PORTSMOUTH-Portsmouth’s first female Chief of Police, Debby Brewer, spoke to the American Association of University Women highlighting her career journey from office manager in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to her present chief administrative position. While working with the BSA, the late Judge James Kirsch, who served on the board, invited Brewer to work for him. She began her career in law enforcement as an assignment commissioner for juvenile court in 1988, working closely with officers and deputies. A year later Brewer enrolled in the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police Association where she graduated as a certified law enforcement executive. Her first assignment was in the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office as dispatcher with part-time road duties. Brewer found that she had to prove her capabilities as a female on the open road. Initially, her male counterparts would also respond to assure her safety until they realized that she could handle situations on her own.
It was while she worked in the Scioto County Sheriff’s Department that she received the finest compliment of her career. The late Chief Deputy Hughie Blair, who at the time was serving as a detective, told Brewer that he would much rather have her back him up than some of the males who worked with him. Brewer was touched by the compliment but wondered why Blair felt that way. He explained that he had observed her work ethic and he knew that she would have his back when needed.
In 1993 Brewer made the move to the Portsmouth Police Department where she was asked three times during an interview, “Why do you want to be a police officer?” In her frustration she finally responded by asking the interviewer if he didn’t want her on the police force. She was hired shortly thereafter on January 19, 1993.
Brewer had aspirations of becoming a police chief but she put those dreams aside knowing that should it ever occur, it would be many years in the future. Brewer worked the midnight shift with the PPD for 14 years in a row. Again, Brewer had to prove herself because her male colleagues could “manhandle” someone better than she could; however, she had the ability to talk to people without “hands on” anyone.
The first true test of how she would be received by her fellow officers in a supervisory role came six years later when she was promoted to Sergeant Brewer. Her first day as a supervisor was greeted by a complaint from one of the male officers. The Lieutenant saw that the issue was unfounded and dismissed the criticism. Brewer’s rigorous dedication and quality of work were noticed by coworkers. She wanted to become the best officer possible so she took promotional exams whenever they were offered. As a result, in 2002 she advanced to the position of Lieutenant and was placed in charge of the midnight shift. By this time she had been on the force for nearly 10 years so her fellow officers knew what she would expect of them and she no longer had to prove herself as a street officer. The men under her command did what was asked, took care of their beats, and did their jobs without constant supervision.
A dozen years later Brewer advanced to administrative captain which pulled her from the streets into the office. Brewer recalled, “This was not where I saw myself as I truly enjoy working on the streets with the public.” This new leadership role helped Brewer learn the inner workings of the command staff. She was in charge of training for the entire department. Brewer had to make sure that everyone knew what they were doing, how to do it, and at the same time keep them safe.
Five years later when the Police Chief resigned, Brewer was promoted to interim chief. Six months after that, in June 2020, Brewer was appointed to the post of Chief of Police, becoming the first female in the history of Portsmouth to serve in that capacity. Brewer found herself in charge of the entire police department which needed equipment, training, and officers. The $5.7 million budget did not cover all of the department’s needs. Brewer met with her command staff. Cuts were made and officers were trained to become instructors to train other officers in the PPD and the sheriff’s office. Another initiative under Brewer’s leadership was the collaborative effort with the Scioto County Sheriff’s Office to establish a local police academy. As a result, the PPD was finally fully staffed in 2021. The PPD currently has 3 school resource officers, a level 3 SWAT team, and is upgrading equipment as funds become available.
Police Chief Brewer’s top priorities are straightforward, “… accomplishing missions and the welfare of my officers and citizens.” She added, “I know my officers and I will always place their needs above my own.”