On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes officer Ana Hester to the show on Monday, January 25 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
From detective work to dispatching officers, Officer Ana Hester has done it all. She has been a police officer for almost 17 years, and even served as president of Montgomery County’s chapter of the National Black Police Association.
Hester joins us to talk about every aspect of policing, from how to become an officer to the racial justice protests last summer and what it’s like being a Black woman and a police officer.
We also welcome the students of Damascus Elementary School in Bethesda, our school of the week. We’re looking forward to their questions, and yours too — if you’re a kid!
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe and Richard Cunningham
- Ana Hester Officer, Montgomery County Police Department; president, Montgomery County chapter of National Black Police Association
KOJO NNAMDIThere's been a lot about police in the news. Last summer, there were big protests here and around the country over how police treat black people. And more recently, we heard about a black officer, Eugene Goodman, at the U.S. Capitol, who's called a hero for standing up to a mob, possibly saving the vice president's life. So, what is being a police officer like right now? Today, we're joined by a police officer, Ana Hester, who is with us today to talk about her life and work. Ana Hester's with the Montgomery County Police Department. Thank you so much for joining us.
ANA HESTERThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIWe also look forward to hearing from students at Damascus Elementary School in Damascus, Maryland, our school of the week. Ana Hester, where were you born, and where did you grow up? What was life like when you are a child?
HESTERSo, I'm originally from Texas. I grew up in a small town about two-and-a-half hours outside of Houston. We later moved to Houston, where I lived and graduated from high school from. And then I move to the D.C. area for college.
NNAMDIAh, what was...
NNAMDII was about to say, what was your relationship with the police like when you were younger? What did you think about police officers then?
HESTERSo, when I was much younger, I didn't see a lot of policing. We were in a small town, so you didn't really see police officers in the capacity that I -- maybe was in patrolling, and things like that. So, I didn't have a relationship or an opinion about the police. I think the most I knew about police officers at the time was, you know, traveling, you know, the interstate, you might get pulled over for speeding. So, that was probably the extent of my knowledge with policing. Obviously, living in Houston, which is a metropolitan city, you see a lot more police officers patrolling. The police were not at my home, so I never had that interaction with them until I was later an adult.
NNAMDIAnd you came to Washington to go to college, I think Howard University, correct?
HESTERYes, I did graduate from Howard University.
NNAMDIIs that when you knew that you wanted to become a police officer, while you were at Howard?
HESTERActually, no. My intent to go to Howard was to go to law school. I started working for the department my sophomore year of college as a police dispatcher.
NNAMDI(overlapping) For the Montgomery County Police Department?
NNAMDIOh, okay. Got it.
HESTERYes, I started -- I got a job there my sophomore year of college, and the position is actually called a public safety communication specialist now. And I worked there the remaining three years of my college time. And when I graduated, I was looking to move up. At the time, that position only had a few options in terms of upward mobility. So, I was looking for something in terms of moving into a different direction. I wasn't completely sold on going to law school at the time.
HESTERAnd after having a conversation with someone, they pointed out that the department had a lot of opportunities for upper mobility that I had never considered. And so, because I had been with the department already three years at that point, it was an option -- or an opportunity, rather, to lateral over into becoming an officer and looking at some of those other options in terms of career choices.
NNAMDISo, how does one become a police officer? What did you need to do, and how long does it take to train for the job?
HESTERSo, the process, I would say, while not necessarily simple, it's very transparent. It's very clear. It's a linear process. You would start with an application. You turn in your application, and then you're selected to test. There is a multiple choice exam. It has 100 questions. It's very basic knowledge. You don't have to have any prior policing experience. And once you pass that exam, you would then have an interview in front of a panel of three sworn officers. You answer six questions. Again, you don't have to have any prior police knowledge to answer the questions. They're very straightforward.
HESTERThen you would have a physical fitness agility exam. That's another component that's very straightforward. It's pass or fail. It involves 17 pushups, 34 sit-ups and a mile-and-a-half run. Once you complete those three components, then you would go into a background phase. You're filling out a background packet. It's about 64 to 65 pages. It's very comprehensive, your travel, your education, pretty much everything that you've done prior to applying for the job.
