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Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY)

Police Pioneer Retires: She's City's First Female Homicide Investigator

Alan Morrell

April 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Democrat & Chronicle (Rochester, NY). All rights reserved. 

Only once in her career as a homicide investigator was Evelyn Baez's gender an issue.

In 1999, she and her partner, Investigator Tony Campione, arrested John F. Owens, who subsequently was convicted of first-degree murder in the slayings of two Rochester women.

Baez stayed outside the interview room while Campione questioned him.

"Owens just hated women with a passion," said Baez, who retired Friday as the first and only female homicide investigator in Rochester Police Department history. Colleagues also said she probably was the first Hispanic woman in department history to become an investigator in any unit.

"It was the only time I didn't go in to talk with a suspect. I thought if I went in, it might set him off."

What mattered, Baez said, was that Owens was convicted, not who got the interview. In the same way, she said, what mattered was that she was a cop, not that she's a woman or Hispanic.

"I always tried to get my (career) positions based on my qualifications, not just because I'm a female Hispanic," said Baez, 47. "I'm hoping that women out there realize they can do the same."

Penny Harrington, founding director of the California-based National Center for Women & Policing, said women make up only 13 percent of police officers in the country. She had no statistics for homicide investigators but guessed the number was very low.

"This woman really is a pioneer," said Harrington, former chief of the Portland, Ore., Police Bureau and the first woman to be chief of a major U.S. city. "Homicide is such a highly coveted position, there's so much competition to get in there, and it's still a good-old-boys system. It's really a tough field to break into, especially for a woman."

Indeed, cities with departments much larger than Rochester's have only recently added female homicide investigators, Harrington said. San Francisco, for example, hired its first in 1998. Baez started in 1995.

Born in Salinas, Puerto Rico, Baez grew up in New York City and moved to Rochester in 1974. She started with the Police Department 26 years ago and worked in various parts of the city and in the Child Abuse Unit before joining Homicide in 1995.

Some cases, she said, were more emotionally draining than others, particularly those involving murdered children. As the divorced mother of two teenage daughters, those crimes hit too close to home.

"How do you tell a mom, `Your kids are dead'?" asked Baez, who plans to be a "full-time mom" for the immediate future. "My kids always knew when something was bothering me. I'd go home and cry in the shower. That was my routine."

Campione first met Baez at the police academy in 1977. He was immediately impressed.

"She competed at every level," he said. "In fact, she's still a better shot than me. She can back me up any time. I have the utmost respect for her, and I'm going to miss that first call when she's not here."

Baez said she regrets that more female police officers have not tried to get into the homicide unit. Maybe it's the late hours or the pager going off in the middle of the night, she said.

"I don't know why," she said. "I wish more women would look into taking the test, for everybody's sake: the community's, the department's."

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