Grit & Grace: Sergeant Karen Wallace

From as far back as I can remember I have always been interested in law enforcement! I earned my black belt in karate and became an instructor, which increased my interest in becoming an officer as it gave me great confidence. I enjoy sharing those skills with women during several RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) classes. I have been a full time police officer for about 30 years. I started as an Auxilary Officer at the Wenham Police Department. I was promoted to the position as a part time officer (Reserve) around 1984, and then became the first female officer in Wenham’s history when I became full time in 1986. Later, in 1988, I transferred to the Hamilton Police Department. I have always enjoyed hearing from people I was able to help in the past, and to know I had a positive impact. It was always such an eye opening experience to hear from a person whose life was turned up side down from a tragedy and then to learn that they are doing well. It made me realize that as human beings we all go through difficult times. It’s part of life, but it also made me realize that with time, things do in fact get better.

When I first became an officer, a lot of people said to me, “They’re not going to accept you.” However, I didn’t feel isolated from my co-workers at all. At first, there was some hesitancy from the public when they saw a young, female officer approach them. I have experienced everything from being dragged 100 feet on the side of a car by an irate motorist, to receiving puzzled looks from motor vehicle operators who were speeding and didn’t know what to say other than, “You’re a woman??”, to even having kind residents offering to do my job for me.

In the 1980’s it was rare to have a female officer on staff. At one point in my career, I had the pleasure of assisting a local agency by working several undercover assignments. These jobs included drug buy operations and decoy assignments. While I did several drug buys, the case I remember most was of a serial rapist in the area of Salem Community College. I acted as a decoy for the department on several occasions, in an attempt to catch the attacker. On one occasion, the suspect did follow me, but didn’t attack. Though it was intense, I wasn’t afraid, as I knew the other officers had my back. In the end, the suspect was arrested, tried, and sentenced to life in prison.

My role as a mother is one that brings great challenges and lots of joy! I have two wonderful daughters. I hope that I was a positive role model for my girls and good provider for them, as well as a role model for women looking to enter the law enforcement field.