Trailblazer: Female deputy continues to climb Lee sheriff ranks

William DeShazer/Staff
Kathryn Rairden poses for a portrait outside of the Lee County Sheriff's sub station in Bonita Springs on Friday Dec. 14, 2012. Rairden, a Naples High graduate, became the first female district commander in 2009 and now has been promoted to major.

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER // Buy this photo

William DeShazer/Staff Kathryn Rairden poses for a portrait outside of the Lee County Sheriff's sub station in Bonita Springs on Friday Dec. 14, 2012. Rairden, a Naples High graduate, became the first female district commander in 2009 and now has been promoted to major.

William DeShazer/Staff 
 Kathryn Rairden poses for a portrait outside of the Lee County Sheriff's sub station in Bonita Springs on Friday Dec. 14, 2012. Rairden, a Naples High graduate, became the first female district commander in 2009 and now has been promoted to major.

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

William DeShazer/Staff Kathryn Rairden poses for a portrait outside of the Lee County Sheriff's sub station in Bonita Springs on Friday Dec. 14, 2012. Rairden, a Naples High graduate, became the first female district commander in 2009 and now has been promoted to major.

Photo with no caption

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

In the male-dominated world of law enforcement, Kathy Rairden proves there is plenty of room for women.

From being the first female Lee County Sheriff's Office district commander a few years back to her most recent promotion to major, Rairden, 40, continues to make history. Her promotion from captain to major on Nov. 11, made her the first female in Lee County's 125 year history to earn that rank.

"I've definitely gone a lot father that I thought I would when I first started," Rairden said. "(The promotion) just shows that we've come a long way. Before, females wouldn't be considered for positions like this."

Rairden was just the right person for the job, Sheriff Mike Scott said.

"She has a proven record. I have a high level of trust in her, and the patrol function is the backbone," Scott said. "She's got a lot of different tools in her toolbox, moved her way through the (agency) and continued to impress. She's proved her mettle. I'm real proud of her."

Rairden is still adjusting to the attention she said she's receiving from women in the community.

"They say 'You're blazing trails for women coming up behind you,'" Rairden said. "But I just want to do good work. For me, it's just another step on the career ladder."

That step puts her two notches below sheriff, a position she said she's not interested in.

But Rairden said she wasn't always interested in being a deputy, either. When she graduated from Naples High School, she moved to Georgia, and worked in retail for a couple years. After a little push from a friend at the Collier County Sheriff's Office, she put herself through the police academy in 1993. Upon graduating, she began her career in Bonita Springs, the city she now oversees.

"She's got sheriff capability," Scott said. "The first three letters are s-h-e in sheriff. But we haven't talked about that. But at some point I'll have to make a decision about what I'm going to do, and someone internally could do it."

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell and Highland County Sheriff Susan Benton are the only female top cops in Florida's 67 counties.

Rairden said she credits some of her career success to her family. Her husband, a retired deputy, takes care of their 9-year-old daughter, whose nickname is "mini major."

"I would be thrilled to death if she chose this as a career," Rairden said of her daughter. "But my husband is concerned. It's a lot more dangerous than it used to be."

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