Jessica Wagner and Nina Selvaggio

Recorded October 8, 2006 Archived October 8, 2006 38:10 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBX001964


Nina asks her partner, Jessica, about her police career and being the first woman on Boston’s SWAT/Entry team.


  • Jessica Wagner
  • Nina Selvaggio


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00:04 I am Nino Salvaggio. I'm 32 years old. Today is October 8th 2006. We are in the storycorps little traveling booth in front of the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street in Boston, and I'm here today with my girlfriend / partner.

00:26 My name is Jessica Wagner. I'm 31. Today's date is October 8th 2006 and I'm in the trailer on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts and my relationship to Nina. She's my partner of almost 4 years. Yes.

00:45 Yes, tell me where you were born, Minnesota in Minneapolis.

00:54 And what was that like what was growing up like for you I grew up as an only child. We going to show love to Minneapolis and then moved out to the suburbs and where to Ramsey Minnesota small town and played with the boys in the neighborhood and grew up the happy loving family. And what kind of kid were you?

01:29 I was a tomboy big-time tomboy want to play in the Big Wheels Through Sports?

01:39 I always play with boys didn't want to wear dresses ever forget about it. Did you play sports? Yes, would you play I have played soccer softball ice hockey volleyball. What's your favorite ice hockey? And so, what did you think you wanted to be when you grew up?

02:02 When I was younger, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian by loved animals wanted to work in the field with animals and have a house full of animals. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. We've got plenty. So how did that dictate what you did when you went to college? I got recruited to play ice hockey at Northeastern University in Boston, and they didn't have a veterinarian program at the time. So I chose to do athletic training initially and what happened couple moves while I was at college and eventually graduated with a Human Service degree with a minor in American Sign Language. So then what did you do when you graduated college?

02:58 I went on to work at a program with mentally ill folks called The Advocate and I just did like help them with their everyday issues that they need to go into the grocery store and helping them with their meds showing them how to

03:19 Clean properly hygiene in people's houses know I wasn't cleaning because you don't really clean. So how long to do that for I did that one year and decided that was not for me and then what I was looking in the paper and in the want ads trying to look for something else that would suit me a little better and eventually came across a ad for the University of Massachusetts Lowell campus police officer position.

03:59 I applied to take the test and the quite well on the tests and was called in for an interview. Why did you even apply like why did you take the test like you wanted to be a vet? You wanted to you're playing ice hockey. So why that I always thought about becoming a police officer was always something in the back of my mind. I just never knew how to go about it yet. And so when I saw it, I was excited and thought it was a great opportunity and I'll take the test and see where that took me and then you got recruited. I didn't get recruited. I

04:42 Went and started the Lowell Police Academy in 1999. And what was that? Like it was at the time probably one of the hardest things I've ever done. Why

04:58 I just wasn't used to people yelling and screaming at me and was different than hockey driving 50 miles each way to get out a little from Boston hockey was a little different. I was yelled at but not in the same way with the same military mentality, right? And so how many females are in your class?

05:22 There were approximately 10 of us in the Lowell Police Academy out of how many there is there was a 75 of us. And so what was that like

05:33 It was hard being a female but talking back to older folks that have been police officers, especially females as he hasn't been less than 10. So at the time 10 was a big number people thought but when you really think about it, I was 75 tons. Not that big of a number right? And so did you ever feel like at any point gender play into it? Like today give you a harder time or give the females a harder time. I just think all eyes were usually on the females to see if they could, you know, hold up there at their end of the day.

06:11 Could you hold up your end of the deal? I think so. Yes, and so how long were you alone?

06:18 Police officer. I was a in-laws for 3 years. And then would you do after that? I became a police officer at Harvard University campus police. And how many females were there on that force on the force over there at the time they was about 12 out of out of 55. And so did you feel like gender came into play when you were at Harvard at all?

06:51 Play I miss the same thing. I think wherever wherever I go that it's a lot of guys around the women and I'm watching what they're doing and kept seeing that.

07:03 Making sure they can.

07:06 What did you do at Harvard?

07:11 I did why was given the opportunity to go on the motorcycle unit for the motorcycle unit anyways and went through the mbta's motorcycle class. Yep, and or some things you had to do in the classroom in order to get into the class. You had to be able to lift up Leon Harley-Davidson yet, which is approximately 900 lb, right, which one you think about it right. Now? You're saying how in the hell do you pick up my night?

