GREAT FALLS – Cascade County Sheriff’s Deputy Panther Lee is setting an example for women and young girls.
“I know it sounds cliche, but I always wanted to help people. I always thought that I could make a difference in my community, where I live. Being a deputy in the county has enabled me to do that in ways I never imagined,” Lee said.
She was sworn into the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office on January 2, 2018.
“I love being a part of the team. My shift is my second family,” Lee said.
And nearly a year and a half later, she’s graduated from the primary SWAT school at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy in Helena.
“A lot of our patrol is SWAT because that’s a goal for people who are on patrol. It is taking the average deputy to the next level. It’s something that people want to do. It’s not something that you are pushed into by any means. It’s highly competitive to get on to the Cascade County SWAT team. That made it even more sweet to me. I did it, I made it and not only that but that I was welcomed on to the team,” Lee said.
The SWAT program is a 70-hour course that takes six and a half days to complete.
“Going to SWAT, it was very intensive. We had mock call outs every single night where you would have to formulate a plan and execute it for this hostage situation or school shooting. Working all day and trying to learn and observe all this information, and then applying it practically every single night. You’d get a telephone call in the middle of the night, get all your gear on in ten minutes or less, and then being ready for the call. I feel like it really prepped us for a real-life situation that’s going to come up,” Lee said.
But not only did she complete the course with 21 others, she’s the first female deputy in Cascade County to join the SWAT team.
“It’s great on so many levels. One, just to set that example for other female law enforcement officers, for my daughter, for girls and other jobs. It doesn’t matter. You can achieve whatever you want to,” Lee said.
Lee credits her mentors and the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office for her accomplishments.
“I was pretty fortunate when I did go to SWAT school, I had a really good base already in my training thanks to my office,” Lee said. “I guess I’m the first female SWAT officer in Cascade County. I’m not the first in the state. I went to SWAT basic last week with a police officer from Missoula who was also a female. What I did and what she does, there’s another female deputy in Lewis and Clark County, these are amazing women that I look up to and I want to be like.”
Lee says since the news, community members have come up to congratulate her. She says the support has been amazing.
“I don’t mind being the face to that if it brings this community closer together,” Lee said. “I don’t just want to be the female SWAT officer, the female deputy. I want to be a good deputy. I want to be a good SWAT officer. I want to support my shift and my team and my community. This is the best way that I can do it.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Transue for MTN News