Story by Hunter Myers | Jun 26, 2017
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer

Officer Kelley Gettler strengthens our community. Literally.

While being a police officer wasn’t always what Officer Kelley Gettler thought she would do, working in the field of criminal justice was. “Originally, I started my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice so I could be a victims’ advocate,” she says. “I worked for the department of corrections as a corrections officer for a couple years and just kind of fell into law enforcement.”

When someone is passionate about what they do, the joy and liveliness they exude is captivating; by merely talking about it, they can light up a room. This is exactly the case with Gettler’s work with the Jefferson City Police Department.

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Gettler has been with JCPD for three and a half years and is one of a handful of women in a predominately male workforce. The male to female ratio fluctuates a bit as the city approves new positions, current officers retire or move to other forces, and new recruits graduate from the police academy — but it doesn’t fluctuate much.

The gender imbalance is something Gettler spends very little time thinking about, since she’s only worked in law enforcement and doesn’t know anything different. Instead, she focuses on what every officer, man or woman, can bring to the table. “I’m going to have different assets than the guys and they’re going to have different strengths than me,” she says. “It’s about learning to understand those strengths and weaknesses to really be effective with your job.”

A R.A.D. Instructor

The R.A.D. Systems—standing for Rape Aggression Defense Systems—is a program that “balances the needs of women to acquire self defense education in a relatively short period of time with the lifelong commitment required for physical skill mastery,” according to its website.

The program has been around since the 1980s but recently gained popularity in the Jefferson City area. Officer Gettler is one of a few instructors who lead women ages 13 and older through the self-defense training. The course teaches the women situational awareness and how to protect themselves if they end up in a situation where they’re put in danger.

“I always tell the girls: ‘You need to be your own bodyguard. You can’t rely on somebody else. They’re not always going to be there at your side,’” Gettler says. “If something were to happen, we need to know how to mainly protect ourselves and hopefully be able to protect others.”

Officer Gettler has taught girls as young as 13 and women well into their 80s. Each time, she says, the women come out stronger. They hold their heads higher, they carry themselves differently, and possess far more confidence than they had walking into the program.

“It’s really the greatest feeling for me, to see that confidence grow,” she says.

A ‘Well-Armed Woman’

Along with teaching women basic self-defense, Gettler is also an NRA-certified firearms instructor with the Well-Armed Woman program.

The Well-Armed Woman is a national firearms organization specifically for women that has a local chapter in Jefferson City. The chapter has monthly meetings where they discuss anything from different kinds of firearms and ammunition to situational awareness. The week following these meetings, they go to the shooting range to work on various skills.

A number of the women in the chapter had little to no firearm experience before joining. One of Gettler’s favorite parts of teaching these women is watching how much they grow and watching the confidence they gain. After all, she used to be just like them.

“Being a cop, you’d think I would have been shooting for years, but I didn’t shoot until I was in the academy,” she says, thinking back on her first experience with a gun. “I had all these guys around me who already knew this stuff, and I was this girl who was like ‘I don’t know what I’m doing.’”

Having a firearms organization just for women allows them to feel more comfortable learning this new skill. Their shared experience creates a special sense of camaraderie and eases some of the intimidation that could come from learning these same skills around men.

“They look up to me as the instructor and the leader, and what they don’t realize is I’m looking up to them — they’re actually the ones guiding me without even knowing it,” Gettler says.

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A Future Mentor

Officer Gettler is interested in helping girls and women of all ages. Unfortunately, there isn’t a program for individuals under the age of 13, nor is there a program specifically geared towards young girls and teens — at least not yet.

A mentorship program is something Officer Gettler has been thinking about for a while now. “It’s just been floating around in my head to do a mentorship program for these young girls so they can have a role model to look up to and have someone to encourage them,” she says. “That’s something I’m really big on: encouragement, empowerment, and letting these girls know they have it in them to do what they want to do.”

While Gettler’s recent appointment to field training officer — the department’s only female in that position — will be keeping her busy, she’s determined to do what she can to get a mentorship program going and give girls more options for empowerment.

“I want to help these girls realize they do have it in them,” she says. “They have the courage. They have the strength. They have the confidence they can do it. Sometimes they just need a push in the right direction.”

Gettler can be that push.