Former Miss Tri-Cities Jerrica Fowler has traded her tiara for the uniform, badge and gun of a Washington State Patrol trooper.
Fowler, 24, the daughter of Wright and Josie Beach of Kennewick, recently graduated from the state patrol's training program and is serving her first tour of duty as a trooper in the Sunnyside area.
Her supervisor, Sgt. Pete Cozzitorto, says she has a toughness tempered with humility that is an imperative part of being a trooper.
"I believe Jerrica is the first beauty queen we've had on patrol, but she has the confidence level needed to do this job," Cozzitorto said. "Plus, she has amazing verbal skills, which is another important trait to have when dealing with the public."
Fowler loved the time she spent as Miss Tri-Cities in 2009 and as Miss Yakima County in 2011, but the decision to join the state police was an easy one, she said.
"I've never been your typical girlie-girl beauty queen," she said. "People fascinate me, and I like trying to figure out what makes them tick. And if I can help keep them safe on the road, that just adds to the fulfillment of the job.
"I love the philosophy of this agency," she added. "We are trained to be respectful and to treat people with dignity while maintaining the law."
Fowler admits she underwent culture shock when she entered the state police academy in 2012. The paramilitary regimen was grueling, yet exhilarating at the same time.
She had seven months of basic training, then four months of concentrated training, including intense driving instruction, she said. There were few female cadets and not all of them made it. She was one of four women who completed the course earlier this year.
Part of her cadet training included a stint from December 2012 to September 2013 with a task force working for Gov. Jay Inslee before she was commissioned to the Sunnyside office.
Fowler's parents weren't initially keen on her career choice.
"When Jerrica sat us down and first told us she was going to apply for the State Patrol job we said, 'Oh no, no, no,' " said her mother, Josie Beach. "I worry because she works alone on a night shift. But I have to admit, she was so well-trained that I know she can handle herself."
Fowler, who stands 5 feet 5 inches tall, understands her parents' concern, but credits them in raising her with a strong sense of right and wrong.
"The State Patrol does train you well and prepares you for just about anything, including getting hit with a Taser and pepper spray during basic," Fowler said. "And believe me, neither one is a pleasant experience. But by being subjected to the Taser and pepper spray, we have firsthand knowledge of what it will do to a person, giving us confidence in our tools and compassion for those we use them on."
Fowler's mentor and friend Dot Stewart, executive director of the Miss Tri-Cities scholarship program, was not surprised she joined the force.
"Jerrica is a wonderful young woman with a great heart of service to others," Stewart said. "She'll be an excellent law enforcement officer."
Fowler has a gift of instilling confidence in young women and continues to work behind the scenes at pageants, Stewart said. Her role in law enforcement also enhances that empowerment among women.
Tri-City piano player Steve Haberman got to know Fowler when he collaborated with her on music she performed at the pageant. Her dedication to community service was always evident, he said.
"Jerrica is one of the loveliest people I have ever worked with," Haberman said. "She was always positive and full of personality. She's talented and bright, and I never imagined she would take the (state police) route. I thought she might go into broadcasting. Then again, any endeavor she would take on is sure to be successful because she has that kind of determination."
Fowler is one of 79 female troopers policing the highways of Washington, and Cozzitorto said he would like to see that number grow.
"Having women troopers balances the strength of our detachments and makes us stronger," he said. "And we are always looking for good, quality people and encourage anyone to check with their local (state police) office for information on how to apply."
Fowler agrees that more women on the force deepens the effectiveness of law enforcement. And, despite the danger, women are as capable as men to handle any tense situation.
"The training we receive is the finest," she said. "And we learn that arrogance is not part of being a trooper."
Fowler intends to stay connected to her beauty queen past by helping at pageants when time allows. But her first priority is keeping highways safe for travelers. And there is one area where she may show her stubborn side.
"In truth, I probably will be a little harsh with people if I pull them over and find out they are not using child restraints with their children while driving," she said.
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; email@example.com; Twitter: @dorioneal