One of DOC’s Two Female SERT Members Hopes Others Will Step Up to the Challenge
April 20, 2016
CLALLAM BAY - Jeri Boe was working as a correctional officer at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center when 38 inmates began fighting in the middle of the recreation yard. It took firing warning shots and intervention by officers for the fight to disperse. The disturbance was so severe that it put the facility on lockdown for five days and a staff member left the facility in an ambulance.
Locals still refer to the fight that happened on July 28, 1993 as the riot at Clallam Bay.
As a newly hired correctional officer, Boe says her family was rattled at the realization that events like these were part of her job.
“I came home from shift that day and my husband said, ‘So are you going to quit?’” Boe recalled. “I thought, ‘No, I think I’m going to start working out.’”
And she did. Boe, who is now Associate Superintendent at Clallam Bay, began focusing on her physical fitness. She moved to a post in the facility’s Intensive Management Unit (IMU) and that’s when she learned about SERT, the agency’s Special Emergency Response Team.
Several of her IMU co-workers were part of SERT, which is the correctional equivalent of a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team for the highest level facility emergencies. Team members receive extensive training to respond to situations beyond the capabilities of other response teams. SERT includes marksman and other deadly force specialists. The facility was recruiting for team members and Boe asked about joining.
“Without the encouragement of the guys on the team I probably wouldn’t have tried out,” she said.
If she passed the physical test and made it on the team, she would be the first female to earn a spot on the Clallam Bay SERT and only the second woman in Washington DOC to become a SERT member.
She trained with her coworker, Jim McIlraith, who met her at the gym every morning to prepare for the demanding physical standards. Some physical ability tests, including those with upper-body requirements, such as a pull-up, often disqualify women from law enforcement qualifications at a higher rate than men and have come under fire from civil rights groups as having a disparate impact on female officers. Boe prepared for the challenge by training for the specific requirements, which included a mile-and-a-half run in under 12 minutes, followed by a series of push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups.
Boe’s training paid off. She qualified for a spot during a try-out at Clallam Bay, but to make the team, she was required to pass the statewide SWAT basic standards. The SWAT basic course for law enforcement was administered at Fort Lewis, now called Joint Base Lewis-McChord. She and other Corrections staff who were trying out for the team went to SWAT basic training as a group. That’s when Boe said she realized being a female on the SERT team was out of the ordinary.
“I guess it never dawned on me that there hadn’t been a woman on a SWAT or that it was rare,” she said. “It was really apparent that they were not expecting a female at the testing. As they escorted me across the base to the women’s barracks, I realized that I was alone in a 200-bed barrack.”
Boe said breaking gender stereotypes was not her intent, and she is hesitant to take full credit for her success. In addition to the support of McIlraith, Boe said other people “had her back” once she was on the team. J. Hofe, former security operations chief, ensured she had the proper equipment fit and the Clallam Bay SERT Team as a whole was supportive.
Women have joined the Quick Response Strike Team or Emergency Response Team in increasing numbers in recent years. Boe joins just one other women, Julie Baker, as the only females in Washington DOC history to be on SERT. This is a fact she hopes will change.
“I feel that with the encouragement and support of the team anything is possible,” Boe said. “I challenge staff to reach out to co-workers who they see capable of performing the physical and mental requirements of a Specialty Team, man or woman. We have a lot of good staff, sometimes those good staff just need the encouragement from others to take that first step.”