Pioneering police officer reflects on career
GREENLAND, N.H. (AP) — A trailblazer with a badge, Dawn Sawyer has retired from law enforcement after 25 years as a Seacoast police officer, while becoming the face of the Chief Michael Maloney Memorial Fund.
Sawyer, 48, retired from the Greenland Police Department as a lieutenant on Dec. 31, but said she’ll stay on, in a very part-time capacity, to keep her police certification. During a quarter-century in law enforcement, she said, there were funny moments involving naked citizens answering their doors and a loose iguana. But there was also sadness, she said, including the tragedy of April 12, 2012, when Maloney was killed and four other officers were shot while serving a warrant to a Greenland drug dealer.
Sawyer’s career began with the North Hampton Police Department in 1993 when she was the first woman on the police force, at a time when women in law enforcement were scarce. She grew up in Londonderry, where her neighbor was a police chief and her childhood dream was to work for the FBI.
“I was always fascinated with the investigation part of it,” she said.
As a rookie cop in North Hampton, she recalled, some women and older men were more prone to give her “attitude” about being a female officer, but they were “few and far between.” Police reports were typed on typewriters in the police station, notes were taken with pens and paper in the field.
Maloney was Sawyer’s sergeant in North Hampton, her chief in Greenland and, she said, her personal friend.
“He babysat my daughter and taught her to ski,” Sawyer said. “I worked with Mike from the start of my career to the end. He was my friend.”
While working one of her last North Hampton shifts, Sawyer said, she and Maloney responded in two cruisers to a call about an iguana on the loose, were surprised to find the animal was five-feet long and put it boxed into Maloney’s cruiser. While driving it back to the police station, she said, Maloney suddenly drove to the side of the road, she followed suit, then heard him yell, “It’s out!”
While they stood next to the road, trying to decide how they were going to corral the reptile back into the box, she said, a jogger stopped and asked if she and her “sarge” needed help.
“Here we are, the police, and we’re being asked if we need help,” she laughed.
While working beats in both towns, Sawyer recalled, she knocked on doors at night that were sometimes opened by unclothed citizens.
“More than you would anticipate,” she said. “You really can’t make some of this stuff up.”
It was while she was a North Hampton officer that Sawyer met the man who would be her husband, now Police Chief Rich Sawyer. She said they decided it was best if she went to another police department and she was hired in Greenland in August 1995. The couple is now co-parenting, as amicably divorced parents, a 16-year-old, she said.
Sawyer said she learned a lot about police work from Maloney in Greenland. She said he could be found every morning having coffee at Suds n Soda where he scratched lottery tickets and schmoozed with the locals.
“You become approachable,” she said. “People weren’t afraid to tell him things because he was there. I think that’s one of the reasons why (his death) was so impactful. That’s how I learned to be an officer.”
Sawyer also joked she learned “how not to drive” from Maloney. She said they once answered an emergency call at a high rate of speed when he began fiddling with the radio.
“What are you doing?” she said she asked him.
“I need better music to drive,” he answered.
Maloney, she said, was also “the guy you want with you when you’re going through the door”
Sawyer said that during her career, she once helped save someone’s life with CPR and took satisfaction from working toward the incarceration of a child sex offender.
“You couldn’t prevent it from happening,” she said. “But you do feel like you got the bad guy.”
She lives in Stratham with her teen daughter, a horse, a pony and a dog. There she’s starting a second career conducting background checks for a private company, which means she won’t have to work nights, weekends or holidays anymore.
Sawyer also volunteers as president of the Maloney Memorial Fund, which includes organizing a pair of fundraising events, the March 24 First Responders Appreciation Night and an annual road race on April 29.
She volunteers to conduct home interviews for a German shepherd rescue group and helps transport rescued Brittany Spaniels for a second rescue group.
“I’ll miss the guys,” she said last week. “And I’ll miss the people of Greenland.”
Information from: Foster’s Daily Democrat, http://www.fosters.com