Cops honor their (female) own

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At fundraiser were (from right) Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, Chief of Staff Kim Byrd, Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross and Detroit Police Chief Ella M. Bully-Cummings.

At first glance, it looked like prom night for the Police Department - dozens of cops dressed to the nines, gracefully filing into a tastefully decorated gymnasium.

But the police officials who gathered at the Althea Gibson Community Education & Tennis Center last night weren't there to dance under the stars.

They assembled to honor 128 female police officers - from the rank of corporal all the way up to deputy commissioner - while raising funds for the four-year-old community center.

In years past, organizers have opted to honor a single individual at the black-tie ceremony, held inside the center on 10th Street and Girard Avenue in North Philadelphia.

"So many times, when we were looking for someone to honor, we looked at men," said Bronal Harris, president and executive director of the center. "This year, we thought how wonderful it would be to honor the women of the Police Department."

Harris was intrigued by the efforts of three veteran cops in particular: police Staff Inspector Teri Peay-Clark, victim-services Capt. Sonia Velazquez and Capt. Sharon Seaborough, the commander of Central Detectives.

The trio, who rose the ranks together, recently decided to form their own organization to help other female cops and to mentor local schoolchildren.

"We want to have a legacy that we can leave behind," Seaborough said, "and we want to give back to the communities we live and serve in."

The ceremony served as a reminder of how far women's rights have progressed.

This is the 50th anniversary of Althea Gibson, the trailblazing tennis legend who became the first African-American to be voted the Associated Press' Female Athlete of the Year.

The evening's keynote speech was delivered by Detroit's female police chief, Ella M. Bully-Cummings.

Said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross: "I think this was a good chance to see the progress we've made, not only in Philadelphia but across the country." *