Jacqueline "Jackie" Ratcliff-Brown, a trailblazing Erie police officer who retired as the city's first Black deputy chief of police, has died.
She was 72.
Erie County Coroner Lyell Cook said Ratcliff-Brown was found dead at her Erie home on Sunday night.
Ratcliff-Brown retired in 2005 after a 31-year career. She was the highest-ranking woman and highest-ranking black officer in Erie Bureau of Police history.
She joined the police bureau in 1974 as one of 10 black officers hired under a federal court integration order.
It was a time when female officers and officers of color were not welcome, and Ratcliff-Brown talked about that in a 1999 Erie Times-News interview.
"Those roll calls. It was kind of disturbing to realize that you were often the only black face in the room and that many of those people you worked with didn't want you there," Ratcliff-Brown said. "Sometimes it led to great frustration for me because the attempt by some people was to make you feel inferior, like you didn't belong.
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"But eventually those kinds of things became part of my character, in a way," she said. "It forced me to strive harder, to show people I was capable. And that I was able to do this job."
Ratcliff-Brown developed a reputation within the bureau as a tough-but-fair critical thinker who had a talent for putting both her colleagues and the public at ease.
"She wasn't afraid to get into any kind of situation," former Erie police Chief Charles Bowers said in a 2005 interview. "Just by the way she conducted herself, that did a lot to break down barriers."
Promoted to deputy chief in 2001
She worked for roughly 12 years in the patrol division and more than a decade in the detective division before being promoted to deputy chief of detectives by then-Mayor Joyce Savocchio in April 2001.
"My normal practice was when it came to promotions was this: I asked the police brass for names of people they felt were qualified and deserving," Savocchio recalled in a telephone interview this week. "I found that helpful to me.
"So I asked the command staff about who they felt was the best of the best for the deputy chief promotion. All of them brought up Jackie's name.
"I also wanted to make sure they weren't suggesting her because it was me and they know I believe in women and I believe in diversity," Savocchio said. "But that wasn't the case. They suggested her because she was highly qualified and she was someone they all respected."
After making her final decision, Savocchio met with Ratcliff-Brown at City Hall to deliver the promotion news personally.
"Jackie was so happy. She said 'Thank you for having confidence in me.' I wanted to grab her and do a happy dance with her," Savocchio said. "And she went on to do an excellent job. I couldn't have been more proud."
A Strong Vincent High School graduate, Ratcliff-Brown earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Edinboro University.
In the early 1970s, before joining Erie's police force, Ratcliff-Brown got a taste of what law enforcement would be like through Project Secure, a police-sponsored initiative that paid $100 a week and was aimed at assisting and protecting residents off Erie's public housing projects.
Ratcliff-Brown had also worked as a police bureau clerk.
Gary Horton, chief executive of the Urban Erie Community Development Corp. and president of Erie's NAACP branch, said Ratcliff-Brown, whom he knew personally, "made history. She represented a law enforcement officer of the highest professionalism.
"Whether she was walking a beat or serving as deputy chief, she was the ultimate example of a law enforcement official," Horton said. "She was competent, compassionate and she served on all levels within the Erie police department."
Erie Police Chief Dan Spizarny, who worked with Ratcliff-Brown when she oversaw city police detectives, said she "cared about the city, and she was such a nice lady."
Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced later.
Staff writer Tim Hahn contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Jackie Ratcliff-Brown, Erie's first Black deputy police chief, dies