Back when she was doing music and theater at Pittsburg State University, Helen Maxwell never expected that she would become a nationally respected author on police and law enforcement issues.


Back when she was doing music and theater at Pittsburg State University, Helen Maxwell never expected that she would become a nationally respected author on police and law enforcement issues.

Maxwell, originally from Arma, was in Pittsburg May 9 to sign copies of her latest book, “Badges,”  a historic chronicle of police cultures in America.

“Badges” has gotten its share of praise. Dennis Shaw, a 25-year veteran homicide detective and supervisory police trainer in Lansing, Mich., said that it presents police work in a true light. “It was an honor to review this book,” he wrote.

Paul Forster, supervisory criminal investigator with the U.S. Department of State, hailed it as an “outstanding book.”

While living in California, Maxwell awoke one night to find an armed stalker in her room.  The frightening experience left a deep impression.

“I started writing poetry about it,” she said. “This was like a trip to Mars, another world to me. Then I started writing articles. The pinnacle of my success was when ‘The Blue Line’ gave me an assignment.”

Maxwell, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from PSU, said her mentors were the late Gene DeGruson and Charles Cagle, retired PSU creative writing professor. “I would write to Professor Cagle and he would write back and encourage me, so I kept trying,” she said. “This book would not exist without him.”

She has had articles published in “Police and Law Enforcement Technology magazines, “Army,” “Navy” and “Air Force Times.” Her topics have included the triangulation of gunfire, gang interdiction in Los Angeles, the police air bureau over Las Vegas, SWAT operations in Washington, D.C., narcotics raids in Compton, Calif., police response to earthquakes in San Francisco and more. She also covered London’s Metropolitan Police when firearms were issued to only a segment of the officers in London.

Maxwell’s writings on home security issues, including the 1992 book “Home Safe Home,” led to her being featured on one of the highest rated ABC “20/20” programs. She has also been featured on the ABC “Home Show” and “The Ken Hamblin Show.” She was administrator for a federal college-accredited criminal justice program in Los Angeles County, using on-duty police officers as her instructors.

She has also researched historic issues such as the impact on public safety after the influx of Irish immigrants into Boston, and the Littlejohn narcotics unit in the Los Angeles Police Department during the 1930s.

Maxwell has interviewed retired female police officers in their 60s and older about their past experiences. 

“Some of them shared information with me about policing in skirts and carrying their weapons in purses,” she said. “They ran in low-heeled, very feminine, unsafe shoes. And yes, they said the men looked up their skirts when they climbed fire escapes and fences.”

Maxwell said that she worked on “Badges” for two years. “I just decided to write the book I had always wanted to write,” she said. “I had all the files and audiotapes. Whenever we moved, my husband would ask me why we were moving all those.”

“Badges” includes interviews with lawyers, veteran police officers and behavioral scientists. “I told my husband that I want every chapter of ‘Badges’ to make a difference, so I had to pick my people carefully,” Maxwell said.

Also a photographer, Maxwell took all but one of the photos in the book. She did not take the photo of a dead female Iraqi police recruit on page 28. “There was a lot of debate on whether to put that in,” she said.

Maxwell felt strongly that it should be used, noting that, in accordance with tradition, the women recruits had to wear heavy, confining robes either under or over their police uniforms. This made it difficult for them to see, hear or reach their weapons.

“Basically, they were setting these women up to die,” Maxwell said. “Our government should have used more leverage.”

The fourth chapter, titled “The Raid,” details the raid on the Branch Davidians,  a religious sect led by David Koresh, in February1993 near Waco, Texas. By the time the raid was over, four federal agents and 70 of the Branch Davidians, including Koresh, were dead.

“Just about everything went wrong with this raid, mostly at the hands of bad supervisors and bad planners,” Maxwell said. “I think that this chapter might be able to save more lives than any other chapter in the book.”

She makes it a point to present a free copy of  “Badges” to local police when she does book signings. “I gave a copy to a uniformed SWAT office from the Pittsburg Police Department and he said he would put it in their reference library,” Maxwell said.

On those occasions when she’s not researching or writing, Maxwell still enjoys singing, and occasionally performs Anne Murray and Patsy Cline hits in musical theater.