07:45 But there's a technique and I worked long and hard at it and was able to squat the bike up and was able to get into the class and before the class started. There was a circle of all men and me yet. And when it came to my turn they all were guys were picked the right up on the first try. Okay. So, how's that feel when you saw when you called awesome it was a week's training is that right? And you can play that completed it passed it. I don't believe that ever had a female through their training at that time. Yep through the first female on the MBTA motorcycle training us pack. And then you said her for how much longer I stayed at Harvard for a year-and-a-half total and then what?

08:41 BPD called finally.

08:46 I had taken the test for them years back and had heard nothing and finally, I got a postcard in the mail saying that I

08:58 My number was up basically and I was going to be given the opportunity if I could pass so many tests physical abilities the psychological the medical screenings and everything else that came along with it. Yeah, the background checks. Yep.

09:14 Thieving Academy. Yes and see past all that stuff and the initial class that I was supposed to be in was actually canceled which was heart-wrenching and her budget reasons. We have no money, right, but eventually they did contact us again, and we went through parts of the background again and started the police academy. And when was it all 302

09:48 What to make with othella, I think it was all too. And so what was that experience like this was your second police academy?

09:56 It was a little bit easier cuz I was used to it. I knew what to expect. I knew what their you know, a lot of head games are going to be played a lot of yelling and screaming tons of

10:08 Like physical stuff was going to be going on and I was just more prepared. Yep. And how many people are in your class there was

10:19 65 I believe and we lost a couple along the way and so how many females out of the 65-15 we started with and we ended with 13, which is another big class for Boston police. Yeah. I remember that run you were doing and people were saying oh my gosh, look at all the females, right?

10:41 Tell us about the time the very first time you guys had to do the run.

10:47 It was wasn't the first or second day first or second to use the second day. We went out for a long run and it was basically one of these runs were.

10:58 They're going to try and kill you kill us break us down and see who could

11:04 Who can come out and who could finish it off and

11:09 In the end. It's probably like seven of us that had finished it and I was

11:17 One of those finishers so I'm pretty proud of myself. And you're the only female.

11:22 I believe so and you think that sort of marked you as a confident superstar in your class.

11:32 Superstar, I don't know but the drill instructor came right up to me after the wrong and asked me my name and so got me recognized at least again.

11:44 Put me on the map. I guess how that make you feel.

11:47 God I just want to show them that I can pull my weight and I belong to and I was fat and hopefully they wouldn't mess with me too much.

11:57 And what about some of the other successes you had in that place Academy?

12:02 How about your fish about for that? Oh my gosh.

12:08 I just did. All right, you did. All right, you were usually push-ups and sit-ups were always the top women in your class to finish and is it all right. I usually wear like in the top three out of everyone and what about the range at the shooting range. The shooting range is interesting because I'm not Rashad until I start I went into my first police academy in 99 and again by both academies. I did awesome with the firearm some reason and hand eye coordination. I want says it's from hunting in Minnesota, but I didn't do any of that. So I don't know what that's all about. I guess I just locked out. Are you just really talented?

12:59 Yeah, so I acted. All right. I want for Top Gun both academies. And after my first Academy, I was also invited back to a Firearms instructor school because one of the instructors with a firearm course thought so highly of me that he invited me back as other was one of the female there. I was nice and Top Guns.

13:24 The top shooter of the class. I unfortunately lost by one but yes, so you finish the police academy. I did you were obviously a superstar and then I have to call me though. I do like how you Superstar. So then what then you go on to the district I want to distract and I was selected to go to Roxbury, which is one of the busiest districts in the city of Boston and I was nervous excited. I wasn't nervous. Yes, you are nervous after like what my second night that was three people shot and you were on the news, and you wouldn't answer your cell phone. Yeah, so that was fun.

14:18 And so how long were you there for I was at Roxbury for 2 years. What would you say that experience was like it was intense? It was it was a lot of fun. I worked a lot of good people over there.

