When Sherri Adams joined the San Bernadino Police Department in Southern California back in 1985, just after graduating from the police academy, she probably didn’t think her first assignment would be undercover for the Narcotics Unit. But as a young-looking 20-something, she blended in with the high school crowd. So instead of driving a patrol car, Adams gathered intel and evidence on drug cases in local schools.
“At the time, San Bernardino had one of the highest crime rates. There were a lot of gangs, a lot of drugs. There were certain areas you could go down and [drugs] were just out there. It was easy to buy because a lot of people were selling,” Adams told the San Bernadino Sun. “And being the first Black female officer, people never suspected I was a cop.
“I didn’t have any fear then,” she added, “but now that I think about it, I think, ‘Oh my god, what was I thinking?’”
In addition to being the first Black female cop on the department, Adams had a stellar law enforcement career, for which she recently was recognized by the San Bernadino Police Historical Society (SBPHS). For example, that first assignment, which ran six months, concluded with numerous arrests. Then she worked the patrol and Bicycle Mounted Enforcement units as well as serving as a background investigator for the Personnel and Training Unit. Being a member of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) team also made an indelible mark on both Adams and the community.
“We would do stuff in the community, walking around, checking in on different businesses, see what’s going on. Being the face of the police department, you hold yourself to a higher standard,” she explained.
“Sherri set an example, especially for our teenagers of today,” Dennis Houser, a retired sergeant and SBPHS chairman, said. “She gives them something to look up to, a goal to reach at and achieve.”
Adams’ hiring helped blaze a trail for — among others — Shauna Gates, who became San Bernardino’s first Black female police lieutenant in 2018, and Darren Goodman, who earlier this year became the first Black police chief in the city’s history. The agency currently has two Black female officers, but at times has had as many as seven on the job.
When she retired from the force in 2001, after serving 16 years, Adams accepted a job with the San Bernadino City Unified School District before switching to her current role with the county helping at-risk youth. While on the force, she received several commendations, including citations for her experience on the Narcotics Unit and DARE team, the Chief’s Commendation for Honor Guard detail, and nominations for the Woman of Achievement award and Officer of the Year in 1995.
In November, in honor of her groundbreaking career, Adams’s SBPHS plaque was added to a permanent museum exhibit at police headquarters.