Leading the Way: Finding a niche from an unexpected career turn | MyWindsorNow.com

Leading the Way: Finding a niche from an unexpected career turn

Joe Moylan

Every year, teams of highly trained law enforcement officers respond to thousands of incidents throughout the country that demand a specialized expertise exceeding those of the average patrolman.

There are dozens of specialized units, from bomb squads to water rescue teams, but there are few situations that are more intense than crisis intervention, where the difference between saving or losing a life can be decided within the first 15-30 minutes of the call. Because people in crisis are at their worst, local scenes are almost always shared by the Weld County SWAT and Negotiations teams.

"If we're responding to a call with SWAT and Negotiations, something out of the ordinary has happened," said Cpl. Sean Standridge, spokesman for the Weld County Sheriff's Office. "They roll out in those situations when cops call 911."

The Weld County Crisis Negotiations Team isn't an assignment officers come to earn easily. Prospective negotiators not only have to show an interest in the unit, but must also pass a series of exams before they're even considered worthy to join the team, said Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams.

“People in crisis situations need some type of help, and the whole purpose of what we do is to save lives. That’s what attracted me to this unit; I enjoy helping people.

— Kim Rios, Weld County’s first female crisis negotiator

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Last August, Kim Rios became the first *female Weld County Sheriff's Office deputy and only the third woman to earn her place on the Weld County Crisis Negotiations Team since the unit was founded in 2006.

"Kim isn't a big, brawny person, and she's not going to cast a large shadow whenever she walks into a room, but she's also not one to be taken lightly," Reams said. "Her wit and her ability to communicate have always been the most important tools in her tool belt. She's always been focused on the art of negotiation. Now, we're just refining those skills and putting them to better use."

Rios, 34, was born and raised in Weld County. Growing up, she always saw herself in law enforcement, but she also decided early in her life to raise a family. At the time, Rios thought it would be difficult for a Latino woman and a mother to break into the sheriff's office ranks, opting instead for a career in the medical field, where she first served as a Certified Nursing Assistant before becoming a medical assistant.

Although she embarked on a different path, a career in law enforcement was never far from her mind.

In 2010, at the urging of a friend, Rios decided to go to through Peace Officer Standards and Training certification process and realized immediately she had found her home.

"My friend asked me to join her because she didn't want to go through it alone," Rios said. "From day one I was like, 'What have I been doing all this time?'"

After going through the academy, Rios started at the sheriff's office as a volunteer. She was hired in April 2012 and first assigned to the jail.

Despite her ambition of one day joining the Crisis Negotiations Team, Rios said she doesn't regret the 18 months she spent working in the jail. In fact, the woman with the self-proclaimed "gift of gab," said working in the jail is where she first began honing her communication skills.

"It doesn't matter if you're on the negotiations team or not because we're always negotiating with people, regardless of whether you're working in the jail or on the street," Rios said. "Communication is your biggest tool as a corrections deputy, and inmates grow to respect you when they realize you're trying to treat them like a human being."

Rios became an FBI Defensive Tactics Instructor before leaving the jail for the patrol division in August 2013. Immediately after the move, she began inquiring about how to join crisis negotiations.

Rios successfully checked that goal off of her list a year later when she became the ninth member of the Weld County Crisis Negotiations Team, a regional task force comprised of six sheriff's office deputies, two Lochbuie police officers and one Firestone police officer that responded to nine crisis intervention calls in 2014 and three so far this year.

Although SWAT and Negotiations share scenes, Rios said kicking down a door always is the last resort.

"People in crisis situations need some type of help, and the whole purpose of what we do is to save lives," Rios said. "That's what attracted me to this unit; I enjoy helping people."

In addition to becoming the *third female negotiator, Rios is the only woman serving in the patrol division. This year, she has been nominated for the agency's Ribbon of Merit and the Meritorious Service Award for her work in 2014.

But Rios doesn't think what she does for a living, or what she has accomplished so far in her career, is exceptional simply because of her gender.

"I don't really think of myself as a female in law enforcement," Rios said. "I just think of myself as one of the guys and this is my job."

As for the future, Rios said she plans to dip her feet in all of the specialty units offered at the sheriff's office and plans to make her way up the chain of command.

"I'm going to be the boss someday," Rios said. "I enjoy working here. I really do. I don't foresee myself ever leaving."

Leading the Way

This is one in an occasional series featuring women who break through barriers and lead the way in traditionally male-dominated career fields. If you know a woman who leads the way in her field, let us know at citydesk@greeleytribune.com.