14:40 I enjoy going to work everyday. Yeah and being busy chasing all the hot calls yet gone call shooting and robbery running through that field looking for a gun in the pitch-black, right? All right, that's what cops do. I always encouraged you to stay in the cruiser and keep driving until we drive away from that. Don't track toward the right. But yeah, that's right, but it was good. I enjoyed my time. There was some of the things I saw our we're hard, but he like that loved it and during Police Academy commissioner Kathleen O'Toole was I get hired to put into place and she was Boston's first.

15:31 First email commissioner, right? Yes, and so fast forward to almost three years after she had been on the job and then you had been on the job. So you're careers almost ran simultaneously.

15:47 What happened?

15:49 I was asked if I would be interested in.

15:55 Riding for the motorcycle unit for Boston police. They had found out that I had written for Harvard University and the commissioner wanted females in the unit cuz there were none there were none there was one previous but she had left the unit and how many pencil ever since then and then how many are in the unit of raw now? There are three of us how many out of how many o50 and I guess we should probably know that there are over 2,000 police officers in the city of Boston and only 14% are women that's around there.

16:41 So you got asked and you interviewed for a spot on mop I got asked if I would be interested and where you definitely only nervous. I enjoyed Roxbury, but I also didn't like working midnight to 8 in the morning so hard on me and us.

17:05 But yeah, I was thrilled just to know that they were interested in me coming over there because I have no connections on the police department lot of people have family members. They know this person or that person. And I don't know anybody if I'm in the right of the people that I went through the academy was so I was

17:27 Has pleased when I called and reached out to me cuz I heard you were super star Academy. Yes.

17:35 And so wet. So now how long have you been on motorcycle unit? So I've been on it a year. It was just a year anniversary on October 1st. And so what's it like how does it feel? It's great. It's a great unit. Wish they had some more females over there, but why?

17:57 This is there's only three of us. So, you know, it's usually just one of us working at a time. Sometimes I'll be two of us, but I think they should have more females but it's in great unit. I love riding. We do tons of traffic enforcement which I'm not a huge fan of but we do a lot of fun stuff dignitary protection meet a lot of people do a lot of parades marathon of course of divorcing. How did the public react to you?

18:30 Well when I pull up and take my helmet off, I usually get a lot of comments and there's a woman on the Harley some woman on that bike. Look Little Johnny.

18:44 Yes, women do ride motorcycles. And so now what what are you doing now? I'm working and mop which is the motorcycle unit recently.

18:59 Recently tried out for the entry and apprehension team witches.

19:06 The SWAT team. Basically the Boston has put together and that you were everyone who rides on mop also gets to try out for the entry unit. Right? And so you were you and the two other female officers and mop or given the opportunity we're asked if we wanted to try out right? And so you said yes I said, yes, I would love to try out. And so what about training what was training like it was three weeks 4 weeks I was about and I'm done being about three weeks. I got cut short they had to cancel it because of the tunnel collapse, right but it's two weeks of firearms and

19:48 Some are weakened room Clarion so which is another totally intense. It's the elite of the elite I guess is what they like to call it and I'm so the firearm stuff. It's not just standing there shooting again. Like we had to do some running around obstacle course shooting from on top of building shooting with your gas mask coming with a gas mask of Shield. They shall different for different stuff. And so tell me about one of your obstacle courses.

20:24 You have to have a gas mask on we have our tactical vest on and it shows they threw a flash that sell flashbangs. So bags are going off smoke was going on if we have to run a certain amount and the time that amazing was timed for the obstacle courses and

20:49 We would be

20:52 Just under intense pressure people were yelling and screaming at us things are going off on our feet when we are expected to shoot accurately accurately and do it in a quick Manner and then be able to stay calm and you finished first in obstacle courses.

21:17 Island

21:19 Yes. Yes. I did. You don't like to ever say any of that.

21:28 But that's why we're here to record this. Right right see finished person obstacle courses. I did. I want a little toy gun, but the guy think it was, you know, and I opener for a lot of the men too.

21:46 See me come out there and beat their asses.

21:50 To represent for the women, right? I don't think you just yeah, it was like the deputy lieutenants. Everyone was talking about it yesterday when you got back to the station by then everyone had known and people were all people are impressed. I think I am shocked. I think also right that a female could actually come in and right cuz there was some great guys who owe we have great guys in our unit that are from military Firearms expert. I'm not an expert at any firearm. Unable to shoot up and shoot it when you finished your three weeks training a drug test and you are accepted into

22:41 Don't retain I was the first and only women woman they've ever had on the team that has that feel.

