When I asked Sarah Egbert (everyone calls her Egbert) if I could interview her, and share her story for the blog she answered, “Only if you come over for dinner.” If you know anything about Egbert’s cooking, you always say yes when she offers food. I showed up at her house, and she had an enormous meal prepared. Some of her coworkers stopped by for some of the feast. After they left, we settled in with some red wine in true ladies fashion.
I can never express the immense level of respect I have for Egbert. She is 24 years old, a certified police officer and a licensed paramedic. She serves both roles in her position in the Paramedic Division of the Sheriff’s Office. Egbert is going to be graduating with her Bachelor’s Degree in Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University this Christmas. She can’t stop. She won’t stop.
I have witnessed her save the lives of adults, children, and even unborn children. She is humble, easy to talk to, brave, and one hell of a woman. When she enters a room, her presence is warm and yet so strong. I wanted to ask the hard questions that I so often hear people say about police officers; and what better person to ask than a female Deputy Sheriff.
My hope is when you read this you will see her immense amount of charm, humor, and her ability to glean so much wisdom from everyone around her.
Sarah Egbert is this month’s Kathy.
We are Kathy.
Their stories. Her stories. Our stories.
The first thing I want to ask you is a question that I’ve heard a lot over the years. If most professions that take care of the public are required a Bachelor’s Degree, why aren’t cops required a degree?
A college degree will give you empathy. A good cop needs street smarts and you don’t get that with a college degree. Street smarts are way more important, but a little more empathy could help.
For example, through classes in college on human service programs you start to see there’s a whole class of individuals who need you. Whether you like it or not, for a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, you’re going to examine why they need you. So in school you have to write about people who need you, but you’re also going to write papers about ideas you don't agree with. I might not agree with the idea that everyone should have healthcare, but I need to write a paper about why everyone should have it. It at least helps you develop empathy as to see others’ point of views. You have to know it enough to pass a class on it. You might not believe it, but at least now you have empathy towards those ideas and the people that value them.
If I go on a welfare check, or to a medical call for an overdose — a female with six kids— and I know at the same time my friend is struggling to pay her medical bills after having one kid, it’s hard to empathize with that sometimes. I could get bitter and hateful towards them, but now I understand they don't even have the concept of paying a $30,000 medical bill.
Do you think that the group of people you’re referring to, the people who don’t understand the medical bills they owe, or people who are impoverished with six kids & using drugs, that they are a product of being forced into that lifestyle?
My cousin is a cop, my friends are cops, and a lot of them are so politically far right. Some of them might be able to see left, sometimes. And the ones who say they are left politically, they have no clue that they are so right sided. I understand only because of things I’ve seen first hand. Here’s a real life example. I had a medical call for a 15-year-old having an asthma attack.
He biked half way across the city to his aunt’s friend’s house, because it's the closest person he knew that would call 911. He was 15 so we couldn't take him to the hospital without a guardian showing up eventually to sign for consent to treat. He didn't know his dad’s phone number, but he tells me where his dad lives. I tell the ambulance to take the kid to the hospital, and I will go find dad and pick him up. His dad isn’t at the address, but his dad starts to walk up to me heading back to my car. I tell him what happened to his son, and he said “Fuck that kid. It’s his fucking fault. Fuck him, I’m not coming to the hospital.” I tell him, “Whatever the reason you’re upset… Your son is still having a severe asthma attack and is at the hospital.” I realize there is no way this guy is coming unless I handcuff him, and I really don’t want to go down that road.
I get back to the hospital, tell them [medical staff] the situation, and social work at the hospital says I have to open a CPS case on this kid’s parents. Which I have no problem doing. It’s the middle of winter, and I start to think about where I am going to take this kid after leaving the ED. So I asked him, “Do you have somewhere you can go? A place we can release you to after we leave here? Somewhere you can go that you will feel safe?” I specifically used the word safe. He says no. Alright, “So where do you normally go?” He answered, “Either my aunt’s or my dad’s, but they’re both crack addicts.” So I said, “Okay… well, what can I do for you right now?” He answered, “I’m hungry.”
