Spokane Police Department Neighborhood Resource Officer Traci Ponto never had any doubt she wanted to be a police officer.
“I was a tomboy,” she said. “I played in the mud. I knew very, very early on that’s what I wanted to do. A lot of ladies wanted to get married and have a family, and that wasn’t me. Career comes first.”
Ponto brought that drive and her desire to serve to the West Central Neighborhood, where she has been the NRO for 10 years. Her work to make the neighborhood better for its residents has earned her a 2019 Women of Achievement Award for government and public service from the YWCA.
Ponto is one of 10 women selected by the YWCA to receive a Women of Achievement award at the organization’s annual luncheon set for 11:30 a.m. Oct. 11 at the Spokane Convention Center. Tickets are $125 and available by calling (509) 789-9312.
Ponto said her early inspiration was a Washington State Patrol trooper who lived down the street in East Wenatchee when she was a girl.
“I’d see him come out in that uniform with that hat, and I just thought he was the coolest thing,” she said.
She graduated from high school in 1985 and worked two jobs to support herself. She moved to Spokane in 1987 to enter the law enforcement program at Spokane Community College, but again found herself working hard just to make ends meet.
“You can’t work 70 hours a week and go to school,” she said.
She was finally able to enroll in SCC in 1992 and finished in 1994. Back then, part of the program was a police department co-op that had students taking vehicle theft and burglary reports as well as working at special events with the police department. The program was required, but Ponto took it to the next level.
“I ate it up,” she said. “I’d do 100 hours a month of volunteer work on top of school, on top of work.”
After she graduated from SCC, she was quickly hired by the Spokane Police Department.
“I remember my very first shift on graveyard: winter, Underhill Park, gang shooting,” she said. “I loved it.”
She worked patrol for several years and then became an NRO in the Shadle and North Central neighborhoods 12 years ago. A transfer to the West Central Neighborhood was brought up, and Ponto tried to say no.
“I even went into the chief’s office and rattled off all the reasons,” she said. “They gave it to me anyway.”
Ponto said her objections were based on her assumptions about the neighborhood, which had a rough reputation at the time. Those assumptions were thrown out the door her first week on the job.
“I was under the impression this little neighborhood didn’t care,” she said. “They turned me around. They turned that preconceived notion around immediately.”
She works out of the West Central C.O.P.S. Shop on West Boone Avenue. Her job is to work with neighbors to organize responses to problem houses, take police reports, help detectives track down suspects and, in general, do everything she can to make the neighborhood safer.
“I absolutely am in love with this neighborhood, all aspects of it,” she said. “We have hardworking people raising families, just trying to have a good quality of life.”
She said she prefers being a neighborhood resource officer to being on patrol.
“Patrol is so call driven that you’re on to the next one almost before you finish the one you’re on,” she said. “This allows me to see something from start to finish.”
She said neighbors know she has an open-door policy and once her car is spotted at her office, people sometimes form a line to talk to her about problems and concerns.
“I love that they trust me, to come in and talk to me,” she said. “I like the networking that can happen. I’ve seen kids grow up. I’m a familiar fixture down here.”
Ponto also has a love of horses. She’s turned that passion into a new Mounted Patrol program run through C.O.P.S. Volunteers spend their time visiting city parks on horseback in the summer as a way to get people to visit their local parks more, which cuts down on criminal behavior. People up to no good don’t want a lot of eyes and ears around, Ponto said.
Though Ponto runs the program, she does it as a volunteer on her own time and not as a police officer. It seems to be a roaring success, with volunteers doing 290 park visits this summer. The group also attends special events and has participated in rodeos and parades from Colville to Ritzville.
“I sign up as a volunteer because I see that need,” she said. “To give back is really extraordinary.”
Ponto said when she got the phone call about her award she first thought the YWCA was trying to report a theft or vehicle prowl.
“I was floored and obviously very, very humbled,” she said. “People don’t get into police work to get accolades. They do it to make a difference.”
She said she was surprised to find herself included in a group of women that includes CEO’s, executive directors and an astronaut.
“It’s quite an honor,” she said.
Overall, she has no regrets about following her childhood dream.
“I’ve got a great gig,” she said. “I’m very, very happy where I am. I’ve had the best career.”
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