06/28/2007

Anything but your average story

By: Chris Hunn , editor

Joanne Anzenberger carries a number of elements that could make an ideal feature story.

She's been a member of the Stamford Police Department for 27 years.

In between sips of coffee, Anzenberger sits in the kitchen of her Milford home and with a gentle voice, she talks about how the dream of becoming a police officer developed.

When Anzenberger was 12 years old living in St. Louis, Mo., her younger brother, an infant at the time, stopped breathing. She doesn't remember the whole story of how he survived, but she vividly remembers the police officer that came to her home.

"He took care of everything," Anzenberger said. "He was so nice. He talked and played with us and made everything OK. I was so impressed by that."
She also mentions some of her experiences she's come across as a midnight shift patrol officer.

She discusses the close call when a bullet whizzed by her ear at point-blank range, leaving Anzenberger without the ability to hear low tones. She describes a crime scene where a guy, in an attempt to run over his estranged wife with his car, plowed through a crowd of people instead.

And Anzenberger speaks about the time she was called to a house because a man wouldn't allow his spouse to sleep.

Then, the fact that she is a female who entered a male-dominated profession in 1980 - a time when that was only accepted by few - adds another interesting aspect and leads to more stories.

She qualified to be a sniper, yet she was given a handful of lame excuses of why she wasn't even issued a shotgun, while many other male officers were. At times, she found herself stuck behind a desk with the explanation that someone competent needed to answer phone calls. On a positive note, she was the fifth female member of the Stamford force and the first member of its SWAT unit.

Anzenberger has been named member of the year and nominated for police officer of the year twice in a police department that has a 300-plus force. Her colleagues acknowledge her importance as well.

"She's a fine officer," Capt. Richard Agostino said. "She's always done an excellent job." Added Lt. Sean Cooney: "She's a credit to our department."

Some of Anzenberger's stories could leave listeners in awe, others are stomach-churning and there are those, which force a chuckle. The varied stories trigger varied reactions, however, all are likely to grab a listener's attention.

But with all that was just mentioned, Anzenberger doesn't see any significance.

She doesn't mind telling stories, but she fails to comprehend why they are interesting to others. When she talks about the experiences, sometimes she'll crack a smile or a joke, but for the most part she displays little emotion and convey them with a typical-day-at-the-job attitude.

The gender issue, same story. She had her share of run-ins, heard the rude remarks and worked through some obstacles, but doesn't look at the topic as one worthy of note.

"I wasn't trying to break any barriers," Anzenberger said. "I wanted this job. Whatever I had to, like everyone else, was fine."
Perhaps that quote sums up Anzenberger.

Even though the reality is that she's a female in a line of work filled with males, even though she has several fascinating stories and has received honors and compliments, she feels she's no different from the next police officer.

For that reason, Anzenberger would much rather talk about what she does to complement the time she spends patrolling the city of Stamford.
She recently finished up her first year as a full-time professor at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, where she teaches criminal justice and U.S. government courses.

She already had some background teaching, as an instructor the past five years at a detective school in Fairfield county and as an adjunct since 2003 at Housatonic.

Juggling a pair of full-time jobs, leaves Anzenberger with some sleepless days. But to her, it's worth it. She glad to continue to do what's been a part of her for almost three decades now, and she looks at educate too, which she looks at as a privilege.

"Doing this job for 27 years and seeing students interested in law enforcement, but also have that ambition to get an education in that same field," Anzenberger said, "it's admirable."

She plans on continuing teaching after she retires from the police force. She's also in the process of writing a book with more detail about Connecticut law enforcement than the one her students use now, so it's geared more to them.

Anzenberger also wants to teach her students, what they see on television shows is different from the reality of the job. She welcomes arguing and challenges because it demonstrates to her, the students are getting something out of the class.

And like others, the students ask Anzenberger to tell stories about her experiences in the field. Still, she doesn't fully understand why people are so interested in them, but she does anyway and uses the anecdotes to go along with the subject matter the class is learning. That way the students get better insight.

Sounds like another interesting element to Anzenberger's story. However, she never thought there was a real interesting one to begin with.