Good enough. “What do you want?” “Pancakes from McDonalds.” I laughed and went to get him some pancakes. I bring back the food to the hospital, and I keep talking to this kid.
We start chatting. I learn he’s in tenth grade and I ask if he goes to school. “Uh yeah, a few times a week.” “Why just a few times a week?”
“I don’t have clean clothes for everyday of the week. My mom lives in Detroit, and doesn’t want me anymore. My Aunt and Dad don’t want to call 911 because they have too much crack in the house, and they don’t want the police to show up.”
He’s 15 years old, with a 12-year-old brother, and they just stay house to house, friend to friend.
I’m thinking during the conversation, I’m taking this kid home. I'll buy him all new clothes. He’ll go to Swartz Creek schools. He can live as my brother because we are so close in age; but then you take a step back from that and realize this is just one kid in a city of thousands. He is just one kid. There are so many other kids in the city you’ll never run into. What are you really supposed to do?
Twenty three percent of Flint schools kids graduate at a 5th grade reading level. The same diploma we hold, but with a fifth grade reading level. What are these kids supposed to do, honestly?
They either hold a low quality job like as a grocer, fast food worker, gas station attendant, or factory worker… OR… they sell dope. And you’re looking at a 15-year-old kid and he can’t hold a job anywhere, but he can make $700 from slinging dope? Why wouldn’t you go do that?
I booked an 18-year-old in jail one time because he was robbing someone else. His mom hadn’t come home in 3 weeks because she was strung out on crack. Because of that he had 6 siblings to feed. At 18 what else is he supposed to do? What do you want him to do? As a society what do we want him to do, to feed 6 kids?! So yeah, he was forced into that.
If I was in that situation, I would rob somebody to feed those kids.
We are failing him. It is his fault that he robbed, and he needs to understand his wrong. But somebody else, multiple people, his grandparents, his mom, his dad, and society have failed him! So many people have failed him. WE have failed him. What would you do in that situation?
Do you feel like you get treated differently on calls as a white female cop?
Yes. There are so many ways I’m treated differently since I am a white female cop.
Male subjects react better to me than they would to male officers. Testosterone is a demon all its own. If someone is already in the fighting mode, I mean really pumped up, before a male officer arrives, then he is going to amp up even more once the male officer arrives and probably go after him. It’s testerone. He’s opposing him, and he’s another male. He's going to fight the male cop. Sometimes they see me, a female officer, and I’m not sure what it is, but they’ll check themselves, and just deal better with me better.
When I worked at the jail in the male unit I knew if I had all the men out, which is about 60 at a time, if one man jumped on me, there’s at least ten men who would jump on him. I think it’s because a lot of the inmates were raised to never hit a woman. Women are not like that. They’ll fight another girl all day.
What do you say about the idea that cops are just protecting the white rich people? And how does that make you feel?
I see both ways. I feel like ‘I’m so wishy washy’ would be a better way to answer the question... Because I can play devil's advocate for both sides.
The really serious thin blue line guys, protecting our brothers, blah blah blah... I can be like, but are you really though?? My cousin, who is an officer, says he won't listen to Beyonce anymore because she made an anti cop video. But really, what does that even do? (she laughs) That doesn’t do any good.
Everything we do is on a pendulum swing. When we had the ferguson riots everyone hated cops. Cops were at the lowest of the lows. On the other side is September 11th. We were at the highest of the highs. We were the heroes. Everyone loved first responders. It’s a pendulum swing, it’ll always land somewhere in between the two.
One of the greatest examples I’ve heard is about the people who kneel for the national anthem for the NFL. That’s a huge debate, right? They kneel during the anthem while they’re still watching it, and still are observing the moment. The people who take the most offense to that are the same people trying to buy snacks and booze during the national anthem. That’s so frustrating. How do you not see everyone’s point of view? One dude wants to get a beer during the national anthem. The kneeling players are saying, “We want equal treatment.” They are not, not observing the flag. People who have gone overseas and risked their lives don’t give a fuck what you fight about. They just want you to be able to choose, and be able to fight one side or the other for what you care about.
Seeing both sides of this issue is not really that hard for me.
