|Metropolitan Police Department
of the District of Columbia
|August 17, 1950 – September 20, 1974 (aged 24)|
|Place of death||Washington, D.C., U.S.|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Years of service||1973-1974|
|Relations||Damon Demetrius Cobb (son)
Denise Cobb Jackson (sister)
Clinton Cobb (father)
Gloria Cobb (mother)
Gail Adrienne Cobb (August 17, 1950 – September 20, 1974) was an American police officer from Washington, D.C., best known for being the first female American police officer to be killed in the line of duty. She was also the first female officer of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC) to be killed in the line of duty.
Early life and education
Cobb was born on August 17, 1950 and grew up in Northeast, Washington, D.C.; her father was Clinton Cobb, who worked as a correctional officer, and her mother was Gloria Cobb. Along with her sister Denise Cobb, who went on to become a schoolteacher, she was one of five children. As a child, she attended Catholic schools and was described as an average, but creative and energetic student. She also attended the now-defunct St. Cecilia's Academy. Upon graduating from school in 1969, Cobb wanted to become a successful fashion designer. However, she had little means of doing so and ended up becoming a long-distance operator at the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company. Cobb, a single mother, gave birth to a son, Damon Demetrius Cobb, on February 26, 1970. Her son's father, whom Cobb had met in high school, took no responsibility for his son, and Cobb ended up trying to raise him on her own. Cobb's son is currently serving a life sentence in prison at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland, after being found guilty of first-degree murder in a 1992 killing. Cobb's parents stated in 1996 that they believed that her untimely death influenced her son's current legal predicament at the time.
In the summer of 1973, Cobb applied to become an officer with the MPDC, much to the surprise of her family and friends, after the Washington, D.C. government lowered the height requirements for police recruits to five feet. Cobb herself was five feet and zero inches tall, and graduated from the 34-member police academy class of 1974, of which there were 13 women. She was well-liked by her trainers, who noted that she was hard-working. She spent most of her patrol work on foot and signed up for training to get a scooter license and was taking a night class to learn sign language.
Late in the morning of Friday, September 20, 1974, two men, John Curtis Dortch, and John William Bryant, both disguised as construction workers, and each carrying a loaded sawed-off shotgun and handgun, began making their way to the Eastern Liberty Federal Savings & Loan at 21st and L Streets NW, with the intention of robbing the establishment. Two plainclothes police officers were alerted of the robbery in advance, and saw the two men on the street. They stopped them and asked them for identification before the would-be robbers could even get inside the bank. The two men ran off in separate directions. Cobb was still on probationary duty six months out of the academy and was assigned to foot patrol duty downtown, a block away from the bank. Cobb, who was writing a traffic ticket at the time, was told by a citizen that they saw an armed man run into a garage. Cobb followed the suspect and confronted him inside the garage as he was in the process of changing out of his disguise. Cobb ordered the man to place his hands on the wall. As she called for assistance over her radio, the suspect spun around and fired a single gunshot at Cobb at close range. The bullet went through Cobb's wrist, shattering a wristwatch that was given to her by her mother as a birthday present, through her police radio, where it then penetrated her heart. Cobb died at the scene at 20th and L Street, NW, and the suspect was arrested at the scene by responding officers.
Cobb had served with the MPDC for one year and was the first female MPDC officer to be killed in the line of duty. She is survived by her son, Damon Demetrius Cobb, and is buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.
Cobb's funeral was ornate and large, even for Washington, D.C. standards. The streets leading to Holy Comforter Catholic Church in Southeast Washington, D.C. were lined with hundreds of police officers, some coming all the way from Hawaii, all standing at attention. A police honor guard made several passes along East Capitol Street before entering the church.
Delegations of uniformed officers filed past Cobb's open casket. Cobb herself was not buried in uniform, instead she was wearing a green suit. Her best friend had styled her hair, applied her favorite makeup, and finished with gold hoop earrings that would have been strictly forbidden by uniform regulations for a police officer on duty.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Walter Washington and FBI Director Clarence Kelley were among the many U.S. government officials who attended the crowded service on Tuesday, September 24, 1974. At the hour of the funeral, U.S. President Gerald R. Ford called for a moment of silence as he addressed an International Association of Police Chiefs conference being held across town.
Several weeks after Cobb's funeral, her parents purchased a glass curio cabinet in which to house memorabilia regarding their daughter. They displayed a photograph of Cobb in her MPDC uniform, her police badge, along with a 45 rpm copy of her favorite song, "Tell Her Love Has Felt the Need", by Eddie Kendricks and the Young Senators, which had been sung at her funeral, along with proclamations and letters from government officials, and the uniform boots that Cobb had been wearing when she died. Given an entire section all to its own was a letter from U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, saying that Cobb "has our lasting admiration for the cause of law enforcement and the well-being of our society, a cause for which she made the highest sacrifice."
In 1996, John Curtis Dortch (born July 19, 1945), who was one of the key architects of the robbery that left Cobb dead, attempted to become a lawyer in West Virginia and Washington, D.C., after finishing a 15-year prison term for his being convicted of second-degree murder on July 30, 1975. After being released from prison, Dortch became active in church, helped out an AIDS patient, began tutoring and mentoring children, and started attending law school. Dortch, a Vietnam War veteran and former U.S. Army officer, was not the triggerman who shot Cobb, however, he attempted to appeal to the courts to allow him to become a lawyer, much to the dismay of Cobb's family and friends. In 1997, the West Virginia Supreme Court denied Cobb permission to practice law in the state in a 4-0 decision, to the praise of Cobb's surviving family members and friends. Dortch has since written an autobiography of his life, Memoirs of the Prodigal Son: the Road to Redemption, Fifteen Years in Prison and Beyond, released in September 2008.
- "Memorial to Gail A. Cobb - MPDC". Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC). Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC). Retrieved December 20, 2012.
- Jackie McElroy. "Officer Gail Cobb - McJackie". Retrieved December 20, 2012.
- O'Brien, Dennis (November 12, 1996). "Ex-inmate's bid to be lawyer angers slain officer's family Dortch planned fatal robbery - friends call new life a model". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
- "Police Officer Gail A. Cobb". The Officer Down Memorial Page. Retrieved 2009-08-04. "While walking her beat, she was tipped off that a suspected bank robber had just fled into a nearby garage. Officer Cobb located the man and instructed him to place his hands on the wall. As she radioed for assistance, the suspect spun around and fired a single shot at point-blank range. The bullet went through her wrist and her police radio and then penetrated her heart. She died at the scene."
- "Damon Demetrius Cobb - Maryland DOC Inmate Locator". Maryland Department of Corrections. State of Maryland. March 8, 2013. Retrieved March 8, 2013.
- "Slain Policewoman Honored in Capital By 2,000 Officers". New York Times. September 25, 1974. Retrieved 2009-08-04. "More than 2,000 police officers from throughout the country paid tribute here today to Police Officer Gail A. Cobb, believed to be the first policewoman in the United States to be killed in the line of duty."
- John Curtis Dortch (September 10, 2008). "Memoirs of the Prodigal Son: the Road to Redemption, Fifteen Years in Prison and Beyond". Amazon.com. Retrieved December 20, 2012.
- O'Brien, Dennis (April 15, 1997). "W.Va. court denies man convicted of murder permission to practice law". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved December 21, 2012.