assigned to the Bronx and Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001 when the twin towers were attacked in New York City. She was driving into Manhattan when the south tower fell, she said.

“We were able to help many people,” she said. She and her team helped people get out of the terror scene, she said.

“It was a very stressful day. I had the advantage of being very well trained, and I had a lot of experience at that point. There were moments where we were able to guide people to safety,” she said.

Mazuryk recalled a time when she tended to a woman who had sustained a deep laceration. The woman’s name was Mary, but Mazuryk intuitively used the nickname “Mare,” as she uses nicknames in her own family, she said.

“ ‘That’s what my sister calls me,’ ” the woman told Mazuryk. Mary calmed down and Mazuryk continued to address her in a comforting way until the issues were resolved. “We just connected. That was a good day. That was a cool story for me. Sometimes, it’s the little things,” she said. “Assessing a situation and being able to help them is the best.”

Officer Melanie Parkes was unavailable for comment for this story. Her presence is well known to village residents attending events ranging from traffic court to Memorial Day parades. Parkes is also known to represent the village police department on horseback.

“I want to stress…what a privilege it is to work in Altamont,” Kaufman said. “It’s just a really nice place to be.”

“We’re there when you call us,” Mazuryk said. “I want people to remember that.”

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