Early in her career, Laura Durling, assistant director for administrative services for the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, faced obstacles working in law enforcement because she was a female. Durling is retiring after 36 years of service.
Durling began working for Public Safety in 1977 as Ithaca College’s first female patrol officer. In the 3 1/2 decades she has been at the college, Durling said, there have been numerous changes, including renaming Safety and Security to what is now Public Safety and an increase in public safety officers to keep up with the growth of enrollment and the campus population.
She also said very few women were involved in law enforcement during the ’70s, so being the first female patrol officer came with certain challenges. She said it was a different experience for her as well as for her male colleagues, who initially didn’t know what to make of her. When Durling went to the New York state basic municipal training school, she and another female officer, who was employed at Cornell, were the only two women in a class of 14.
Crystal Young, coordinator for administrative and operational support services at Public Safety and Durling’s close colleague for the past 25 years, said Durling had to combat gender discrimination at a time when women were a minority in the male-dominated field.
“She had her struggles and had to overcome the stigmatism of being in a [primarily] male profession in the ’70s,” Young said. “The college has meant a lot to Laura, obviously she wouldn’t have been here all these years had she not just absolutely loved Ithaca.”
Durling rose through the ranks as a patrol sergeant in 1983 and was promoted to investigator in 1988 and later senior investigator. She began leading and supervising major investigations as assistant director in 2004. By 2009, Durling was promoted to her current position of assistant director of administrative services.
When she was 15 years old, Durling took a high-school class on juvenile delinquency and knew thereafter she wanted to go into law enforcement. Durling went to community college and received a two-year criminal justice degree. After college, she worked in the New York State Division of Juvenile Justice and Opportunities for Youth. She said that experience pushed her toward the police science and investigative work rather than corrections work in a state prison.
“I really enjoyed that, and that’s why I decided to look more toward the law enforcement part and not corrections,” Durling said. “Those were kind of the divisions back then in the mid ’70s — you could take criminal justice corrections, or you could take criminal justice police science.”
Durling said she was hired by the college to conduct sexual assault investigations and prevention programming.
“I was the first female they hired, and it seemed reasonable to put me in a position where I would be doing rape prevention and things that may involve female victims,” Durling said. “The mentality 30 years ago was that female victims should only talk to a female officer. There was kind of a trend back then to assign [female officers] to sex crimes or crimes dealing with children because of the ability to maybe relate to a female or a female to relate to a child.”
She said the mentality in the ’70s was that public safety officials believed Durling could communicate more effectively with sexual assault survivors.
“Even though I was the first female and all the responsibilities were the same as everyone else’s, there was a focus on using me for the ability to do some of these new programs on rape prevention and crime prevention,” Durling said.
Durling said she does not agree with that mentality anymore because all police officers go through intensive training and preparation, and she said it is important for people to trust any police officer, regardless of his or her gender.
After her experience early in her career working with youth at a corrections facility, she said, she was drawn to investigations because she didn’t just want to file a report and be done with the case, she wanted to find out everything about it.
“I wanted to know why it had happened and who was responsible, so I think that that is what really piqued my interest in investigations,” Durling said. “It just goes into digging for information and talking to people and trying to conclude something. It’s all a part of accountability, and I think it would be interesting to have it come full circle, so you know all the answers to all the questions.”
Tom Dunn, public safety investigator and one of Durling’s colleagues, said her 36 years of investigative experience have been invaluable to the department.
“This historical, institutional knowledge … is how Ithaca College has addressed this problem in the past, and [she is] irreplaceable,” Dunn said. “She’s more experienced than I am, so you could always ask her, ‘Have you ever dealt with this before, and how did you resolve it?’”
Durling said she wants to simplify her life by decreasing the number of hours she works. However, Durling is not yet ready for full retirement, as she accepted another job as a one-on-one aide at a local middle school. She has been working both jobs through September until her retirement becomes effective during the first week of October. Durling said the new job will allow her to spend more time around family and volunteer for non-profit organizations.
“I’ve been here for 36 years, and I’ve been given so many opportunities for personal and professional development,” Durling said. “I could have never asked for a better employer than Ithaca College, and Public Safety has been my family … I still have a deep compassion just to help people and be with people.”