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The real deal

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MJPD Det. Bonnie Harris was the lead detective on the tragic child abuse case in 2009 in which pediatrician Deborah Mark was found guilty of murdering her own adopted daughter. Harris' latest case involved shutting down a $20,000 credit card scam. DALLUS

If you dare say she's a "kick-arse female" detective, more likely than not you'd get a stare, and then, if you are lucky, a brilliant smile.

Bonnie Harris may have put a few cracks in the glass ceiling along the way, but she doesn't look at it that way

A female cop? Yep.

"It's just my job," she said matter-of-factly.

Harris blends in just fine at the Mt. Juliet Police Department. Her colleagues are like brothers. They have each other's backs, and it's like any other day at the office. Except, Harris' office is usually her patrol car, and for years it was the third shift when things can get a little colorful even on the not-so-mean streets of Watertown and Mt. Juliet.

Harris was the lead detective in what might be Mt. Juliet's most notorious and tragic child abuse case in 2009. She led the case that was a milestone in her life and put "an offender away for life."

"My daughter Emma was 2 at the time," she said.

In the end, Mt. Juliet pediatrician Deborah Mark was found guilty of murdering her own adopted daughter in what headlines screamed "a fit of frustration." Both Mr. and Mrs. Mark are in jail; Deborah for life.

And while Harris is not defined by this landmark local case, it somewhat sums up her life, one dedicated to solving domestic and other cases. For two years, from December 2004 to 2006, Harris' career at the MJPD was dedicated to working on domestic violence cases. She got the opportunity through a grant given to the department. It wasn't pretty. It was eye-opening and extremely satisfying at times when justice won out.

She works the day shift now and recently was at the scene when an undercover case revealed a substantial drug operation. Harris graduated from police academy in June of 2000. However, she started her law enforcement career in 1998 in Watertown. Her dad was an Army man, and they moved a lot.

She was a self-admitted "redneck" at Lebanon High School, meaning she wore flannel shirts and cowboy boots and shunned the trending styles at the time.

How she got to be a detective was sort of a fluke. She knew college wasn't for her and went into the Marines because, "I like a challenge."

After 63 days she had to leave on a medical discharge.

"I was so disappointed," she recalled. "I had to call my dad. He's a pretty stern and strong man. But I was totally supported."

Her brother told her about a job opening at the Watertown Police Department. That's when she might have gotten a bump on her head hitting the glass ceiling. But only a small bump.

"I interviewed," she said. "Sort of told I 'didn't fit in,' and my looks might bring some problems."

She sat straight up, "You mean you won't hire me?!"

"He saw how peeved I was and hired me on the spot," said Harris.

She got the nickname RoboCop, later shortened to Robo with another 'B' word tagged on. No, it was not "Bonnie." At age 21 she was on third shift and at that time patrolled alone. Her skin got really thick, really fast, and she gained trust and respect as a newbie.

"They had my back for sure," she said.

There were tons of DUI's, traffic stops and domestic disturbances - the usual fare between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Her brother was also a cop there and worked security at the time and heard a call over the police scanner for backup. It was his sister. He wheeled in to back her up, and while he was arguing over the call, she got the bad guy who happened to be drunk.

Harris made her way to West Tennessee where she went into investigations, but she missed her family, nieces and nephews. During her stint there she posed as an undercover college student and cracked a date rape case.

"I wanted to come back home," she said. "Mt. Juliet is where I wanted to be."

Current City Manager Kenneth Martin was then the police chief and hired her. Domestics were her specialty and she "took everything personally," which made her good at her job. One case was a man who beat his wife with a 2 x 4.

These days this lady cop (she would cringe at the word "lady"), works on the day shift. Her latest case involved shutting down a $20,000 credit card scam. Her daughter turns 8 next month, and Harris allows herself to be feminine around her. But, not at work.

"She's [daughter] very proud to talk about what I do for a living," she said quietly. "She knows sometimes I have to work late."

Harris is quite an impressive role model and shrugs when she thinks of the stereotypes often portrayed on television and in the movies.

"No, I don't get scared on my job, all of us women need a thick skin," she said. "We have to let things roll off and move forward. We can be girly when we want."

She wasn't "girly" at a time she came close to being scared. On one domestic call the person who was being abused used her as a shield.

"That wasn't fun," she said. "He [abuser] was a big man, and I was there alone. I drew my weapon to get him to stop charging, and I was afraid he would not comply. But, he knew I was serous and complied. Now that was a scary moment."

It ended up without incident, except for another layer of skin.

Harris said, outside of work, daughter Emma is her "world." She spends all her spare time with her and, when she gets a breather, she simply loves to be outside, at the lake or spending time with family and friends.

"I love my career," she said. "I'm going to retire as a cop when I'm 70."

Harris did admit it took her a long time to disassociate herself from work when not on the beat.

"It's all been worth it," she said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything."

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Bonnie Harris, Detective, MJPD, Mt. Juliet
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