22:49 I'm pretty proud of myself pretty proud. Yeah, it's also stressful the same time because

22:56 You know if I mess up it's a much bigger deal than just one of the other guys does right so it's tons of pressure. But I'm looking forward to it. Did you ever think you would wind up being the first and only female in Boston's Most Elite Police Force unit know I'm shocked. They haven't had another female before me but did you think that this is how your career would turn out?

23:26 I don't know I guess.

23:30 How to spell a mind to it

23:35 Everything fell into place and I love the position. I'm in right now with the motorcycle unit and the entry team and I'm excited to see where my career goes from here. Where do you think is going to go from here? I hope to rise in the ranks be a sergeant someday Lieutenant Captain who knows maybe running apartment somewhere. Yeah, there is to see if you're going to be commissioner. Huh? They do see is when throw that around a lot. But so you better watch out.

24:11 So how does it feel like some days you wake up and think holy cow.

24:15 No, this is my life. This is my career. This is crazy. I just wake up and thinks I'm lucky to have a job that I really like. What about the Public's reaction to you? Like for example, tell us the story that you told me yesterday about the being in the gun dock.

24:38 Well, that's the tactical response vehicle that are unit uses.

24:49 High-powered firearms in it. And we basically answer high priority calls gun calls. Yep knife a weapon in and we got out to just have lunch yesterday. I got out of the car and in your dress, how are you dressed? I was dressed and we wear all black videos which are like black cargo pants with the black jacket and

25:22 You know most people look at us and wonder you know, who are they? They don't see many of us around I got off then and got outer side of ninja stuff like looking right with a high-powered firearm. Will this is actually when I was getting back and I took it out of the trunk and got was about to get in the front seat in the guys. I guess. I'm not going to ask you out.

25:51 So that's just, you know a typical day.

25:56 And so what do you think when they say that?

26:01 I just shake my head and get in the car and people are ridiculous that I like you stand out constantly staring and looking at me and you know, it's it's a good thing and it's it's good one when it's little girls. Are you feel lots of pressure everyday?

26:28 No, not every day but

26:31 Definitely

26:33 That's why I wasn't going to come see like the interesting stuff. Yeah, I feel a lot more pressure. But around like the motorcycle unit stuff like that. No, do you think that's what motivates you is you're not wanting to screw up because you're a female to win and competitive don't want to give up and I'll just keep keep at it, but it's okay if you screw up once in awhile, oh, yeah, everybody does but it's just 24/7 and all eyes are on you it gets a little rough at times and most of them are great. No complaints.

27:20 I have some that are best friends with. Yep. You've got you some guys for your best friends with you know, some guys. Yeah, lots of guys. What do you ever feel like your other than like the Public's reaction to you when you get the motorcycle, I take your helmet off or in the gun car. Give her are you cognizant of being a woman while you're at work?

27:47 Yeah, I think I am. I mean, it's usually me in the locker room by myself where they're all in their locker room having a good old time and you know, but once I go on the road, I'm involved in all of the games that are played in the TV show Good Times, but it's everybody so I enjoy myself over there and have a great time. But yeah, I mean, I definitely when I'm sitting in the locker room by myself, you think you have a female but then like when you're out answering calls or on the road, you know know know when I'm pulling somebody over know I'm a police officer.

28:38 Do you think that's strange that you think about your gender while you're at work? Like are you ever aware of that? Like most of us like, for example, I hardly ever think about being a female at work. Like I'm never think, you know, I'm a woman today at work, but you also work for a nonprofit. So do you ever think about that like do everything? Well being a woman's a big deal particularly in law enforcement? Oh, yeah. It's definitely a big deal now in 2006. It shouldn't be but it's still as in people that say it's not I think I R line. So what do you think's going to have to have happened that's going to have to happen for that to change.

29:28 Recruit more women and get them into the units that are strictly meant because you know, somebody has me that can compete and be amazing and says plenty of other women that I've met that

29:49 I am sure could also do the same job. Yep, and there's lots of other units that are just all meant. Right and it's unfortunate women bring a different aspects of the job what you think they bring.

