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Arresting Figures

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The State Police’s top female cops include (from left) Capt. Melissa Hukill, Maj. Melissa Zebley and Capt. Alice Bailey. Photograph by Jared CastaldiMelissa Zebley, Melissa Hukill and Alice Bailey worried, as all police officers do, that one day they’d face threatening confrontations.

For Zebley, the first woman promoted to major by the Delaware State Police, the moment occurred in the Christiana area, when she spotted a guy climbing out a window.

“He and I locked eyes,” Zebley says. “He was carrying a bag and I could see a knife.” The man dropped the bag while scaling a fence. He fled, but was captured the next day.

That “man” turned out to be 14 years old.

Hukill, commander of Troop 2 in Glasgow, responded to a convenience store robbery in New Castle. “It was 4 o’clock in the morning. Nobody’s on the road,” Hukill says. “I saw a car in front of me and I think, ‘That’s the car.’”

Knowing other troopers were on the way, Hukill stopped the vehicle. “He was halfway out of the car and I’m thinking he’s going to surrender,” Hukill says. “Then he shuts the door and takes off. He ended up crashing his car and we got him secured. Luckily, none of our guys or civilians were hurt. I came home that day and thought, ‘This is why I do this.’”

Bailey’s defining moment occurred during an attempted robbery at a Millsboro liquor store. “I ended up in a line-of-duty shooting,” she says. “The robber was behind the counter with the clerk. When the first trooper approached the door, shots started flying. The trooper was hit several times. He retreated toward his car when I came up. He was flinging his hand, and blood splattered on the yellow stripe of his uniform.”

Bailey called for an ambulance and secured the back of the store while a Millsboro cop covered the front. “I was the loudest, mouthiest trooper ever because I wanted them to think we had tons of people there, and there was no reason to fire any more shots,” Bailey says. “There was only one robber, and he had sexually assaulted the cashier. He did give himself up.” The injured trooper survived.

Bailey always wondered if she could shoot someone. “That night,” she says, “I knew I could.”

Prior to Zebley’s promotion to major, she and Hukill were troop commanders in New Castle County, marking the first time statewide that women had been in charge of two troops at the same time.

Of the 671 officers that comprise the Delaware State Police, 74 are women. That ratio puts Delaware in the top 5 percent nationally with the number of women on the State Police forces.

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The three officers are UD grads. Zebley graduated from St. Mark’s High where the Explorers program stimulated her interest in police work. Zebley’s grandfather, John Zebley, was a Wilmington firefighter. Another grandfather, William Denny, was a Wilmington policeman.

The daughter of a Naval Academy graduate, Hukill attended high school in Elizabethtown, Pa., majored in exercise physiology at UD, and worked for Cardio Kinetics. There she did fitness testing for Delaware State Police candidates. She got hooked.

Bailey, from Delmar, Md., is married and has two boys. She wanted to be a journalist until she scored a summer gig as a police department dispatcher. Two summers later, she was working undercover narcotics.

None of the three has experienced harassment in the State Police, says Col. Robert Coupe, superintendent of the Delaware State Police. “We don’t want that kind of environment,” he says.

“The troopers I was working with were very good at accepting people on their skills and abilities,” says Bailey. “I was actually surprised that I didn’t have more resistance than I did.”

Sounds good in theory, but some guys still don’t get the whole gender equity thing. In 2008 Bailey attended a recruiting event for the Mid-Atlantic Association of Women in Law Enforcement. “The number of times I heard things that were offensive while I was there was shocking to me,” Bailey says. “We had chiefs of agencies saying things like ‘Well, I guess you’ve got to have women in your agency anyway, so we might as well train them, and we have our first woman sergeant now: We’ll see how she does.’ That has never been my experience in Delaware.”

Bailey remembers one incident in Delaware. During a field training day, a male officer from another agency asked Bailey how big her hands were. “I said, ‘Not very big, but I do have an extra set of gloves.’”

The male declined her offer, she says, then began an inappropriate dialogue. Bailey recalls the scenario. “He said, ‘I heard this comedian say you should hang out with girls with small hands because it makes your dick look bigger,’” she says. “I was outraged. My field training officer (a male) was there and didn’t speak up.”

The offending officer apologized. Bailey got over it. People move on. In fact, Bailey, Zebley and Hukill feel it was no more difficult for them to advance through the ranks just because they were women.

Coupe says the three women earned their promotions. “They’re great role models for recruiting,” he says. “Women are more welcome than ever in the State Police because a lot of this is cerebral, not just physical. It’s how smart you are, how you talk to people, how your investigative skills are. Of course, you still have to meet minimum strength requirements.”

“When my friends ask what I’ve been doing, and I tell them I’ve worked undercover and have had to buy drugs, you should see their faces,” says Hukill. “And I get paid to do this.”

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