From a young age, Mariah Thomas was drawn to the criminal justice field.
In addition to traditional childhood pastimes such as the Girl Scouts, she became a Police Explorer and participated in mock trial. She even had a Police Explorers uniform, which she used to great effect during a memorable mock trial.
“We had a role where there was a police officer, and I showed up to court in this uniform,” she recalled. “We won just by sheer factor of, ‘This girl is wearing a uniform. She looks like the real deal.’ Even the judges were impressed.”
What Thomas didn’t have, though, was a female role model in law enforcement. Now a detective with the University of Missouri–St. Louis Police Department, she’s working to change that for girls who dream of wearing a badge.
In June, Thomas participated in Camp Fury STL, a collaboration between the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri and local police and fire departments in the St. Louis region.
During the six-day camp, Girl Scouts train alongside female firefighters and police officers at St. Louis County Municipal Police and Fire Academy. Each day, attendees learn a variety of EMS, firefighting and law enforcement skills. Most importantly, they’re mentored by women excelling in fields that traditionally have been male-dominated.
“Its goal is for girls to see women who work in male-dominated fields doing what we do and seeing there are barriers, but we overcome them every day,” Thomas said. “We teach them that they can be strong, too. It’s not, ‘Oh, she’s a girl. She can’t carry that 250-pound dummy.’ We get down in there with these girls and show them what to do and how to do it.”
Thomas found out about the program through a friend and former co-worker at the University City Police Department. Her friend has participated in Camp Fury since its inception in 2017 and helps coordinate it every year.
“She had been trying to get me to do it for years,” she said. “But the schedule always conflicted with my son’s camping schedule during the summertime. This year, it happened to be where I could go and participate in it. I brought it to my lieutenant, and we ran it up the chain. They were great with it.”
Lt. David Woods said the department was thrilled to have UMSL represented by Thomas at Camp Fury and to support its mission. He added that it was also a valuable opportunity for community outreach and to collaborate with other agencies in the St. Louis region.
“During her whole week, she’d send me pictures and she told me about the stuff that they were doing and the impact,” Woods said. “The message behind it is important.”
Initially, Thomas wanted to be a lawyer when she was younger. However, after starting a family, her plans changed. She was already familiar with the University City Police Department because of the Police Explorers program and knew its cadet program provided a paid internship and training. After the completing the program, she was sold on becoming a police officer.
Thomas worked as an officer in University City for many years before coming to UMSL to serve as a detective. She welcomed the chance to pass on what she’s learned during her career at Camp Fury.
The week was split between firefighting and policing activities, with a few emergency medical drills. On the firefighting days, the campers wore real firefighting equipment and learned how to use fire hoses, ladders and even the Jaws of Life.
They also took part in a number of controlled scenarios designed to replicate real-world situations, such as a simulated building fire and car fire and rappelling down a five-story building. The simulations taught the campers how to use the equipment effectively and how to manage feelings of claustrophobia and panic that can happen during fire rescues.
However, the Girl Scouts weren’t the only ones who got to put their mettle to the test. Thomas and other police officers also donned the gear.
“Before I knew it, I’m climbing up this huge ladder truck,” Thomas said with a laugh. “But it’s worth it when you get up there because you can see all of St. Louis. They really push you, even as a police officer, to chime in because these girls are watching you.”
On the police days, the campers learned the basics of patrolling, including defensive tactics, de-escalation, handcuffing subjects and situational awareness. One of the most crucial techniques Thomas taught them was verbal judo.
“It’s basically how we talk to people for de-escalation,” she said. “It’s words and techniques that we use when a situation is out of control and you’re trying to bring it down or if you’re dealing with an irritated subject and you’re trying not to make it worse.”
The police officers also role-played domestic disputes and taught the campers how to control the scene upon arrival. Simulated traffic stops and the police obstacle course were the most fun exercises, though.
“We were gentle on them at first just to show them the proper way to do a traffic stop and the things to look for,” Thomas said. “We turned it up after the first few rounds and started running on them and giving them different scenarios.”
The week culminated with a graduation ceremony, with all the police officers and firefighters attending in their dress uniforms.
Thomas was proud of all the girls and the dedication they showed during the week, but she also stressed to them that the training scenarios are only one aspect of the job. A much larger portion is going out into the community and trying to help people on their worst days.
Woods believes this could be the start of an ongoing partnership between UMSL Police and Camp Fury.
“We have people with this department who would be great to send out there because they give all these different perspectives,” Woods said. “So, we absolutely want to continue this program.”
Ultimately, Thomas has one piece of advice for girls aspiring to work in law enforcement or firefighting: “What I would tell a young girl – if this is something she really, really wants to do – to find a good, strong female mentor.”
Short URL: https://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=90299