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2023 Year In Review: Shelter Island’s woman police officer is making a difference

This story appeared in May.

On Wednesday, May 24, the Shelter Island Police Department arrested an Island man on harassment charges against a woman. The alleged incident occurred on a North Ferry boat about a week earlier. According to police reports, the man allegedly approached and followed the woman and, police said, “made her feel scared, alarmed, and threatened.”

The case was investigated and brought in by Police Officer Taylor Rando, 25, the only woman on the force. With the department for about a year and a half, she’s only the second woman in the 50-year history of the Shelter Island Police Department.

“I worked closely with the woman in our investigation,” she said one morning this week, after working an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. tour. “She felt comfortable speaking with me. Being female, I understood exactly where she was coming from. Feeling fear when some man is speaking inappropriately, and threatening — I know what she was going through.”

She also interviewed the alleged perpetrator of the crime, before the arrest was made.

Another satisfying part of the arrest and specific charges for Officer Rando is that it countered a surge of misinformation on social media and ill-informed speculation in conversations around town.

The charges levied against the man are unmistakably serious, Officer Rando said — serious enough to have an Order of Protection issued — but it wasn’t a case of assault, or a threat with a weapon involved, as the rumor mill had it.

Officer Rando’s appointment by the Town Board in February 2022, whose members are the Island’s Police Commissioners, fulfills an effort to place a woman on the all-male staff. It came at the suggestion of Chief Jim Read to the Island’s Police Reform Task Force, which filed its report with New York State at the end of March 2022.

Under a state mandate, each police department in New York had to examine their policing polices with input from the community.

Officer Rando was among the top scorers on a test that was necessary to establish her as a candidate for an appointment. She then had to undergo seven months of training at the Suffolk County Police Department Academy.

“It was challenging,” Officer Rando said. “Very physical. And it takes you out of your comfort zone.”

She described long sessions of role playing, courses on public speaking, and learning to be part of a team. She learned that de-escalation of a situation is one of the key methods of keeping herself and others safe.

”Situations can turn quickly,” she said. “Knowing how to talk to people, to be calm but definite, is important. Words are always better than force, but you have to be ready to use force if you need it.”

At the time of her appointment, Police Chief Jim Read called it “a real win-win.” He said a woman officer would be positioned for much needed backup, and the hiring would help enhance public safety, improve handling of mental health calls and help to de-escalate potentially volatile situations.

Having a woman in uniform when police are called to investigate an incident has many advantages, especially in domestic disputes.

Officer Rando said the first order of business for those calls is to separate the couple when police arrive. A woman will, in the majority of cases, feel freer and less stressed speaking to another woman, Officer Rando said.

“But not every time,” she added, recounting cases where the man would like to speak with the woman officer first, or the woman will request to be interviewed by the male officer.

Asked what the best advice she received from colleagues during her first year on the job was, Officer Rando quickly said: “Treat people with the utmost respect, and give them the benefit of the doubt.”

And another piece of advice that is sometimes difficult: “Try not to take your work home with you. Some calls are upsetting,” she said, especially the ones where she and colleagues go into situations and see the conditions people are living in. “And cases involving people with mental health issues,” she added, “and you can’t help them. You have to remember people have rights and you can’t make them do something they don’t want to do. That can be frustrating when you’re trying to help.”

The cure is to speak with colleagues, and once off the job, Officer Rando said, “spending time with my friends and family, just being with them and talking, not necessarily about work, but just having conversations. That helps a lot.”

Her advice to girls or young women who have an ambition to work in law enforcement is: “Don’t be intimidated. This is a male-dominated profession, but don’t let that stop you. Push through and do it.”