Savannah Horne was eight months out of the police academy and had just finished field training in Farmington when she suddenly found herself facing off with a gunman who had drawn a bead on her and another officer.
The call over the police radio said a drunken man with a handgun was holed up inside a barbershop threatening to shoot anyone who came near. Police flooded into the area. When Horne and her partner arrived, bullets were already flying as the man squeezed off rounds from behind the barbershop’s plate glass window.
Horne had no sooner taken her place on the perimeter when the man walked out of the shop and aimed his gun directly at her and another officer. Horne lifted her handgun and sighted on the man.
“That was really stressful because I had the best line of shot, if I had to take it,” said Horne who is now a Durango Police Department officer. She started squeezing the trigger, her sole thought: “the public was in danger.”
Horne was 21 years old when the standoff occurred. In high-adrenaline situations like that, especially for new officers, vision and hearing is impaired. That’s normal, said Horne, who is now 25 and no longer experiences such extreme stress responses.
She did not pull the trigger.
“He just turned and went back into the business,” Horne said. “But that’s something that sticks with me all the time.”
After negotiations over the phone, the man was taken into custody by a SWAT team.
Horne is one of only three women at the Durango Police Department, which hopes to increase that number to 12 by 2030. To reach that goal, the department signed on to the 30 x 30 initiative this year. The initiative is a coalition of police, researchers and professional organizations with the shared goal of increasing the number of police women across the United States to 30% by 2030.
Horne now works the graveyard shift patrolling the streets of Durango. She began her Thursday shift at 5:30 p.m. with her usual routine, checking hot spots – first along north Main Avenue where there are lots of traffic infractions and crashes, then south to Walmart where she cruises the parking lot looking for suspicious activity – shoplifters who tend to run when they see police – drunks passed out behind the wheel. Then she parked and went inside to walk the isles, her head on a swivel for anything that looked suspect.
“The call load has gone down here now that we patrol more,” she said. “I have noticed that car thefts have gone up.”
With nothing noteworthy at Walmart, Horne gets back on the road. It’s not long before a report of an intoxicated man banging on the windows of Kroegers Ace Hardware comes over the radio. Horne is greeted by an employee when she arrives. The man has moved on to the south side of City Market where he is being detained by two other officers. Horne takes a statement from the employee and then joins her fellow officers who are trying in vain to reason with the drunken man whose only response is a seemingly endless stream of expletives directed at them.
The man begins flailing his arms to help punctuate his expletives. He swings in Horne’s direction, narrowly missing her face. Without missing a beat she grabs hold of his arm and continues his motion directly behind his back and handcuffs him. Eventually, he is cited with a summons to appear in court and released. His tirade of expletives continues as Horne drives away.
“The summons is for disorderly conduct, open container and we’ll probably add littering later,” Horne said. “I’ve never dealt with him before so he must be new in town.”
The charges are too petty to make an arrest.
Horne grew up in what she calls a rough area of Farmington. And when she saw her peers going in “a certain direction” she said she knew she wanted to go in a different direction “and just make a difference in the community.”
“And although I am a female I just saw that I was different than a lot of other females and I didn’t want an office job,” she said. “And when I did my first ride-along, it was with a female officer and I saw her unique approach to certain situations compared to her male peers, and I realized I wanted to make that kind of difference.”
The difference she noticed was that the female officer took more time and showed more compassion and understanding, whereas her male peers were more driven to get things done and less patient. The officer’s approach seemed to de-escalate situations more effectively, she said.
Horne left the Farmington Police Department to join the Durango force in March 2021.
“I heard really good things about the department,” she said. “So that’s what really pushed me to apply here. And I’ve found that the community is really supportive of the police here in Durango, whereas in Farmington they kind of lost that support. I think the Durango police have worked really hard on that. So it’s very rare that I have individuals that don’t support us. And that is just amazing and helps make my job so much easier. It just makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing.”
Horne loves her job and really sees the difference she makes. She felt she had to prove herself as a female but said men on the force are very respectful of the women.
Horne is small but fit. She lifts weights and does cross training and notices her stamina often surpasses her male peers. Not long into her shift she had to break for “arrest control” training in which officers practice cuffing, disarming and taking down unruly suspects. Horne makes it look nearly effortless.
“She’s a workhorse,” said arrest control trainer Sgt. Devin Conroy. “We can’t find many women who want to work in a male dominated industry. She gets after it. She’s a linebacker.”
Horne’s ability to get after it was captured by drone video when an FBI fugitive escaped custody at Mercy Hospital several weeks ago. Horne is seen streaking up the side of the road toward the female fugitive, who makes a break from the cover of brush just in time to get tackled and taken to the ground by Horne.
“I just knew she needed to be taken into custody,” Horne said, downplaying the incident. “I wasn’t thinking, it was just an immediate reaction to take care of what needs to be taken care of, just do my job as I always do.”
Horne does not sugarcoat the job of police officer when making a pitch for other women to join the force. She’s been in several physical altercations, mostly taking down drunks who can’t be reasoned with. But she’s always had backup and says she is confident in her training.
Has she ever felt her life was in danger? “Yes, absolutely. Many times,” she said. “One not long ago here in Durango. Someone heard a gun being cocked and then there was a disturbance, and multiple witnesses said there were guys inside a car and that they had a gun.”
The windows of the vehicle were too tinted to see inside and it was Horne on point who had to approach. Nothing ended up happening, but the driver was a felon who was intoxicated and armed. Still, Horne encourages women to join the force. But she realizes it’s a challenge.
“The biggest reason most women don’t get into this is because of the danger, as well as being able to find that balance between working the job and family,” she says. “Departments are really working at trying to make that easier. Danger is always going to be there. But women have a lot of unique abilities and approaches to all kinds of different situations. And it’s a great job. I love it.
“And you can really make a difference, especially whenever it comes to the use of force and investigations,” she said. “Women just have a completely different approach than a lot of our male peers and we really need that in law enforcement.”
Horne is just four hours into her shift when another call comes in. Two men on bikes trying the doors of the Harley-Davidson store. She is the first on scene and sees two men on foot behind the store who quickly duck into the brush by the river path. Without pause she parks – gets out of her vehicle – turns on her flashlight and disappears into the brush after them.