Lake Wales Police Department is waving farewell to their very first female police officer.
After 34 years of service, Mary Conner is retiring.
“Back when I first came here, we used a manual typewriter,” says Mary Conner, evidence and property technician, who remembers what it was like in “the old days” at the Lake Wales Police Department.
The officers shared cars, she said, and nobody got vacation pay or sick days.
“We were like a family … we looked out for each other,” she says.
In her time there, she went through five city managers and “five or six chiefs,” Conner noted.
“Everything changes with each one,” she added.
Looking around her office, Thursday, her last day of work at the department, she noted that “when you work in property and evidence, you don’t have many good memories.”
“You are dealing with the evidence and drugs, and getting stuff to the proper agency.”
That process in itself was pretty detailed. Drugs are marked to be destroyed, and have to be cataloged in the system, a letter has to be sent to the court for permission to destroy the drugs, then driven (along with two other people who must ride with you) to Tampa for destruction.
Conner was the first certified female police officer at the LWPD, and back then, she said, they were called “meter maids.”
After moving from Sarasota, she took a job at Masterpiece Gardens, and her aunt was working in records at the LWPD.
Her aunt told her she should fill out an application, and she did, and was hired.
“I took a chance and was hired in 1965,” she said.
Starting out as a meter maid, she moved up to dispatcher.
She remembers her badge number, “21.”
In 1984, she moved to records, and her aunt had left prior to that.
There was a period of time when she started Lake Wales’ first video rental store, and she ran that for about 10 years, until she returned to the police department.
The family atmosphere drew her back to her post.
“I’ve enjoyed the people I work with and the fact that it is something new every day, you don’t get bored,” she said.
The only thing she didn’t like, and she laughs as she says this, is transcriptions of police interviews.
“I heard a lot, I mean to tell you,” she said, leaving it at that.
When she first started working in evidence, evidence and property was logged into the Police Reporter, a relatively simple system, she says.
Then police merged their system with all other law enforcement under a new shared system.
The process is time consuming, but fruitful as the information is more easily accessed.
Conner is training the person who will take over her position, Carolyn Stephens.
“She’s got a lot to absorb,” she notes, but adds, “She is really exceptional. She is going to do great.”
The department surely will miss her, according to Jessica Gipson, administrative assistant.
“I have enjoyed the past two and a half years of working with Mary and being her back-up in Evidence. She is very knowledgeable (especially when it comes to asking questions about going on a cruise) and great to be around,” said Gipson.
“I’m sure there will be many ‘that’s not how Mary did it’ comments to come in the future. I wish her well in retirement.”
And Conner’s supervisor, Sgt. Joe VanBlarcom said she was always one of the people “when you look back at either special projects for the Lake Wales Police Department or the Lake Wales Police Officer Association,” which is a non-profit fundraising entity which raises money to support victims of crime, who “was there.”
“She’s always been willing to do for others.”
He noted that she “leaves big shoes to fill,” but adds he has no doubt that Stephens will do a great job.
As for her retirement, and Gipson’s comment about going on a cruise, Conner notes she is indeed going on a week-long cruise with some friends.
She also likes hunting, fishing and gardening.
She will miss the department.
“I’ve worked all my life,” she says.
“I am going to miss working with all these people. I really enjoy them all.”
Conner was an administrative assistant, worked parking enforcement, dispatcher, records clerk and was the technician for property and evidence over the course of her 34 years.