30:04 Why you ask me a tough one, but you think you bring that's different. I mean, I know I have I have stories but you've told me that I think emphasizes are I think I'm laid-back a lot more than some of the other guys their approaches to you know,

30:26 Maybe show that they're bigger and badder to convince somebody into doing something and you know, you know her to comply with them. Whereas I have to use my words and obviously I can't beat up Bryson big guys.

30:44 So it's I think women use are more vocal with their policing and men and the

30:59 I think women just tend to communicate more and give you and what about your brain?

31:06 Yeah, what about what about using it for? Tell us about the story that breaking down the door?

31:13 Oh.

31:15 In the entry team training we had to break down The Doors.

31:23 Breaching door and we went to had to do it to pass. The training has had to do it and they gave the guys to the wooden flimsy doors on the interior of the apartment building and

31:39 You know, I watched as each of them did it and was breaking down their door and whatever we went one by one.

31:46 And then it came to my turn and they said we're going to have you do the exterior door the metal door. Of course they are.

31:55 As they all laugh and giggle and things that sound like okay, there's no way in hell. I'm not walking away from the store until I break it down. I'll stand here all night and bang it. Right. So we went to the metal door and I had watched to see what the other guys were doing and where they were hitting it and what worked and what didn't work and I hit the door four times and an open and they're amazed their jaws dropped. And once again, they looked at me like, you know, but it's

32:29 You have to hit where the lock is and where the door is sticking and some of the guys weren't paying attention to that and what are they doing? Just all muscle all night just slamming it into the door wherever it is. And so the guy who came behind you and had to had to do this to us steel door. Also, I think you four times and he had it over 20 times and finally he had to pass it off cuz he couldn't have it anymore. And so what do you think the difference was?

32:56 I think the difference was that.

33:00 You know, I was paying attention to see exactly what I needed to do because I was not about to fail at this strong as these guys, but you can use your brain use my brain and be maybe a little bit smarter, right? And do you think that's common among your female comrades? So do I want to go there?

33:32 What police officers? Oh, yeah, I'm in big trouble in order to be successful. You have to figure out how to play the game and how to be a different way. Right and I can't just be about physical force and like the statistics show that stuff like females on the job tend to be better communicators have less excessive force complain less public complaints in general cuz they deal with the public in a different way.

34:11 Jessica yes. What what's your average day? Like now right now right now? It's

34:21 It is if something's going on like as a half marathon this this morning to do the traffic for that. I asked for the lead female Runner we do any big event in the city the parades any big event any walk, but if nothing's going on, we do free traffic enforcement. So I'll start my day partner and I will grab some breakfast and a coffee.

34:55 And after that, we'll hit the road and find a spot and just enforce the traffic and write citations, unfortunately.

35:06 And that's usually what a day and Tails and if after work overtime to make extra money, I do that a lot, which is someone hard cuz me and I would like me home, but I got to pay the bills.

35:21 Elementary team the entertain me a pager. I have I carry a pager with me 24/7 and at any time when that pager goes off, I'm expected to respond to the station within you know, 30 minutes or so and be ready to go on a raid.

35:40 It's what life lessons as work taught you.

35:43 Life lessons any I think the treat people the way you want to be treated and to be

35:53 Open minded and to know that a lot of people aren't as lucky as like I am we are.

36:05 Is there anything that you want to tell me that you've never told me that I've never told you about maybe work your job any of it?

36:16 To tell me everything that's why I don't like I tell you all of it. Cuz especially when I was working in Roxbury, I don't think you'd want to hear all that stuff. Yeah.

36:26 Yeah with all the shootings and seeing young men with bullets in them. So right about your career that you want to tell me that you've never told me about your perspective on your own career.

36:44 My prescription online career

36:47 No, just that.

36:49 I appreciate the sacrifices you make

36:53 In a relationship

37:00 I know it's really hard for you.

37:05 And I totally appreciate it and love you.

37:11 I'm home right now is easy.

37:17 Pet sweep

37:20 I love you. I love you too. So proud of you. You are such a superstar you really are and what's so amazing about you is you're so humble and you never want to talk about all your successes, and it's so sweet and you don't have an ego and it's fun cuz I get to brag about you and you know, I was going to do do that, but I'm so proud of you and I know I can't wait to have little girls who are going to be so proud of you and you're such a role model. What about boys? There's a chance we could have boys. I love you. I love you, too.