“Egbert, you stay out and watch the courtyard incase somebody runs.” WHAT? HUH? I'm the only female here! You can’t put me on a team!? Are you kidding me?
Do you feel like you get treated differently by other cops because you’re a female?
(she nods and laughs) Tell me more!
Civilians are actually better about trying to treat me the same than other cops are. It’s hard to give you an example. Male cops will call me for a female search all the time. Sometimes it’s legit, like when the female is yelling and going on accusing him of assault or whatever, I would understand. But just because she has boobs doesn’t mean you can’t search her... Just because she has boobs, you don't need more boobs to search her. That’s crazy! [she laughs]
The other day when we were searching this apartment and we’re putting together a four person team. Two people go up and two people go down. You’re never by yourself… And I hear, “Egbert, you stay out and watch the courtyard incase somebody runs.” WHAT? HUH? I'm the only female here! You can’t put me on a team!? Are you kidding me?
What do you say to people who say, ‘What if another male officer was injured on a call and you would have to drag him to safety -- and you can’t do that because you’re a girl?’
I feel like my adrenaline [in police duty] could kick in and I could drag another guy to cover.. At least behind something, that way we won’t get hit even if we are getting shot at, like maybe behind the engine block of a car, or behind a tree… I could do that.
What do you feel like is the most dangerous thing you’ve had to deal with at work?
When another Deputy, Dep. Beagle got hurt on a suicidal call it really opened my eyes to how dangerous suicidal calls can be. We always say suicidal is the closest thing to homicidal. We have to think, if someone is to the point of suicide, then they don’t care what time it is. Their day is ending today. They are not going to have another sunrise. They have decided “my day is ending” and most of the time they don’t give a fuck who they take with them.
The call went out; It was for a male who cut his wrists, and it was way far out on the end of the county. I answered, “E-30 I’ll back him, I am coming from the city.” It is easy to become calloused to these calls. We get so many calls from people saying they’re going to kill themselves and they don’t or they say they’ll take other people with them and they never do.
I was turning on the street where the call was located, and radio checked Beagle. He didn’t answer his radio. And then he didn’t answer the second radio check. And so now I’m thinking, “Oh my god, something is really wrong.” I get there and they're checking him for a third time. I go to get out of my car and he presses his emergency button. At this point, I am only 30 yards away from the house and I can hear screaming. I hear on the radio, “E-32 has pressed his emergency button, any cars in the area head to this address.”
I slam my door, and as I run I think “Beagle is dying. He always answers the radio, and he never pushes his emergency button.”
When I get inside I realize the mother is screaming. I see Beagle and there is blood everywhere. Blood is all over Beagle, all over the guy, all over the walls, and all I can get out is, “What do you need?!” Beagle answers “He’s handcuffed, just take him.” So I take on the guy, and Beagle takes a step off. Beagle loops around me and I could tell he was hurting. He says “Let’s just get this guy to the hospital.” In the meantime this guy is still trying to fight with us while he’s on the stretcher.
Beagle’s thumb was all fucked up. I convince him to get his hand checked out, and told him I’d be right behind him with the psych patient to the hospital.
What I realized during this is that if that guy wanted to kill Beagle, or anyone else with him, he could have. Beagle is 8 or 9 minutes away from my response time. Worst case scenario, he could have 8 or 9 minutes of fighting for his life-- by himself. In that worse case scenario, I can’t imagine another coworker fighting for their lives for 8 to 9 minutes and me not being able to get there. I can’t fathom it.
Sometimes, because I am a female, I feel like I need to take more risks, because if I ask for an extra car they’ll say, “Oh, it’s because she’s a girl.”
Have you ever been in the other position, where you thought, ‘Oh shit. I need someone right now.’
I’ve taken a couple of risks that I shouldn’t have, and some of that is because I am a female. The situations ended up working in my favor. Looking back I realized had they not, it could have been really bad. Sometimes, because I am a female, I feel like I need to take more risks, because if I ask for an extra car they’ll say, “Oh, it’s because she’s a girl.”
Do you feel like there are some cops who cry wolf a lot?
