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Woman in Charge

Susan Culin leads Westfield District police force.

Police Capt. Susan Culin became the new commander of the Sully District Station in November, but she readily acknowledges other women in the police department who helped pave the way.

"The females who came up the ranks 10 years ago helped open doors for us so gender is taken out of the equation and we're promoted on merit," she said.

NATIONWIDE, only 2 percent of women in law enforcement achieve the rank of captain or higher. But Fairfax County is at an all-time high for female commanders. In early December, Capt. Amy Lubas took the reins at the Fair Oaks District Station, and Franconia and Mason also have female leaders.

Born and raised in Fairfax, Culin, 43, lives in Centreville's Old Mill community with husband Mark — retired from the police department and now running his own accident-reconstruction/private investigation business — and their five daughters, Lindsey, 25, Lauren, 22, Sarah and Leslie, 18 and Samantha, 6.

She said it's beneficial being married to another police officer because "you understand the stress and around-the-clock schedules" and have a mutal interest in law enforcement and mutual friends.

"Everyone can come home from work after having a bad day, but not after seeing a gory accident or a suicide," said Culin. "That's a different level of understanding. Throughout my career, I could not have done what I've done without Mark's support and understanding of what it takes."

Majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology and criminal justice at JMU, she received her bachelors in 1984. During college, she interned with Fairfax County's Juvenile Probation Office, spurring her interest in law enforcement.

"So as a whim, I put in my application with the police department," said Culin. "I ended up being one of two females in the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Academy's 59th session and graduated in 1985."

She spent 12 years as a patrol officer at the McLean District Station and was one of the primary units on the scene of the Mir Amal Kanzi shooting at the CIA. "I typically worked downtown McLean and loved being outside, on the move, in the community," she said. "I enjoyed meeting different people and encountering different situations every day."

Next came two years as a public-information officer. Said Culin: "In a county of 1.3 million people, a police department of 1,350 officers can't be everywhere and see everything, so we depend on the community and media to help us out."

After promotion to sergeant, she worked the midnight shift at the Fair Oaks station, beginning in spring 1999. As patrol sergeant, she headed a squad of about 12 police officers and oversaw their criminal and traffic investigations and enforcement work. Paired with a second lieutenant, they supervised as a team.

Promoted to second lieutenant in 2000, Culin became a patrol supervisor at West Springfield's District Station. "I spent lots of time with cases involving juveniles because the district was largely residential and had five high schools," she said. After seven months, she transferred to the Traffic Division as Traffic Safety Section supervisor.

IT GAVE HER an additional field of knowledge, since it deals with educational and preventative projects such as seatbelt use, child carseat safety, DWI prevention, alcohol stings and the Smooth Operator program. After two years, she became a first lieutenant in August 2002 and returned to McLean's station as assistant commander.

Already familiar with many of the officers and investigators, plus the community, Culin said it was like "going home." Then in April 2003, she was asked to become acting commander of the police department's Youth Services Division.

"It has the Gang Unit and oversees the school resource officers, elementary school education program officers and crime-prevention officers," she explained. "I dealt with their training and overall functioning so there'd be consistency from station to station. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The most eye-opening and educational part was working with the Gang Unit and learning about gang issues and problems within Fairfax County."

In January 2004, Culin became an aide on the police chief's staff, working on a variety of projects. On Oct. 16, she was promoted to captain and, Nov. 6, she took over the Sully District Station.

Col. Dave Rohrer, the police chief, praised former commander, Capt. Bill Gulsby, for opening that station and getting it off to a strong start. He said Culin's a "great addition" there, is a fine person and a "consummate professional." He appreciates her wide range of experience over 20 years, terrific people skills and calm demeanor. Said Rohrer: "She's a good police officer and I'm very proud of her."

"When I learned I was going to take over command of Sully, I was ecstatic," said Culin. "I felt like I won the lottery. Sully's a fantastic station with great officers and supervisors. Capt. Gulsby's done an excellent job getting the station up and running and establishing great contacts and programs."

It's also just five miles from her home so, said Culin, "It's in an area I live in and care about. You have an additional ownership when you live in the district. It's not only the citizens I'm serving, but my friends and neighbors."

1st Lt. J.D. Call, formerly with the station's Criminal Investigations Section, is assistant commander. "He came with a wealth of knowledge and background on the station functioning and personnel, which was helpful in my transitioning into this position," said Culin. "It's very much of a team concept between assistant commander and commander, and we each have our own expertise in different areas."

SHE SAID Sully has a number of burglaries, larcenies and property destructions — many involving juvenile perpetrators. "We're working on a peeper case in conjunction with the West Springfield station because of similarities with incidents [there]," she said. "And we have traffic concerns, especially on Route 28 and also on Route 29. We're starting a traffic-enforcement squad to give full attention to ongoing violations such as speeding and red-light running."

She also plans an educational presentation for parents of teen drivers, in conjunction with Westfield and Centreville highs and Mountain View. Said Culin: "We need parents to take a more active part in their children's safety on the roadways [so teens are] using their seatbelts and not loading up the car with juveniles, talking on cell phones or blasting the radio."

"Parents need to set the rules for the use of their vehicle," she continued. "Just because the state says they can have a license doesn't mean they're responsible enough to drive well, and that's where parents have to make a judgment call."