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Female responder packs a punch
Lesley Sylvester (28) the first, and so far the only, female armed reaction officer now patrolling the streets of Stellenbosch.

A female armed response officer has for the first time been employed by a local security company.

Officer Lesley Sylvester (28) has worked for AM Security for four months. Already she has displayed her capabilities by being named Officer of the Month in June. Despite this achievement she struggled to get into this line of work.

“I’d never really seen a female armed response officer so I thought, you know what? I love guns, let me find out more,” Sylvester said. “Looking around, I didn’t find any female armed response officers so I thought let me be the first.”

After completing her PSIRA (Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority) grades and competency two years ago, Sylvester struggled to find employment.

“I applied at different companies, but no one really wanted to give a lady a chance, and then I met Gerhard Strydom,” she said. “And I was so excited; everything just happened after that and now I’m the first female employee the company has had.”

Strydom, a senior staff member at AM Security, saw potential in Sylvester.

“We needed some good armed response officers at that moment,” he said, “and I went to the boss and said that I had a female candidate, but he said ‘no ways.’”

Strydom was determined to give Sylvester a chance. A month went by, until he received a phone call saying Sylvester would be given that chance.

“I told the boss that I would bet my life on it that she will make a success of it,” Strydom said.

“The day after we decided to appoint her, I phoned her and said she needed to be ready the next morning for shooting and fitness at the TSU (Tactical Support Unit) offices. The instructors told me she was shooting better than some of the guys.

“We deployed her in Stellenbosch, a very busy area, to see what she could do.”

Originally from Strand, Sylvester got to the know the area quickly, and is an expert on the roads of Stellenbosch.

She says having no female colleagues can be difficult sometimes.

“At times it gets tough as I wonder whom I can speak to,” says Sylvester. “A lot of the guys are on my side and they like to help me. Some guys are jealous, but I just brush it off and continue my work.

“I’m the type of person who lets my work speak for me,” she says.

Strydom has high hopes for Sylvester in the future.

“We want to put her on courses that older guys haven’t been on yet,” he says. “One of these is a two-week course that is very tough, and most people don’t make it. On that course they learn everything from self-defence to driving skills, to how to pursue suspects into dark buildings or disarming people with a knife.

“We also want her to do the riot squad course. We need female officers for riot work.”

Strydom says he knew beforehand Sylvester would be Officer of the Month.

“We look at your attitude, how you work with your fellow officers, how you look after your vehicle, whether you keep it clean, whether your appearance is neat, and whether all your paperwork is up to date,” he pointed out.

Sylvester was surprised by the announcement.

“I didn’t expect it, I’ve basically only just started at the company,” she said. “It was just a wow moment.”

She says it took some time for her family to get used to the idea that she would be an armed response officer.

“At the beginning they were a bit sketchy [dubious] and worried that it would be dangerous,” Sylvester said. “I asked them to give me a chance and just let me go out there.”

“After I was made Officer of the Month they knew that I can actually look after myself out there.”

She has also made two arrests since she has been with AM Security, including one last week on the R44, where she made the arrest and managed to retrieve stolen goods.

On a daily basis Sylvester deals mostly with patrols and surveillance and responding to alarms.

Out in the field, Sylvester says she doesn’t feel as if she is being targeted, despite being the only woman.

“Honestly I don’t really think I’m a soft target, because when they see my face, and it’s a whole different face from when I’m smiling,” she declared.

“She’s my wildcard,” says Strydom.

Not to be messed with, officer Sylvester will continue do her utmost to keep the Stellenbosch community safe.

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