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thedrifter
04-01-06, 08:09 AM
Sniper holds her own on team
The Hampton Police Division's only female sniper once left the department - but missed it so much, she came back.

BY KIM O'BRIEN ROOT
928-6473

April 1 2006

HAMPTON -- Sgt. Kim Brighton strides into a conference room at the Hampton Police Division with a loud sigh.

It's just after 3:30 p.m., Brighton just got to work and she's learned that there was a bank robbery a few hours earlier. A busy day is sure to be in store.

Don't let the sigh fool you.

She loves it.

Brighton is one of about a dozen ranking female police officers in the Hampton department. She's one of a trio of sergeants who supervise the crimes-against-persons unit, which investigates homicides and robberies.

But her pedigree doesn't stop at investigating the toughest of crimes. She's also the only female member of the city's SWAT team, where she's a trained sniper - one of just two female police snipers in Hampton Roads. She's also an instructor in firearms and defensive tactics.

Bottom line: She's one tough lady.

Brighton, a Hampton native, joined the city's police 16 years ago as a patrol officer. Fresh out of Radford University in Southwest Virginia - where she majored in business management - she decided to apply to the department when she aged out of being a police cadet, a job she held during her summers home from school.

Any thoughts of a career in business soon disappeared.

"I got here, and I tell you what - I just can't get away from it," she said.

She tried. In 2002, after 12 years on the force, Brighton thought that she needed a change of pace and quit to become an air marshal. But riding quietly on airplanes proved a little too tame for her.

She left after three months and went right back to the Police Division. Former Police Chief Tom Townsend told her never to leave again.

Since then, Brighton has neatly fitted herself back into her old routine, including rejoining the Special Weapons and Tactics team, or SWAT. She's been on the team for five years in all, most of that time as a sniper.

The SWAT team's commander, Capt. Randy Lewis, describes Brighton as a star performer - a motivated, dedicated person who takes her job seriously.

Being a woman has never mattered a lick, he said: "She's up for any task."

In all her years as a police officer, training to be a sniper was by far the hardest, Brighton said.

When she finished the grueling, physically challenging sniper school in Virginia Beach - a school named for the U.S. Marines' most proficient sniper, Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock - she became the first female to pass the class in 15 years.

Lewis said she ran other members of the class into the ground. "A lot of people doubted her when she came on," said Cpl. George Fretwell, who has been Brighton's partner just about since she joined the SWAT team in 2001. "I had all the confidence in her."

Brighton is at least the third woman to be on Hampton's SWAT team - but one of a handful in Hampton Roads. Policing has historically been a male-dominated field, though 15 percent of Hampton's 280 sworn officers are women. The national average is about 13 percent, the National Center for Women and Policing reported.

Still, Brighton's broken the gender barrier all her life. In high school, she played soccer on an all-boys team.

It wasn't until she joined the soccer team at Radford that she played sports with other females. So she's used to being one of the guys - and on the Hampton force, that's exactly how she's treated, she said. On the SWAT team, even rank doesn't matter.

"I've earned their respect," Brighton said. "I think like they do. I shoot like they do."

That she does. During a sniper training session Thursday night, Brighton was one of seven snipers sprawled along the ground at Hampton's firing range, aiming their rifles at a target 100 yards away.

In the dark, they were nearly indistinguishable from one another: camouflage pants, black shirts, black boots. The difference was the sniper with the blond-streaked ponytail.

The SWAT team trains together regularly to make sure that the members are ready for anything.

They often get called to help the narcotics unit: The last time was about a month ago, when the drug squad had to go into houses where suspects reportedly had weapons.

At 39, Brighton is consistently taking on new challenges. Three years ago, she finished a master's degree in public administration from Troy University, an Alabama-based school that has branches in Hampton Roads.

In May and August, she'll take part in a leadership school run by the Hampton Roads Criminal Justice Training Academy.

Someone in the Police Division's upper ranks - she doesn't know who - suggested she apply to the leadership program. She did and got in. It'll be another notch in her plan to keep moving forward.

"We expect big things from her," said Lewis, the SWAT team commander.

Brighton laughed when asked whether she'd like to be police chief one day. Maybe, she said. At the least, she'd like to be a major.

In the meantime, she'll keep doing what she loves - training for anything and putting the bad guys in jail.

Ellie