HESTERAfter your background investigation is done, you would then be selected to take a polygraph exam. Again, that's pass or fail. Once you've moved on from that, you would have a psychological and a medical exam. Those are also pass or fail. And so, once those are completed, we would be giving you an offer to join our department as a police officer candidate.
HESTERThe academy is 25 weeks long. It is not live-in. I know some departments, like the state police, have a live-in academy, but our academy is not live-in. You come in every day, you go home. It's very comprehensive. We teach you everything that you need to know from the laws of Montgomery County, the state laws, constitutional, criminal law, report writing, defensive driving, defensive tactics, shooting. There's all types of things that we're going to teach you while you're in the academy to prepare you to become an officer on the road.
HESTERThere's a lot of information that you're going to be given. And, of course, you know, you don't have to have any prior knowledge to come in, because the academy staff is going to teach you everything that you need to know.
NNAMDIOkay. You've answered one part of Nora's question. Twelve-year-old Nora writes: I'd like to know when the officer has decided to be a police officer. You've answered that part, but here's the other part of Nora's question: Also, what is the most surprising thing about being a police officer?
HESTERWell, that's a great question, Nora. I don't know what the most surprising part is. I would say, for me, getting into the police department. I was really surprised about all of the opportunities in our department, all of the investigative opportunities, all of the specialized units. There's over 25. We are a fairly large department, and so we offer all these opportunities. And prior to actually becoming an officer, I didn't know about all of these units, all these opportunities to get involved in different parts of the community. And so, I think the community, the public, they also may not be aware of all those other things that police officers do besides patrol.
NNAMDIHere is seven-year-old Timothy in Frederick, Maryland. Timothy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMOTHYOkay. My question, are police badges made of real gold?
HESTERHi, Timothy. (laugh) That's a great question. No, they are not made of gold.
NNAMDITimothy's going for the gold. (laugh)
HESTERNo. I'm so sorry, they are not. But they are very shiny, so it does give that gold appearance. But I believe it is brass, or there's other types of metals. Funny enough, I have two different badges. One's very, very shiny, and the other one is brass. And we do have to clean and shine that to make it look really nice.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Timothy. And we move on now to R.J., who is seven years old but about to turn eight, in Damascus, Maryland. R.J., it's your turn.
R.J.My question is, how many canines are there in one police department?
NNAMDIHow many canines are there in one police department?
R.J.So, our department has a pretty large canine unit. I believe there are 14 or 15 canine officers who have the canine dog with them. So, I think the larger departments have very large units, because they cover a lot more area. Some of the smaller departments may only have maybe, like, four or five. But our department, I believe, has 15. I'm not sure on the exact number, but I definitely know it's more than five.
NNAMDIHave you ever had to work with a canine unit?
HESTERNo, I've never done any work with the canine unit, specifically. We used to host a summer RISE program in conjunction with Montgomery County Public Schools. And when we hosted the students during the summer, we would touch base with different units, because, of course, who doesn't love the canine unit. So, the kids would get a chance to meet some of the officers in the canine unit and get to hear their stories about how they train their dogs, how they have a relationship with their dogs once they leave their shift. And so, we get to work with them, but no work in terms of searching or anything like that.
NNAMDIHere is eight-year-old William in Damascus, Maryland. William, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WILLIAMSo, my question is, who decided that the police lights are going to be red and blue?
NNAMDIOoh, good question. (laugh)
HESTERYou know, that is a great question. I don't know. If you're talking about the lights, which I assume that's what you're talking about, the lights on the cars.
HESTERI'm not sure who maybe decided that, but it maybe have been something that made sense that everybody would see. Everybody sees red, and we all know that red is stop. I'm not sure where the blue came from, but when you see the red and blue lights flashing, it could definitely get your attention. So, it may have been, like, a vision thing. So, I'm not really sure where that came from.
