Teresa Fuller always wanted to be a teacher. But two years into college pursuing an education degree, she realized that it wasn’t a good fit for her. Yet she was unsure what to do next.
Then her mom came to the rescue.
“My Mom, bless her heart, saved the personality test I took in high school, you know, the one that shows what career best fits your personality. And Mom still had the results for me, and the number one match was law enforcement. It had never occurred to me to be a police officer.”
Today, Sergeant Teresa Fuller is a 23-year veteran of the Spokane Police Department and was recently named as one of Washington’s law enforcement liaison officers – the first woman to hold that position in the state.
“Frankly, I was surprised I was the first one,” admits Fuller, adding that it is an “honor to be selected for a well-respected, and needed position.”
The National Law Enforcement Liaison program was created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Governors Highway Safety Administration to help promote national and state highway safety. In the role, Fuller will coordinate the Spokane Police Department’s participation with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission to address behavioral traffic safety issues like speeding, distracted driving, impairment and more.
Fuller sees a need to emphasize traffic safety now, more than ever.
“Spokane has not been left unblemished by the fact that after so many people left the roads last year, it kind of became a raceway. We’ve nearly doubled our fatalities from 2019 to 2020 and the trend in increased traffic deaths is continuing this year.
“I want to preach the word of the bigger picture when it comes to traffic safety and how much it impacts our systems. Traffic safety effects everyone, and there is something everyone can do to make our roads safer.”
Promoting traffic safety and education has been a constant theme throughout Fuller’s 23-year career. Early on she became a car seat technician – providing personal instruction to new parents or caregivers about proper child car seat safety. “I think that’s where my passion for traffic safety started, from doing the car seat safety checks. It was a clear way of seeing you were helping people, even saving kids’ lives, potentially.”
As she promotes traffic safety in her new role Fuller won’t be a stranger to many in Spokane. She’s been a spokesperson for the Spokane Police Department for more than 10 years and has provided all the morning commute information for the local ABC affiliate.
As a sergeant in the traffic safety unit, she has 10 officers assigned to her, and manages and applies for grants to run traffic safety programs and respond to traffic issues across Spokane.
In that role, she created a program to turn traffic citations into safety education. “If you are in Spokane and get a ticket from one of my guys, we offer you a traffic safety class. You come in and take the class and get the ticket dismissed. And everyone who takes the class either learns something they forgot, or maybe they moved here from another state and didn’t understand Washington’s traffic laws. And participants are really surprised because the guys [officers] are so personable and they’re joking and telling stories about traffic laws we’re talking about. And in that environment, we can really promote the traffic safety message.”
Female police representation in the United States is around 12 percent, lagging behind comparable countries, according to Police Chief magazine. Still, Fuller felt supported when she joined the police department. “Once I got into the agency, we had a strong group of women who provided great role modeling for me.”
Fuller also takes advantage of national programs, like the International Association of Police Chief’s Women in Leadership Institute. “One of our trainers was the first female motorcycle office for the California Highway Patrol, back in the ‘CHiPs’ days, so talk about a trailblazer. And it’s cool to have these role models along the way I can bounce things off of.”
Police work can be tough but the great people Fuller works with motivates her every day.
“We have a fantastic agency. It keeps me going knowing we were able to help someone.”
Fuller remembers a domestic violence case involving a mother with two young kids who had been beaten and choked by her significant other. “It was clear by the injuries that she had been through a horrific weekend. She didn’t want to leave her kids to go to the hospital, but I convinced her. Before we left though she asked me to talk with her 10-year-old son. It was his dream of becoming a police officer someday. So maybe I’ll see that young man again.”
She may meet him, or perhaps some young woman thinking of entering law enforcement, who may be inspired by Fuller’s career to join the force.
“Policing is a great career for anyone committed to helping people, and living up to the badge,” she says. “Maybe that’s why I’m so committed to traffic safety, because so much of what we do prevents injury or death. Maybe I saved a kid through a car seat check or getting a parent to wear their seat belt. I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity to help people in that way, and help keep the streets safe, and work with the community to make them even safer.”