Urquhart ready for challenges

Shawn Urquhart is the new commander of the local state patrol post.

Shawn Urquhart is the new commander of the local state patrol post.

ALBANY -- It was about the time that Shawn Urquhart was thinking about leaving her position with the Georgia State Patrol that she realized how much the position had become a part of her life.

Now, after recently being named commander of the Albany-based GSP Post 40, Urquhart has firmly cemented her ties to a law enforcement career that almost never was.

"It was while I was at my first duty assignment in Thomson that I started looking at other (career) options," Urquhart, who was named Post 40 commander on Sept. 1, said. "But there was such an outpouring from the people in the community when I was getting ready to leave. I hadn't realized what kind of impact I was having on people in Thompson until they came to me and told me."

Urquhart's early career plans certainly had nothing to do with the State Patrol and law enforcement. After graduating Albany High School, she studied graphic arts at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. As she neared the end of her days at FAMU, though, Urquhart made a 180-degree-in-the-opposite-direction decision.

"I made the decision that I wanted to be an officer in the Marine Corps," she said.

Urquhart served two years of active duty at Courthouse Bay in North Carolina -- she would also serve a decade in the Marine reserves -- but about the time she was preparing to enter Officer Candidate School, she discovered that she was pregnant.

After her daughter was born, Urquhart decided to come home to Albany. She started sending out resumes, and a friend suggested she apply with the GSP. They were the first to respond to her job search.

Hers was one of the first classes to attend and graduate from Trooper School in Forsyth, and she became part of the "less than 1 percent" of the 900-plus state troopers who were female.

"One of my instructors at Trooper School told me that I already had two strikes against me," Urquhart said. "He said it was going to be tough on me because I was black and I was female. But my mother had given me a special gift when she taught me early that I was going to have to work hard at anything I did in life if I wanted to excel.

"I was willing to do what it took."

After a short stay in Thomson, Urquhart was transferred to duty at the Governor's Mansion in Atlanta, a post she did not exactly cherish.

"I can't really say I enjoyed that transfer," she said. "We alternated between duties in the mansion and working the guard station at the gate to the mansion. One of the things we had to do when the governor drove up was to get out and salute him, and if the first lady was with him we had to do one of these (Urquhart demonstrates a beauty-queen wave) and put on a phony smile.

"I felt more like a flunky than a law enforcement officer."

Urquhart was transferred closer to home, to GSP's Cuthbert post, in 1991, and in 1996 she was transferred to Albany Post 40. By 2001 she'd been promoted to corporal and was transferred back to Cuthbert, and two years later she was promoted again to sergeant and was named assistant post commander in Donalsonville.

A similar position opened at the Albany post in November of 2004, and she's been there since, serving on a number of occasions as acting post commander before receiving her most recent promotion.

"Serving as post commander is one of the most rewarding but one of the most stressful positions in the Georgia State Patrol," Lt. Buddy Johnson with GSP's Troop G, headquartered in Americus, said. "People who hold those positions are held to the highest standards in the organization.

"No one is promoted to that position easily. There is a strict regimen anyone has to go through to be considered for the position, including a written exam and a board exam. It's a well-set-up system, and we expect our post commanders to lead their people, motivate them and assure that the goals of the department are carried out. We feel Shawn can do that there in Albany, but I've already told her that she can expect it to get stressful."

Urquhart, who spends much of her now diminishing spare time taking Zoomba classes or working with Second Mt. Zion Baptist Church of Albany, said she has some specific goals for Post 40 now that she is in command.

"One of the things that is dear to me is for our troopers to go out into the community and get more involved with positive public relations," she said. "A lot of times kids only see State Patrol officers as someone who pulls people over on the road or arrests them. I want them to see that there's more to us than that.

"I also want to do a better job of reaching out to the other law enforcement agencies in our territory. But for me personally, my primary goal is to get the troopers at this post to excel. I believe a person's legacy should be not what you do, but what those who served under you do."