Peter J. Kaplan
9 min readApr 16, 2020


Cathy Lynn Lanier is retired.

Retired from the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.

She was sworn in as an officer in 1990 at the age of 23. She retired on September 15, 2016, her last day as Police Chief.

Oh yes, sorry.

She dropped out of junior high school after completing the ninth grade and became a mother when she was fifteen. Married. Separated. Divorced. On food stamps for a time.

By eighteen, working two jobs — secretary by day, waitress at night.

She sold awnings and canopies.

Construction supplies.

Her grandmother, retired from the Government Printing Office, cared for Lanier’s son.

Today, her educational accomplishments include a high school equivalency credential (GED); college at the University of the District of Columbia and Johns Hopkins University (B.S.); two graduate degrees (Master of Arts in national security studies from the Naval Postgraduate School and Master of Science in management from Johns Hopkins); student in an executive education program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government; and a certification in hazardous material operations.

Her Master’s thesis from NPS was entitled, “Preventing Terror Attacks in the Homeland: A New Mission for State and Local Police,” September 2005.

Lanier’s police career is dotted with successes and promotions that read like a “how-to-achieve” handbook:

1990: Sworn in as officer;

1994: Sergeant;

1996: Lieutenant;

1998: Captain;

1999: Inspector;

2000: Commander;

2007: Chief of Police

Cathy Lanier was appointed Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC) by Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty in January 2007, replacing outgoing Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

Her appointment made history, as she became the city’s first permanent female chief.

Eleven years earlier in a 1996 interview with a local ABC affiliate Lanier, then a lieutenant had remarked, “I don’t think I’m chief of police material. You need a lot of political savvy for that, and I’ve got a little too much street cop in me…I think.”

And she had every right to think that way at the time, given the twists and turns the course of her life had taken.

Reared by a single mother in the working-class enclave of Tuxedo, Md., Lanier ditched high school in the ninth grade to have a baby. At 15, she married the father of her son but the marriage was over a few years later.

Certainly the position of D.C.’s chief of police was not on her radar or as she put it, “wasn’t in my line of thought.”

However, with the odds so heavily stacked against her she remained steadfast and displayed fierce determination.

“Once my son was born,” she explained “a lot of what I did was driven by a desire to make sure my son had everything, everything he should have…good education, good opportunities.”

With her mother and grandmother on board, Lanier led by example. High school equivalency diploma, community college and the subsequent highly impressive resume entries detailed above.

And just how did she turn it all around?

Two things powered the engine driving her upward trajectory, she conceded.

“One is attitude,” she said. “As long as you don’t become a victim, you won’t be a victim…and…good support. Everybody needs somebody who cares, who stands by them, and for me it was my mom.”

Her mother and grandmother could only do so much. They weren’t physically next to Cathy when she entered the police force as a beat cop in 1990.

And her two older brothers who no doubt ‘showed her the way’ when they were all kids, were similarly engaged, one as a cop and the other as a firefighter. Needless to say they could commiserate but clearly she was on her own.

She was a female cop.

Observed Lanier at the time, “It’s probably not that much different than being a female in any predominantly male profession. You gotta be confident, and you gotta be a little thick-skinned and be prepared to take on some of the hard times.”

The D.C. police force in the 1990’s was reality (or “real”) TV-raw, as were most if not every inner city law enforcement contingent and rural ones too for that matter.

Rawness was experienced by Lanier in the form of “severe harassment [and] physical contact…It was done very much out in the open…I hate to say I was fortunate, but most sexual harassment goes on behind closed doors, but the culture of the department at the time was that it wasn’t even hidden. It was done out in the open. And there were a lot of witnesses.”

Early in her career one officer exposed himself while they were driving around in a patrol car.

A lieutenant once pulled her ponytail then turned to a male colleague and asked, “Bill, you ever grabbed a woman’s hair like that when you were having sex?”

Complaint lodged, lieutenant demoted and she moved on.

Sexual harassment “permeated through the whole department. It was almost from the top down. But I wasn’t going to let the environment throw me off track.”

She worked her way up through the ranks becoming head of the department’s special operations division and later its homeland security and counterterrorism department.

She would rise to manage a 3,800-member force as one of 10 female police chiefs among the 68 largest city departments in the United States, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association.


Sound familiar, the “sexual harassment?”

This was the ’90s. Happened in the ’80s. ’70s. ’60s. ’50s. ‘40s…and before.

It has been going on forever.


That it’s now 2017 and this kind of abuse remains front page material, is not the point of this particular writing exercise.

Rather Lanier’s response is what should merit the attention.

The force was dilatory in addressing the issue to put it charitably so in 1995 Lanier and another female officer sued the D.C. metropolitan police department and won.

Though she was a bit frightened to bring suit and worried about her job security “because I was still working in the same district with the same lieutenant,” she knew what was right and did it.

Ironically, later on Lanier became the one in charge.

Having climbed through the ranks cementing a reputation for a tireless work ethic, by 2005 Lanier was selected to head the security contingent for President Bush’s second inauguration.

Inclusion not surprisingly is also a very big deal for Lanier.

She looks after a mom, raised a son now in his thirties (a college graduate), has a boyfriend, tends to her five dogs and until her retirement, presided over the safety and security of the residents of the nation’s capital.

The dogs are all strays she has picked up along the way; three of them are disabled. “I don’t think there’s any room for throwaway people or animals,” she reasoned.