NNAMDIYeah, somebody said studies show red lights are more visible during the day, while blue lights are more visible at night. So, it's entirely possible that's why they have both red and blue lights, but I am not, either, very sure. William, but thank you very much for your call.
HESTER...I do work at night, and if you are on like a traffic stop or if you're going to a call and your lights are on, they are very bright and can be pretty blinding. So, they definitely picked the right colors.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, William. Now, here is 16-year-old Baby in Frederick, Maryland. Baby, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BABYHi, Officer Hester. First of all, thank you so much for all you do for our community. I was wondering if the events following the murder of George Floyd made you rethink your career choice at all of becoming a police officer, or if it actually made you more determined to build a stronger bond with the community that you protect?
HESTERThe events -- well, first of all, the death of George Floyd was definitely disturbing to watch, as a police officer. It did not change my mindset of the work that I'm able to do. It definitely made me dig in and roll my sleeves up more to the job that I'm doing right now, which is recruiting and being a DARE instructor. Those two things won't change for me, because I'm a part of a mission of building trust within the community, building a bridge within the community. And so, I didn't have to rethink the work that I'm already doing.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Baby. We're talking with Ana Hester, who's an officer with the Montgomery County Police Department. But since Baby raised that issue, allow me to pursue it. What is it like being a black woman and a police officer? How is it part of how you do your work?
HESTERWell, like when I explain to people that ask that question, I make it very clear that I'm a black woman first. And being a police officer is my career choice and is what I do. It is not -- when you meet me, it is not who I am. It is a part of what I'm capable of doing in my life. And there have been moments where I've seen things or I've talked to other officers of color about their experiences, and it makes us more determined to do the right thing in policing.
HESTERI saw someone post a quote the other day on social media: "Be the police officer that you would want responding to your family." And so, in my career, that's the type of policing that I've chosen to do is -- if my mother has to call the police or if someone in my family needs to call the police, I hope that they're going to be the officer that I would be for someone else.
HESTERAnd I take a lot of pride in the work that I do, but it doesn't change the fact that policing has a history in this country that we often don't necessarily talk about. And so, as a black female, as a student at Howard, living in this community, there are issues that people face, you know, when they're dealing with police officers. And those are things that we try to address. I was a member of the National Black Police Association for several years. And the organization does a lot of work in trying to bridge the gap between the community and policing.
HESTERSo, there's work to be done, but I do feel privileged to be a part of bridging that gap, because I want people to know that, as a police officer, I've taken my job serious. I've done everything that I'm supposed to do when it comes to working with the community, following the laws. And being a recruiter, I want to recruit people that are just like that. And so, have I had some challenges as a black female and officer? Absolutely.
HESTERI can talk to, you know, at least 20 other, you know, female officers of color or male officers of color, and we can all talk about challenges that we face in this department or in various departments. But it doesn't negate the work that we dedicate ourselves to.
NNAMDIYou do recruiting. Can you explain what recruiting means, and why you decided you wanted to do that as part of your job?
HESTERSo, it was an opportunity that came open. I knew another recruiter who was retiring. She presented the opportunity that a position was coming open. She thought that I might be really good for the position. I had an opportunity to try it out, and I really enjoyed the aspect of talking to people about what their goals were. I don't look at recruiting as just me recruiting for the police department. I look at it as an opportunity to help people get to where they want to be. And it just so happens that they might want to be police officers.
HESTERWe do a lot of recruiting at colleges and universities. And it's really nice to hear some of these young people talk about what their goals are. And I don't just brush them aside if they said they're not sure about policing. I do have the opportunity to help them see some of the other opportunities in policing from the aspect of, you know, if you have a four-year degree, you can become an executive. Or there's other parts of our department that may suit you better than policing.
HESTERSo, I really enjoy the fact that I can help people get to where they want to be in their career choices. And it's very rewarding, especially when you recruited them, you've talked to them, you've invested time. They get hired. They go through the academy. They've graduated, and you see them out working and you hear about some of the phenomenal things that they're doing. It's very rewarding.