Oh yeah, and unfortunately sometimes it is the females. So then I try to combat that, and then I try to ask for backup less often… which is not always the best idea. The only other time I can think of that I have called for help [when I broke my thumb], and really needed it. I was trying to help this heroin overdose who became combative, I was in it. This guy looked right at me and said ‘I fucking hate cops, and I am going to fight you.’ And I thought, ‘Well that just isn’t great.’
I had already searched him, and knew he didn’t have a gun on him. He kept resisting, and I threw him down to the ground and cuffed him. The ambulance crew showed up and I told them to call for another medic. ‘E-30 needs another medic’ went out over the radio, and Beagle answered the call. I was in a forceable, but I never felt like I was going to die. I never really felt like my life was threatened, but I definitely had to overpower him.
My thumb was broken as a result of his resistance, but by the time Beagle got there he was already cuffed. It was on the east side, and because it went out as the need for another medic I don’t think anyone realized what help I actually needed. My hand got tangled up, and after that I noticed my hands were so swollen. I kept brushing it off, and then I realized, I wasn’t aggressive enough. I should have tazed the guy, but I was trying to spare the guy. I shouldn’t have second guessed myself. So I ended up getting hurt in the process.
What’s something that’s happened to you at work that has really made you angry?
Come to find out, the guy from the forceable arrest had gotten into a fight THE DAY BEFORE with ANOTHER COP. Then a few months later he gets booked at the jail for fighting another officer… It seems like nothing is going to change.
I am potentially leaving forever when I go off to work. Every cop is. Beagle, will kiss his girlfriend goodbye and say “See you in the morning”. He could get into a forcible arrest later at work with a different heroin addict, get shot, and die. The guy might never realize what he’s done because he’s so high. That makes me angry.
Sometimes I am on a crash scene on the highway, sitting in my car, and I could potentially get hit by a drunk driver who is attracted to my overhead lights…for $24 an hour. That gets to me. I see all points of view, and think “maybe I should be doing something else with my life,” but another part me says, “Someone has got do the job.” People I love are doing it. My Mt. Morris friends, ya know, Dunkley, Ralph, and Dave.. they are doing it. My friend has worked in the military. He has three kids and a wife, and if he can do it I need to man up and be able to fucking die so he can live and go on and be with his children. But at the same time-- it’s because a 17 year old would rather shoot me, and take his chances, than get caught with the drugs in his pocket. Thinking about dying for that makes me angry.
Entitlement, a lack of education, and poverty… The inability to see the fragility of life, I really believe these things are entangled together. What do you think of that perspective of life? The, “just shoot and run” mentality.
It’s not personal. You have to take out the personal side of it. If joe schmo shoots me because of an ounce of weed in his pocket, I’m going to think… fuck you dude. I have a family.
It’s not personal for him.
He is 17 years old and he's saying to himself, “I might get away with this if I shoot this person, and I won’t get away with this for sure if I don’t shoot.” There are some people who run from cops, because it is fun to them. Just because. It’s not personal for them. We need to stop making it personal.
If someone runs from me on a traffic stop I get so mad that they won! It’s a cat and mouse game. A winner-loser situation. I get so mad, and take it so personally all day! I need to not take it personally, that’s just how it is. I don’t know… Maybe it would have been worse had I caught them. It’s just meant to be.
Sarah Egbert has changed the lives of so many people around her. Sarah acted quickly on a critical call and intubated a dying mother on the scene of a major car accident. She did so against the suggestions of her surrounding peers. Sarah, knowing the chances were slim, wanted to give the unborn baby a chance to survive. Sarah brought the mother to the emergency department, and the baby was immediately removed by an emergent cesarean section. This baby ended up spending 10 weeks in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). Six months later, Sarah’s Captain arranged a surprise meeting with the infant and the adoptive parents.
These are the moments Sarah fights for every day. These are the moments she finds purpose and feels fulfilled in her line of service. She is a young woman making heroic changes to the world around her. I hope that as you finish reading this story you realize you are a part of her legacy, because you are a brave & beautiful woman.
Written and Photographed by Jenifer Veloso