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Gwinnett's top female officer blazing trails

SUWANEE - Janet Moon is used to being first.

She was the first in her family to graduate from college, the first female motorcycle officer in the Rome Police Department, and in July she became the first female deputy chief of the Suwanee Police Department. As second-in-command of her department, Moon is the highest-ranking female law enforcement officer in Gwinnett County.

Supervising a staff of 32 sworn officers in the suburban community of Suwanee, where the biggest problems are traffic congestion and vehicle break-ins, is a far cry from Moon's humble beginnings in rural Cedartown.

In fact, she was the last born of three siblings and admits being doted on by a grandmother who believed Moon could do no wrong. Her mother was a working single woman raising three kids. Her grandmother - a deaf-mute since age 5, when she contracted both measles and mumps - quit her job to take care of the children.

"She didn't know sign language and wasn't allowed to attend school," Moon said. "We had our own way of communicating using hand signals, and she could read lips somewhat."

Moon still gestures animatedly with her hands as she talks, a carryover from her childhood. Her sentences are tinged with a warm Southern twang and she has an affinity for the rural life of her youth, maintaining a 25-acre farm in Cedartown with two pet goats, Misty and Brown Goat.

"I don't have children, I have critters and officers," she jokes.

Moon's primary residence is in Flowery Branch, which she shares with a spunky Pekinese mix dog named Cocoa.

She has also developed a love for learning about people and places. While her brother and sister stayed behind in their hometown, she went out and saw the world. She enlisted in the Army as a military police officer in 1985, at the end of her senior year of high school.

The Army stationed Moon in Germany for two years, during which time she saw much of Europe and visited the Berlin Wall three times. For the last two years her active duty, she was transferred to Washington D.C.

Even after returning home and getting hired as a patrol officer at the Rome Police Department, the wanderlust stuck with her.

She loves to climb on her motorcycle after work and on weekends and just ride. In two years, Moon has clocked almost 17,000 miles on the motorcycle.

And when it comes to her work, she has excelled every step of the way. She obtained a bachelor's and master's degree while working full time as a police officer.

In 2001, Moon was selected to attend the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. The 10-week course is akin to going to college, where participants take classes on topics like leadership and forensics and network with other law enforcement professionals. Less than 1 percent of all law enforcement officers ever attend because the number of slots available to each state is limited, Moon said.

Later that same year, Moon made the difficult decision to leave her hometown and follow her former boss Michael Jones from the Rome Police Department to Suwanee, where he had taken a job as chief and offered her a spot as captain.

Jones wanted Moon to help implement a community-oriented policing philosophy by reaching out to residents.

"We share the same philosophies," Moon said. "Not soft on crime, but letting citizens know we're humans, too. Building a partnership, and forcing officers to get out of the car a little. Our windows were up and we had isolated ourselves from the community."

The department now successfully operates a community policing program called PACT, Police and Citizens Together, which involves 22 neighborhoods.

Given the small nature of the department, Moon is often called upon to roll up her sleeves and head into the field. She can often be found directing traffic, writing tickets or patroling community festivals. She wears a police uniform to work every day, knowing at any time she could be called out on the road.

Moon wouldn't mind becoming a police chief herself one day, and she toys with the idea of going back to school for a doctorate degree. But right now she is content managing her police officers, whom she says are her No. 1 resource. She often reads books about different management philosophies and loves to discuss new ways to keep staffers motivated.

"Officers in the field direct what we do. We are servant leaders," Moon said.