November 28, 2006

Sharpshooter keeps safety in sight

Photo: Sacramento State Police Cpl. and Range Master Vic Vinson takes aim along with Officer Thelma Matthews at the Folsom Prison shooting range.
Sacramento State Police Cpl. and Range Master Vic Vinson takes aim along with Officer Thelma Matthews at the Folsom Prison shooting range.

It may be difficult to spot this year’s Sacramento State Top Gun based on appearances alone. Officer Thelma Matthews is petite and unassuming—but she can hit a target with deadly accuracy from 75 feet away.

Matthews, winner of Sac State’s 2006 Top Gun Sharpshooter Award, received the award during Public Safety’s regularly scheduled quarterly skills test at the Old Folsom prison shooting range. The quarterly skills tests are required by the California State University system and qualify officers to carry firearms. Sac State’s 22 police officers fire at targets from 5, 10, 15, 25, 50 and 75 feet away.

What’s more amazing is that Matthews was unaware she was competing when she was going through her drills. “I didn’t know we were shooting for the Top Gun Award when we were on the practice range that day,” says Matthews. “After I did my drills, I asked if I passed, and Range Master Cpl. Vic Vinson said, ‘Yes, and you’re also the Top Gun!’ to which I replied, ‘You’re kidding!’”

He wasn’t, and Matthews became the first female officer in the University’s history to win the award.

A former physician in her native Mexico, Matthews moved to the United States in 1989, speaking only Spanish. She and her two sons learned to speak English by listening to the radio and reading books and magazines. She went on to become a corrections officer in the San Joaquin County Jail and graduated from Yuba College as a police officer in 2002—the year she joined Sacramento State’s Department of Public Safety.

Now that her sons are in college, Matthews can devote more time to making herself the best officer she can. She is currently training to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician in order to apply her medical skills when a situation may call for medical assistance.

And Matthews’ commitment to excellence has not gone unnoticed. Chief of Police Kenneth Barnett says, “Matthews’ award demonstrates her enthusiasm for being the best she can be. Matthews is a dedicated professional who always tries her best and strives to do the right thing. Dedication and determination are her trademarks, and she is always looking for ways to improve her skills and abilities.”

It’s not only her shooting skills that Matthews concentrates on—she’s also focusing on the example she sets in her male-dominated profession. As one of only two female officers on the staff, Matthews sees it as her duty to be a role model for female officers in her profession. “When you do something you like so much, you need to think about building a legacy,” says Matthews.

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