In three weeks Pam Richey will hit her 34th anniversary with the Rome Police Department, but it will be her last with the force as she heads into retirement later this year, capping off a career that started with her being the first black female officer.
"My time at the department has been bittersweet," she said, adding there have been moments of enjoyment and laughter, but also disappointment and sadness. "But the ride has been great."
For the last four years Richey has been the school resource officer at Rome High School — a job she took after getting burnt out from the grind of regular police work, she said. From March 19, 1984, up until that time, she had been a patrol officer, a member of the SWAT team and Rome-Floyd Metro Drug Task Force, as well as a hostage negotiator.
"I'd been there, done that, seen that," she said.
In taking the job, not wanting to be stuck behind a desk, Richey looked at it as an opportunity to make a difference in students' lives, not in an officer's role but like that of a parent. She said she has strived to be a caring adult to the students and attempted to guide them toward a positive future.
Richey said she is friendly and outgoing and loves working with people.
The key to being an officer, she said, is to always maintain the same persona regardless of where she was, in the streets or in the office.
"It just depends on how you treat people as a whole for how they will accept you," she said.
After graduating from Polk County Schools, Richey had initially wanted to go to school to be a gym teacher. But her life took a different trajectory when she got married and moved to Columbus with her husband, who was in the military.
As a people person, she said it influenced her wanting to get into police work. So in 1981, she joined the Cartersville Police Department, where she stayed for three years before coming to Rome. She always felt welcome by her fellow officers, and as a woman. She said Elaine Peek Snow, the first female officer and later the first woman police chief, and others had paved the way for her.
However, she did say that when she went out, "the blacks were surprised to see me."
Richey wanted to get involved in all that she could, which is why she ended up on the SWAT team. One of her most memorable experiences was repelling off the fire department's training tower off North Avenue. She was initially hesitant about it, "But I loved it once I did it," she said. She could not "shoot worth a crap," she laughed, but the team was never actually called on to respond.
When she retires at the end of the school year in May, Richey plans to visit her grandchildren in Alabama and Virginia along with relatives in Los Angeles, spending some "actual quality time" with them. She also wants to get a family dog, of no particular breed, and name it Guthrie, which came to her one night, she laughed.
For the department she will leave behind, Richey said "We're gonna go a long way." They'll be a model for other departments, she continued, referring to the younger command staff, female chiefs and an all around young force.