Special Reports

Challenge, independence of police work attracted acting chief to the profession

Catherine Woodard spent many of her first hours Sunday as Tacoma's acting police chief inside the department's operations center, talking with officers and commanders.

Flanked by the three assistant chiefs, she addressed patrol officers as they started their shifts less than 24 hours after Chief David Brame shot his wife, then committed suicide at a Gig Harbor shopping center.

She asked the officers to watch out for each other.

"We just need to be mindful of each other on the street so no one else gets hurt," Woodard said in an interview. "It's hard for all of us."

City Manager Ray Corpuz appointed Woodard, Brame's ranking assistant chief, as acting chief after Saturday's shootings.

Woodard, 48, has spent her 25-year law enforcement career with the Tacoma Police Department. She most recently was in charge of the Criminal Investigations Bureau.

As acting chief, she's faced with mending a stunned and broken-hearted 400-member department during one of its most difficult points in its history.

"We need a little nurturing at this moment," said Woodard, one of Brame's closer friends. "We need to heal, plus we need to do our work."

Woodard and the three assistant chiefs, William Meeks, Don Ramsdell and Richard McCrea, will meet to discuss the immediate future.

"Right now, it is very important for me to keep us together and to keep us moving forward past this tragic time," said Woodard.

She wants to keep on the path Brame forged after he took office Jan. 14, 2002.

"I've been a part of Dave's team since the day he became chief," Woodard said. "I've shared his vision for enhancing community-oriented policing and his vision for reorganizing to become more effective."

Growing up in Chicago, Woodard didn't think about being a cop. She wanted be an oceanographer and frequently spent time in the water when she went to her grandparents nearby lakeside home. She enjoyed ice skating during the winter and swimming during he summer.

"I was a water baby," she said.

The career path brought her in 1972 to the University of Washington, one of two schools in the country to offer an undergraduate degree in oceanography.

Troubles in math classes altered that career path.

"I flunked calculus," Woodard said. "I retook it and got a C. I realized you needed a lot of math classes to become an oceanographer."

A job locking dorm buildings at night first peeked Woodard's interest in law enforcement. She got to know UW police officers when she picked up the keys for the buildings and became interested in what they did.

The independence, challenge and outdoor work intrigued her. Plus, she didn't need to take as many math classes.

"The more I looked into it, the more fascinated I was with the work," Woodard said. "I like things that keep you're blood moving."

She'd already fallen for the Puget Sound area and decided to look for a police job in the region. She applied to Seattle, the Port of Seattle and Tacoma.

Tacoma moved the quickest and she joined the force in 1977. At the time, few women worked in law enforcement. Woodard was one of five in her academy class.

She worked as an officer on the streets, rode a motorcycle in the traffic division, trained recruits fresh from the police academy and worked with the community as a crime prevention officer.

"In the course of my career, I wanted to do as many things as I could do," Woodard said.

In 1990, she started down a management track with a promotion to sergeant. Six years later, she became a lieutenant and in 1999, then-Chief James Hairston promoted her to captain.

In one of his first actions as chief, Brame made Woodard an assistant chief in 2002. She was the first woman in department history to achieve the rank.

"It brings a balance to the executive staff," Woodard said. "Women typically have different ways of processing things. It brings a different perspective."

Now as the department's interim commander, Woodard said she wants to focus on building and maintaining relationships.

"It's tough to fill Dave's shoes," she said. "He was brilliant. He was determined ... to do good things for the department, to do creative things for the department."

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268

stacey.mulick@mail.tribnet.com





Catherine Woodard



Age: 48

Family: Married, with two teenage children

Hometown: Born in Wisconsin and raised in Chicago

Education: Earned a bachelor of arts degree in society and justice from the University of Washington; graduated from the FBI National Academy in September 2001 and received first-line, mid-level and executive-level supervision certificates from the Washington State Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Academy.

Law enforcement career: Hired in 1977 by Tacoma police, was the department's first female motorcycle officer and sergeant, served on a committee Gov. John Spellman organized on street crime and worked as the department's public information officer from 1984 to 1986. Chief David Brame appointed her assistant chief in January 2002.

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