NEW BRAUNFELS - It's a new year and a new chief at the Garden Ridge Police Department. And with her comes a new leaf. Sworn in on Jan. 1, Donna O'Conner is the first female police chief in the city of Garden Ridge, and the only one at this time in Comal County.
O'Conner was one of three daughters born to a Presbyterian minister and his wife, and it was instilled early on that there was no such thing as "can't."
"I laugh and say I became a cop because my dad said I couldn't, but really we were raised to believe we could do anything," she said.
She worked for Child Protective Services before going into law enforcement.
"I wanted to be on the side where you could see some justice for the kids, and some consequences for the perpetrators," O'Conner recalled.
She graduated from Baytown Police Academy in 1980. At that time, just 5 percent of the class - two out of 40 graduates - were women.
At that time, female police chiefs were very scarce, she recalled.
"It's more common now than it was. It was unheard of 20 years ago," she said. "There still are some barriers, but for the most part people are looking at the person and not their gender."
Now 61, O'Conner worked toward a master's in social work at the University of Houston, where she received her bachelor's degree in criminal justice and public administration, graduating from college at the same time her oldest child graduated from high school.
"Don't ever say you can't," she said. "We sell ourselves short too many times, you know ... I think women face more challenges, but some of them are (self-inflicted)."
O'Conner understands some of those challenges. She was a single mother for 13 years. "I'd have to say the rewards far outweigh the challenges," she said. "We grew up together in many ways."
Her five children, now grown, range from 33 to 42, successful in fields such as law enforcement, the military and education - and she enjoys her five grandchildren (and one on the way.)
O'Conner and her husband of 18 years - a reserve officer for the Comal County Sheriff's Office - moved to Canyon Lake in 1998.
"From the time I came to Comal County, Sheriff Holder gave me many opportunities," she recalled.
She served on the Narcotics Task Force, as a school resource officer, as a DARE officer, in the criminal investigation division as a detective, and as a patrol supervisor.
"Sheriff Holder always encouraged me to get involved in the community. I can truly say he was a mentor," she said.
In the Garden Ridge PD, O'Conner came aboard as an investigative detective, before being promoted up the ranks.
Her philsophy of management stems from years of experience in working with people, as well as with her own family.
"You have to find the balance - fair but firm," she said.
"The humor becomes your defense mechanism in how you respond to things. I really believe being a police officer is a ministry of its own.
"Being a police officer is about gaining compliance. That's on the job, that's in the community and that's with your personnel," she said.
As chief of police in a city on the cusp of the San Antonio metroplex, and sandwiched between Bexar County and Austin, O'Conner and her department of 14 officers feel the effects of urban life and crime.
"The corridor between Austin and San Antonio is seeing a lot of big-city crime coming our way," she said.
"Law enforcement agencies work closely together," she said, noting collaboration with Bexar county agencies on recovering property stolen from San Antonio and in monitoring crime trends.
O'Conner applauds the Comal County Criminal District Attorney's office efforts to make no-refusal for suspected drunk drivers the policy year-round.
"I'm thrilled that we're making that kind of progress in this city," she said.
The Garden Ridge Citizens On Patrol (COPs) help keep peace in the city, as does the Comal County Crimestoppers, she said.
O'Conner said her philosophy of police work could be summed up in two elements: Community policing and training.
"I don't believe you can ever go wrong by giving people training," she said.
"And while a lot of people don't see it, I see law enforcement as helping people ... I have a wonderful team of officers."