While other kids were keeping up with 90s fads, Jessica Higgins was throwing punches in a Lancaster City gym. Eventually, the young boxer realized the sport wasn’t going to pay the bills, so she considered a career in healthcare, but it didn’t fill the action and excitement she wanted from a profession. Now, as an officer on the Lancaster City Bureau of Police, Higgins spends her days and nights patrolling the city’s sector one, north of Harrisburg Pike and East Frederick Street.
“I wanted something that kept my attention. This job was always in the back of my head ever since I was a little kid,” says Jessica, in full uniform at police headquarters located at 39 West Chestnut Street, as she took time to tell the story of one female officer in a force growing in diversity.
“Most people were into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I started out with karate and progressed into boxing,” she says, smiling at the memories. “I wanted something with more impact. It was at a time when there weren’t many females involved in the sport.”
Starting when she was nine-years old, Jessica trained for ten years at Nye’s Gym until turning pro in 2001. Fighting as a Featherweight and Lightweight, her career stats over her one-year professional career were four wins, five losses, and one draw, with three losses coming to one fighter who she eventually bested.
“Jessica was a very, very aggressive fighter,” says gym owner and Jessica’s former trainer Terry Nye. “She’s a good athlete who is level headed. From what I’m told, other officers on the force want her as their backup.”
Jessica is one of 11 female officers currently serving on the Lancaster force, making up part of the 7.86 percent of women in uniform. Lancaster’s first female officer was Agnes Theresa Ferriter*, who was hired in March of 1923. Being a policewoman has both benefits and burdens when dealing with the public, admits Jessica.
“You don’t know what is going to happen every day and that has proven true throughout my career. I like dealing with people, getting to know people, and helping them,” Jessica says.
Recently, she and her partner stopped at a convenience store and picked up a few cold drinks. They delivered them to the kids shooting hoops at the Sixth Ward Park. It was a small gesture, but one she hopes will allow the kids to see her as a human being.
“Out of my pocket it is only a couple bucks, but hopefully one kid sees that and remembers what one police officer did,” says Jessica.
Besides her standard issue handcuffs, flashlight, tourniquet, taser, radio, pepper spray, and gun, Jessica sports two gel bands on her left wrist. One is black with a dark blue line symbolizing her support for fellow officers and the other is a light blue band with the phrase: In Jesus’ name I play.
“It’s important to me to remember why I’m doing what I’m doing,” says Jessica, who attends church in Hempfield. “I belong to a couple Bible studies; we even have a small study group with Lancaster City officers who share the same faith. It’s a really neat dynamic to learn more about Jesus with people that also share the same life experience as you.”
The biggest hurdle in police/citizen relations is remembering officers are people, too. Underneath her bullet proof vest, Jessica is a human being who has kids, plays sports, and cleans the bathroom just like the rest of us.
“Sometimes that is forgotten; people often just see the badge and the uniform,” she says.
*Officer Ferriter went onto national prominence; more on Lancaster’s first female officer online.