NNAMDIWhen you started out at the police department, did you see many officers who looked like you on the force? And do you think it’s important for people to see a woman, and a black woman, in the job?
HESTERWhen I started, our numbers for African-American females in our department has traditionally been low. We have lower numbers, but I knew other officers of color. So, I wasn't -- that wasn't foreign to me to see -- to not see a lot of officers of color, but I knew many of them. I think when we're -- I think it's important in any aspect to see the examples of a person like yourself, especially for kids. When they look in the mirror, and they're looking at themselves, they're looking at their features. And when they go out into the world, they want to see other people that look like them.
HESTERI mean, especially we're talking about the newly elected vice-president. You know, young girls are seeing possibilities. And so, when I meet kids or I meet with people and they see that I'm a black female, I'm educated, I'm doing this job, it opens up a possibility for them, because they may or may not have considered law enforcement, whether local or federal, state or anything of the other. But I think it presents opportunities. Because if you don't see someone who looks like you somewhere, you may not think it's possible. Or you may not have even considered it. And so, I think there's definitely importance in representation in any career field, not just policing.
NNAMDIWell, a lot of people say we have to make big changes to police departments, that we should put less money into police departments and more money into other job opportunities for people. Some even think we shouldn't have police departments at all. What do you think about that?
HESTERSo, I'm not against -- well, excuse me. I'm not for taking money away from police departments. I think that the funds are crucial to programs like A DARE or an explorer program or, like, the PAL program that our department used to have. I think those programs are crucial to our communities. It's helping departments invest time in helping our communities grow.
HESTERAnd when you take those funds away, you take those programs away. And I think PAL was taken away several years ago. And I'm sure the effect has been, like, great. Not great, excuse me. Has been detrimental to the communities that we were working in. But when you take those funds and you put them into community programs, it does forget a relationship that wouldn't be there, otherwise.
HESTERYou know, the police are necessary, because there are things happening to people where the police are needed. We do do things in a community that are needed, and we need those funds to be able to do those things. So, taking away funding from a department is not going to change the needs in our community, but it will help us to forge a better relationship. That may not necessarily be the belief of other people, but I think those programs have great impact on our communities, and the kids greatly benefit from them.
NNAMDIBriefly, how do you feel, in general, about the black lives matter movement?
HESTERSo, I don't have an issue with the black lives matter movement. My belief is that the movement didn't just start six or seven years ago. The movement's been happening since we've been here in this country. I think it's been -- it evolved to look like other things, but when we're talking about black lives matter, it's the same concept when Dr. King was marching. It's the concept before that. It's equal rights voting. It's civil rights. It's all those things that people have been championing for long before I became a police officer. Long before my parents were born.
HESTERAnd so, I don't have an issue with the movement. I don't have an issue with that concept. And I think that it's very important to understand that it's not an issue of hierarchy. It's saying that I am this person. I'm a person of color, and my life is just as important as everyone else's. My education is just as important. My rights are just as important. And so, I have no issue with the movement at all.
NNAMDIOkay. We don't have a great deal of time left, but Janelle writes: I'm interesting in becoming a police officer. Is there a specific age for becoming a cop, and when are you too old?
HESTERSo, that's a great question. The minimum age for application is 20-and-a-half. You have to be 21 upon graduation from the academy. You're never too old to be an officer. As long as you can pass the components of the hiring process, we will hire you.
NNAMDIAna Hester's an officer with the Montgomery County Police Department. Thank you so much for joining us.
HESTERThank you so much for having me, and congratulations on your impending retirement.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Kojo for Kids was produced by Richard Cunningham and Lauren Markoe. And our conversation on local community colleges was produced by Ines Renique. Coming up tomorrow, last week, President Joe Biden extended existing federal nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people. We'll discuss what this will mean for the LGBTQ community in our region.
NNAMDIThen, is poetry political? We sit down with two local poets. And don't forget to join us tomorrow evening for our next Kojo in Your Community. We'll be discussing neighbors stepping up to help neighbors during this pandemic. Go to WAMU.org/events to register, and it's free. Thank you all for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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