Just two weeks after she got married, Tammy Pruim left her husband and headed to Springfield. It wasn’t a permanent separation — the two are happily married — it’s just that she was headed to the Illinois State Police Academy, destined to be the first female cop in the history of the village of Riverside.
On March 19, it became official. After four months of field training and two weeks being shadowed by a training officer, the 23-year-old Pruim was sworn in as the village’s newest police officer.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in the criminal justice field,” said Pruim, a Lansing native who holds a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University-Calumet, where she graduated with a 3.8 grade-point average, according to Police Chief Thomas Weitzel.
She toyed with becoming a social worker or a lawyer, but after a college internship with the Lansing Police Department, where her uncle is police chief, that all changed.
While her internship saw her spend time learning about the finer points of dispatching and record keeping, it was her time with the patrol and detective divisions that most interested her.
“I absolutely fell in love with it,” Pruim said.
After graduation she began testing to get on the hiring lists at a variety of police agencies. In Riverside, she topped the list and received an offer from the village to attend the police academy in Springfield, where officer candidates live Monday through Friday during the 12-week training period.
“It was really, really tough,” said Pruim, who married Brandon Pruim just two weeks before the academy began. “At the time I wasn’t exactly enjoying myself, but looking back it was a great experience to get the discipline and respect. I’m really proud of my accomplishment.”
After finishing up at the academy, Pruim’s next challenge was fitting into Riverside police department — a boys’ club if there ever was one. In the 140-year history of the village, there never had been a female police officer.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, said Weitzel. Within the past 15 years, the department sent two female candidates to the police academy. One washed out during training and the other informed the chief, on the day she was to start her probationary period in Riverside, that she had accepted a better-paying gig in Barrington.
Making matters tougher, said Weitzel, was that once Riverside police officers start in the village, they tend to stay.
“I think that speaks to our community and village government,” said Weitzel. “They support our police officers and the officers stay. We have officers putting in 25, 30 years here.”
In the next five years, the department is likely to finally see some significant turnover as about 30 percent of the force is expected to retire during that time.
Pruim said she was a bit apprehensive about walking into an all-male patrol division, but said that she has been welcomed by her fellow officers.
“They’ve all been very, very accepting,” Pruim said. “They’ve all been fantastic and willing to help out when I need help.”
Since hitting the streets in Riverside last fall, Pruim has learned firsthand that a police officer never knows what to expect on any given day. During the first phase of her field training period, Pruim was one of the officers responding to a robbery at Bank of America on Harlem Avenue. In January, she was one of the officers on hand to witness a woman give birth inside a car on First Avenue.
As a fluent speaker and writer of Spanish, Pruim has also been valuable in investigations involving Spanish speakers, not just in Riverside, but in surrounding communities, Weitzel said.
“The other departments already know she’s out there,” Weitzel said. “She’s been called upon to communicate with arrestees and victims in other communities.”
While she’s currently assigned to the morning and day shifts, Pruim, as a rookie officer, eventually will be assigned to the midnight shift, something she said she’ll enjoy.
“I loved midnights during field training. I’m looking forward to getting back on midnights,’ she said.