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Retiree's Corner :: Bonnie (Brogan) Werntz

July 01, 2007 by Teri Lanning

In police 10 codes, “10-24” translates as “Assignment completed”…and in Indiana, police officers are entitled to “retire” after 20 years of service and receive their full pension. 

However, many officers put in much longer tours of duty—some more than 40 years—and then they embark on new careers, take up old (or new) hobbies, rack up some good

R & R—or all of the above and more.

In short, the action doesn’t have to stop after the last day on the beat. This feature catches up with some of our SBPD retirees and shares some behind-the-scenes scoops on what they’re up to…

Bonnie (Brogan) Werntz

  • Joined the department as a sworn officer in 1973; was a DB secretary prior.
  • Started out “walking the downtown beat” for two years; then traffic for five years
  • Through the ranks, she was a “trailblazer” for women on the police force
  • Early eighties years were “most rewarding” working in DB Sexual Offense Services
  • Received seven awards for “outstanding achievements” during those five years
  • Promoted to sergeant in 1982; thus making her the highest ranking female officer
  • First female on the department promoted to Lieutenant in 1985
  • Honored as YWCA “Woman of the Year” in 1986
  • Achieved Captain’s rank before retiring in 1997; oversaw the DB’s juvenile division
  • Received numerous citations for her “groundbreaking work” before retiring
  • Enjoys photography--is a national Parade/ Kodak American Family Photo winner

“(In retirement) Now it’s time for fun…and still they elected me Sheriff of our section in the RV Trailer Park!”

Bonnie (Brogan) Werntz has a bit of a mischievous smile and a good humor when talking about seeking out the warmer weather and meandering down to their McAllen Texas destination in their fifth-wheel—parking about eight miles north of the border in McAllen Texas. Bonnie and her “significant other” Earl started their annual sojourn in 1990 and call their RV “home” for about five months every year, from December through April.

She said she loves being able to “take their time” in retirement and pursue new friendships and ventures as well as hobbies/ side businesses such as photography. In a New York Institute of Photography newsletter, Bonnie was recognized not only as one of their students but an emerging award-winning photographer.

The article read, “(Her) playful photo was chosen as one of the top 100 photos in 1994 to be published in the recent “American Family” contest in Parade Magazine…Selected from more than 250,000 entries, Detective Lieutenant Bonnie Werntz’s color picture of her grandson, Chad (with a large pile of leaves), vigorously in pursuit of his sister Lauren…and millions saw it.”

Bonnie laughs and recalls she likely is and was not ever a stranger to exposure—even

local media—through her career in law enforcement. She led plenty of headlines…like the resolution of a number of high profile cases as well as her own professional rise through police department ranks.

In 1982, writer Elizabeth Peralta profiled her (Bonnie Brogan at that time) promotion to rank of sergeant, making her the highest ranking female police officer. Numerous times in her career, Bonnie broke ground and paved the way for others, especially women, to follow. She says those accomplishments came to be—not just because she was a female minority—but because the certain jobs needed to be done, and she felt she earned her keep fairly.

“Lady Cop—At 5’3” she’s walking small and tougher than nails,” wrote Peralta. “Meet Bonnie Brogan, a petite, soft-spoken grandmother who rounds up rape suspects and child molesters for a living. She’s an investigator in the sex offense detective bureau of the South Bend Police Department…She smiles modestly when she is congratulated on her new status; she is reluctant to accept accolades. She has other things on her mind,” continued Peralta.

Her “straight-shooting manner” is storied and her specialty was rape and sex offenses-- investigating everything from wife-beaters to pornographers. Assigned to one particularly graphic “nightmare” of a brutal rape, stabbing and abduction of a 26-year-old woman (also involving two families) from a South Bend home, she fought for and realized justice for those victims. The suspect Nelson Wood was sentenced to 120 years (in concurrent sentences equaling 470 years) in 1986 for his heinous acts committed in July of 1983. She recalled that to be one of her most memorable cases.

She also took on a few challenges of her own. In her groundbreaking style, she rose to a lieutenancy and transferred into the training division. And in 1991, she successfully filed and later won a lawsuit in U.S. District Court charging “sex discrimination in employment against the Board of Public Works, the city and the police chief”. At the time, she was an 18-year police veteran and claimed she was passed over for promotion in favor of male officers even though she was equally or better qualified. She achieved her captaincy before retiring in 1997.

Not bitter, but always with her trademark humor, she said female officers surely “have come a long way” from her early days assigned to walk the beat in downtown South Bend—“in skirts, mind you”. She recalls with a laugh how kids would come up to her and sneer, “We didn’t know meter maids carried guns.”

Peralta chronicled, “She toughened a bit during those initial years and the five years spent in traffic…The guys in the traffic department used to her ‘Beulah Pusser: Walking Small.’ Every now and then, one of the men will call me that…I still turn around to see who it is. The kids at Riley High School bestowed her with the warm moniker, ‘The Bitch of Sample Street.’

In 1982, Bonnie recalled only nine out of 228 officers were women, and there’s always that question of whether a female officer has to live up to the cliché of “working twice as hard to get half as far.” Looking back from the fifties compared to now, she surmised that some of the same gender-based issues and concerns exist, but women have more choices and “voice” these days.

She said that after marrying a doctor she met while attending nursing school in Philadelphia in 1959, they later moved to South Bend but after ten years, divorced. She was a mother of two and finding herself in the job market again. Bonnie did not want to go back to nursing school but decided to try to enter the police department (as she was working as a detective bureau secretary at the time). After her application was twice rejected, the third time proved a charm.

 

Bonnie Demonstrating New Radar Guns.

“I would not say that I had to work twice as hard as a man…but I ran into what I call ‘political problems;’ but once I got in I was treated pretty much like everyone else. Everyone, men and wo

men alike, must prove themselves, no matter who they are,” she stated.

Her works through the years did prove to go above and beyond the call of duty, and in 1986, the community honored her with kudos for a job well done. The YWCA’s Tribute to Women cited her as not only as being promoted to the first female lieutenant in the South Bend Police Department, but also for her outstanding work as an investigator of sex crimes, rape and child abuse. She was recognized for attaining instructor certification in the investigation of those fields, and also named for volunteering her services to numerous organizations and her instrumental involvement in staring programs dealing with both victims and perpetrators.

Now, Bonnie says she is quite content to take things a bit more on the “leisurely” side but laughs when she says it took quite awhile for her to get used to not carrying a gun anymore.

“It just becomes you, a piece of you…that’s initially hard to put down. There’s a lot I miss, people I miss…but I’ve also been ready to go to the next place, the next adventure…like going to Texas every year. And for that I don’t need to be armed with anything but a lawn chair,” explained “Sheriff” Bonnie with a smile.

  
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