Christy Molina was raised in Colorado and has a degree in biology, not criminology. Her step-dad was in law enforcement and not too keen on women entering the field. She was looking for a temporary job post-college when her mom suggested, “Wouldn’t it piss your step-dad off if you became a cop?” Fifteen years later she is still on the job, and usually only pissing off people who have broken the law. What keeps her here is the community.
Life on the Force
“People have high expectations of its community and police as an extension of that community,” she said. “I’m glad for these expectations. I think we try really hard to live up to them.”
Molina is one of a few women on the force and one of only two fluent Spanish speakers. Being a woman in law enforcement has only very rarely worked against her. Many times, it has actually worked in interesting ways as people tend to be more polite to her than her male counterparts, even when she is arresting them.
Though she trains in weapons, driving and cultural sensitivity, her personality might be her secret weapon: engaging, funny, and honest. On two ride-alongs, she had me laughing most of the time–something I never expected while sitting (sober) in a cop car. From stories about putting many injured deer out of their misery, “Corvallis deer must have a wanted poster out for me,” to discussing her smaller stature, “me bringing down a 300-pound guy on drugs would look like I was riding a bucking bronco,” this cop has some great stories. She also treats people with respect and has a positive attitude about humanity, even when she is often seeing them in negative situations.
Like all Corvallis cops, Molina works 12-hour shifts and spends about 60-70 percent of her time doing paperwork. She is proud of her fellow officers and has a tight bond with her squad. They spend many hours together and experience things that are impossible to explain to others. They see people at their lowest and experience trauma as a platoon would. There is also the physical demand of the job.
“We’ve been hit, kicked, punched, bitten, and spit at,” she said.
On our two ride-alongs during quiet shifts there was no biting or spitting, but the finesse and human touch required of Molina’s job was evident.
Out For A Stroll
As we drove through Corvallis on a quiet Sunday, someone called out “Hey, Christy!” and approached the car with a smile. He is probably familiar to many who frequent downtown, as he can be seen wandering throughout Corvallis like many others who don’t have a permanent home.
Sean let her know he had been sober for 12 days after decades of drug abuse and she told him he looked good. She encouraged him to call his family to get the support he needed. Sean was reluctant–they would be angry and upset. He thought he deserved that but he couldn’t bear it. Molina firmly encouraged him without a paternal attitude or demands, just an honest exchange.
Molina pulled the car away and related how most of the homeless population in town recognize and mostly appreciate the police.
“Cops are some of the few people who talk to the homeless throughout the day,” Molina said. “We know these guys.”
When she noticed someone sleeping in a vehicle downtown, she approached and asked some questions. It was apparent he was living out of it so she advised him there was no camping within city limits and had a conversation with him.
Down at Michael’s landing, a guy with a dead battery signaled for her to stop. She offered to call someone for him, but he had a cell phone and seemed just to want to tell her what was going on. She advised him to avoid leaving his paddle-board unsecured for very long due to theft. He thanked her and waited for his ride.
Each engagement with the public has the possibility of going wrong, and Molina said that she is always conscious of people’s behavior towards her and other officers.
“We’re driving around in billboards,” she said.
Even off-duty, many cops receive dirty looks or more direct comments from the public. It can be easy to see why. The cultural perception of police officers is based on what most of us encounter when we are in a stressful situation or from what we see when things go wrong. Local resident Morgan Harrington understands the negative view but has seen it from the other side since moving to Corvallis.
“I used to live on the corner of Fighting and Drinking, aka 18th and Tyler,” she said. “I had to deal with Corvallis cops on a pretty frequent basis, and some would look intimidating but they were all so wonderful to deal with.”
Some would disagree. For Officer Molina and all the other Corvallis cops, the way the public views them matters, but they have to go to work either way. Molina has advice for locals who want to know more about their local law enforcement.
“If you’ve never done a ride along or had a lengthy conversation [with a cop], you might want to. You can’t get an idea of what your police officers do from a crime watch report in a newspaper.”
Definitely advice to be taken to heart.
By Bridget Egan