Her keen and real perspective sharpened as only that of a teenage single mother could be, has served her well throughout her adult life both personally and professionally.

“I guess I just feel like everybody and everything deserves a chance,” she remarked matter-of-factly.

Cathy Lanier no longer wears a police uniform or related issued apparel. Most major city chiefs last in the position for about three years. When she announced her retirement, Lanier was in her 10th.

She now has a different job, one of the most coveted in law enforcement which required her for the first time in her adult life to go out and buy “work clothes.”

The FBI, Head of Homeland Security, roughly 4,000 officers representing 40 different law enforcement agencies, personnel from local police and sheriff’s departments and countless others sporting blue uniforms, brown fatigues and black suits — mostly men — follow her lead.

Cathy Lanier is the Chief of Security for the National Football League.

The job description involves supervising security efforts for all 32 teams as well as for major events such as overseas play and the Super Bowl.

“Cathy joins us with a well-deserved reputation of being a tremendous communicator, innovator and relationship builder,” commented NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the time.

She was hired by the NFL “to reinvigorate and modernize the way we do security,” she says. “It was kind of my signature in [the Metropolitan Police Department].”

A single mom with a ninth-grade education.

The girl who saw an ad in the Washington Post for the Metropolitan Police Department in 1990 which “caught [her] eye” because one of the percs was ‘tuition reimbursement.’

Her path to the top has been unorthodox to say the least as she continues to deviate from society’s norms, shattering glass ceilings aplenty to enforce its laws.

Her decision to retire and join the NFL in August 2016 shocked city leaders who ascribed a 23% decline in the violent crime rate during her tenure as chief to Lanier’s leadership skills.

A typical NFL game requires the services of at least ten different agencies, from the FBI to private security. At the Super Bowl, diverse entities like U.S. Customs and Border Protection with even the Federal Aviation Administration in place to shut down airspace, inflate that number to 40.

As the single most-watched TV event, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security assigns the Super Bowl the highest level of threat protection, similar to a presidential inauguration.

Lanier is not surprised and virtually unflappable explaining that, “this is every bit as complicated as an inauguration [and] it is every bit as important as an inauguration.”

At Super Bowl LI, Lanier relied on her deep reservoir of knowledge and high levels of insight, instinct and acumen built over a 27-year career in policing to oversee the construction of nearly three miles of fencing around Houston’s NRG Stadium built in concentric circles to prevent cars and trucks from plowing into crowds. “I look at every attack that takes place everywhere,” she says.

Referring to an attack in Europe she noted that “one of the attackers survived and he described that as they walked down the street looking at hotels, they targeted those that didn’t have visible security out front, because for a terrorist, the worst-case scenario is failure. So security represents failure for them. We have to represent failure for a terrorist.”

Sounds simple but is not. And implementation is complex, intensive, thorny and involved.

In Houston vehicles are scanned by high-tech imaging equipment when passing through the first concrete barrier and magnetometers and canine units are employed at the second checkpoint preventing people with anything larger than a cellphone from initial entry.

The trained sniffer dogs which are also deployed at games during the season are led purposefully into tailgates and parking lots to search for hidden rifles and possible explosive devices.

“They’re very, very good,” Lanier concedes noting that they can sniff out ammunition, firearms and explosives; “they detect firearms quite often on off-duty police officers,” she later mused.

The Chief of the Houston Police Department, Art Acevedo who has known Lanier for more than a decade was suitably impressed. “She came here with a rolodex with all of the names of all of the key people. Relationships matter in business, but especially in safety and security. If I had any concerns, I picked up the phone and she dealt with them. The NFL was very smart to bring in someone who knows all of the major city chiefs,” he elucidated.

Further he explained that Lanier was eminently qualified for the position because of her D.C. law enforcement background.

D.C. is known to be one of the country’s most challenging cities to police due to the extra terrorism and daily demonstration planning inherently required in the nation’s capital. “She rose to every challenge and passed with flying colors,” he said admiringly.

Lanier has also impressed her mother whom she mercilessly tortured as a teen.

Mom did not want to see her daughter give up police work in which she had immersed herself for 27 years. “My mother wanted me to be the chief for the rest of my life. You know, that’s cool, being the chief’s mom,” she said laughingly.

She continued, “My mom used to flip through the channels, the local stations every afternoon to see me on the news, which was just about every afternoon. When I was at the combine in Indianapolis this year, I called her and she said, ‘I’m watching the combination on TV.’ And I thought, ‘Wow. All right.’ She’s making that transition.”

Others put her on an even higher pedestal as the NFL Chief of Security than they did when she was Chief of Police.

“You would think being the chief of police in the nation’s capital, that’s a cool job,” she reasoned. “Football is a mesmerizing thing. I’m shocked at how people are just…I’m so much more important now.”

To Lanier, NFL players and police officers share this: accountability.

“They’re [NFL players] held to a higher standard, as they should be,” she posits. “So, when there’s bad conduct of any kind, it has a huge impact. One officer doing something inappropriate, one officer involved in a sexual assault or criminal conduct — it impacts the entire profession. And I think it’s the same for football players. These people are looked up to as heroes.”

Lanier is on the road almost every day, traveling to the next stadium or orchestrating security for the next NFL event.

The self-avowed “bad kid” comes home to her mother for whom she cooks and on whom she unapologetically dotes, each and every week.

No matter what.

She’s the real hero.

On each and every level.

[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in November 2017.]