Have gun, will patrol

Thelma Matthews

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

The moment you meet this woman with a gun in your hands will probably be your last. Thelma Matthews is a soft-spoken former physician from Mexico. She has two children, a home in Elk Grove and a standard domestic routine with one exception: If you threaten her or those she is sworn to protect, she’ll put two hollow-point bullets in your chest and one in your head faster than you can say “Middle America.” Thelma is a cop for Sacramento State University. She has many tools at her disposal—pepper spray, a baton and her fists (depending on your size)—but her most lethal weapon is her Sig Sauer .40-caliber pistol, and she’s so proficient with it that she earned the top spot in Sac State’s Top Gun Sharpshooter 2006 competition. By nailing targets from up to 75-feet away in rapid succession, Matthews beat out her male colleagues, many of whom had significantly more years of experience in the art of gunplay.

Where is the worst place to get shot?

My head or my hands.

Why your hands?

If I get shot in my hands, I won’t be able to continue shooting.

When do you draw your gun?

When, for example, you have a guy with a stolen vehicle. Felony stops. When we are looking for a felon that fled the scene and he is hiding inside a building. What else? When somebody is in the room and they have either a knife or hand gun in their hands.

What do you use the baton for?

For me, I fight with my fists. And if I have somebody bigger and stronger, my fists won’t be enough. So the baton would be a better option.

Who did you compete against to win the Top Gun award?

All the members of my department. Everybody. And a lot of those guys started shooting when they were little. A lot of them. Probably half of them went through the military. So, they have a lot of experience, a lot of experience. Me, I started shooting when I started the academy in 2001.

How did you end up patrolling the night scene at Sacramento State?

When I came here, I used to see the highway patrol, and I said it would be interesting to be a highway-patrol person. But I didn’t have my citizenship then. But I had the opportunity to work in San Joaquin County. So I started to work out there as an office assistant and get close to law enforcement and know a little bit about the life of a deputy and the life of an officer. I started looking at the people doing the job and I said, “I might get involved in that.”

And later came the opportunity to work as a correctional officer. I passed the test. I worked with them for two or three years and after that the opportunity for qualification and testing for deputy sheriff came on board and I took it and I passed it, again. I was surprised. So, I went to an academy in Yuba.

I found this job on the Internet. I didn’t want to commute anymore from Elk Grove to San Joaquin County, back and forth. It was wearing me out.

What’s your opinion on firearms?

I never got scared of firearms. I thought if some people use another type of tool to go to work, that would be my tool. That’s part of my responsibility, to carry a hand gun. I never thought it would be scary or nothing. It was just a requirement for me to learn to carry a firearm.

When you went through the academy, did you notice you had a gift for shooting?

No, actually, it requires a lot of practicing, a lot of hours at the range. I would say practice, practice, practice, and I would get better over time. Most of the time, I was at the range every weekend just to get proficient in what I am doing. Just looking around seeing people shooting, I would say, “Gosh, I am so behind.”

Do you think, if the time comes in the real world, you will be able to employ your weapon with the same efficiency?

I am not afraid to use it. If somebody is in danger or my life is in danger, I am not afraid to use it. And I know that time will come someday. And when that time comes, I will be ready. And I am ready.

Do you shoot to kill?

We’re trained not to kill but to stop the danger. So, when we shoot somebody we have to aim for the chest. But if we shoot the head, we’re killing the computer—all movement is stopped immediately. But when we shoot someone we try to use this part (gesturing to abdomen and chest). We’re trained not to kill.