Originally published in the Manchester Journal on June 21, 2017
By Cherise Madigan
MANCHESTER — For Detective Abigail Zimmer, it’s been a long and winding road to success. Still, the journey has made the destination all the sweeter for Zimmer, the first and only female officer at the Manchester Police Department.
As a single mother, the Detective has unabashedly pursued her dreams and surmounted the plethora of obstacles presented along the way. This remarkable ambition is the result of a lifelong passion for protecting the most vulnerable in our community.
Law enforcement was not always the path that Zimmer pictured, however.
“I was a firefighter when I was 15, and really loved doing anything with an adrenaline rush,” said Zimmer. “I wanted to be a paid firefighter, but I also knew that I wanted to stay in Vermont and most firefighters here volunteer.”
Though police work was her backup plan, Zimmer pursued this career with her trademark determination. Following her High School graduation, Zimmer entered into her first year of the public law enforcement cadet program at Rutland’s Stafford Technical Center. She went on to work as a full-time dispatcher for the Manchester Police Department in 2008, working the midnight shift at just 19 years old.
While Zimmer had begun to move towards her goal of becoming a police officer, she soon had to re-evaluate her trajectory.
“I found out about two weeks shy of my 21st birthday that I was pregnant with my son,” said Zimmer, a single mother. “When you’re young you feel like your dreams are falling apart; it’s easy to feel like you’ll never be able to achieve your goals.”
Embracing motherhood, Zimmer did not back down even when turning those dreams into reality felt impossible. She continued to work the midnight shift with the help of her family, who watched her son until she left work at eight in the morning. After spending the day with her son, Zimmer would return him to her sister in the evening before catching a few hours of sleep and starting all over again.
“It was a long tough road,” said Zimmer. “It was very, very hard, but I have the best family in the whole world.”
Finally, in 2011 Zimmer was presented with the opportunity to become a full time police officer with the full support of the MPD.
“They supported me, they backed me 110%,” said Zimmer. “My biggest struggle was getting into shape to pass the PT Test, because I had gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy.”
Fellow officers offered support by training with Zimmer and driving alongside her as she ran. While she returned each month to take the physical fitness test, it was not until her last chance that she reached the substantive physical requirements, passing by just one second.
“I am so loyal to this police department,” said Zimmer. “ I would never have been able to do this if it had been anywhere else.”
With the continual support of her family, Zimmer attended the Vermont Police Academy full time in 2013 and later became an officer with the MPD. This was not the end of the road however, as she soon set her sights on a loftier goal.
“The reason I first wanted to get into law enforcement was to be a detective,” said Zimmer. “I always loved putting the pieces together, and it’s something that I’m good at.”
This dream became a reality only a year ago, when a investigator’s position became available in Manchester. In her work as a detective, it is empowering other women that Zimmer is most passionate about.
“I’m very passionate about domestic abuse, and I love to see women helping other women,” said Zimmer. “I’ve always cared most about working with victims. I feel that through my life experiences I can relate to many of the girls that I work with, especially girls who have had children at a young age.”
While Zimmer is not lacking in respect and compassion for her male counterparts, she realizes the unique role she plays as the first and only female officer with the MPD. In serving the community well, she hopes that she can also provide an inspiration for other women considering a career in law enforcement.
“If girls want to be a police officer there is no reason they shouldn’t be; there is nothing that should stop them from achieving their goals,” said Zimmer. “You’re going to get push-back, there are going to be people that tell you it’s not the job for you, and because it can be a boys club you might feel like you don’t fit in sometimes — but you do.”
In a broader sense, Zimmer hopes that her resilience can prove inspirational for women in any profession.
“I didn’t want to be a statistic. I was told that I would never amount to anything, would never be able to pursue my dreams, if I had kept my son,” said Zimmer. “I decided to prove everyone wrong. I wanted my son to see that you never have to give up on your dreams.”
In her grit and ambition Zimmer has provided a powerful example for her son, who now brings her badge in for show and tell.
“Trust me, there were many of times when I probably could have, or should have, given up,” said Zimmer. “It was one step forward, three steps back to get here.”