News 8 Archive: Rochester Police trailblazer Dorris Smith

News 8 Archives

Dorris Bobbie Smith is the trailblazer you never heard of. Born in Iowa, raised in England, in WWII she served in the British Royal Army. Then she married, moved back to the states, and got a job as a Rochester cop.

News 8 has rare film of Officer Smith being interviewed in 1963. At the time, she was one of just 12 women on the force.

We wanted to know more about Officer Smith so we went to the one person who might know: retired Rochester Police Captain Lynde Johnston. Johnston is in charge of the RPD archives. He was a rookie cop when he first met Officer Smith in the mid 1960s, and says she was soft-spoken, serious and well-trained. “She was able to talk to people, get them to come around, calm them down,” he says.

Smith was sworn in as an RPD officer in 1958. For the next decade, she and the handful of other women cops worked desk duty, covering missing persons cases, incidents of family trouble, and cases involving women and youth. It was unheard of for women to work patrol but Dorris put in the time and in August 1974, she became the first woman to ride patrol in a police car.

In the 1963 film footage, Dorris is a guest on the news talk show called Decker and Company. During the interview, she gamely answers questions about self-defense, target practice and her fellow officers. At the time, it was considered a novelty for women cops to carry. No one knew Officer Smith would go on to break more barriers.

“She had to know her sucess was going to be women’s success down the line,” says Johnston. “That’s a lot of pressure and I thought she always handled herself very well.”

As of 2020, there are some 745 sworn officers in the RPD. 100 of them are women, including an RPD Commander. 88 women ride patrol —- travelling a road first taken by Officer Dorris Bobbie Smith.

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