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Cathy Lanier: from teen mom to DC's top cop

By Brian Rokus and Jessica Yellin, CNN
September 20, 2013 -- Updated 1647 GMT (0047 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lanier has come as far in her personal life as she has in her professional life
  • She has been on the DC police force since 1990, rising through the ranks
  • Chief is humble and uses her back story to motivate youth in Washington

Washington (CNN) -- When Washington's police chief visited wounded officer Scott Williams after the Navy Yard shooting it wasn't a chief visiting a subordinate. It was one cop visiting another cop.

"She called him Scotty," said Washington Mayor Vincent Gray. "She's known him almost his entire career."

Chief Cathy Lanier has spent her entire law enforcement career, since 1990, with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department. She's risen from patrol officer to district commander and then chief in 2007.

Lanier has come as far in her personal life as she has in her professional life.

She was a teenage mom who dropped out of high school, married, separated and -- for a time -- was on food stamps.

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Today, her educational accomplishments include a high school equivalency credential, two graduate degrees and a certification in hazardous material operations.

But Lanier doesn't shy away from her back story. She uses it to inspire and mentor Washington youths.

"She had the fortitude to pick herself up and get a GED and that's a great role model for D.C.," said Joe Persichini, who has known Lanier for a decade through his work at the FBI and now the D.C. Police Foundation.

"She's been through all the difficulties that many people have been through and benefited mightily from it," Gray said.

Those difficulties were the theme of her speech when sworn in as chief.

Some thought Lanier might speak of police tactics and her vision for management. Instead, she told her personal story and thanked her mother and son, both in attendance.

"You were the one person who never gave up on me or were embarrassed or ashamed of me, even when maybe you should have been," Lanier joked to her mother from the stage.

Her early life experiences "really helped her grow into a mature leader," Gray said.

She's also a leader with the respect of her officers and community, according to Persichini.

"That sense of accomplishment and confidence exudes from her and I think the public has great trust in her. And that's very hard to do."

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