Welcome to the Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari
June 9, 2022

Episode 14: Debbie Garner

Debbie Garner was a GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) Agent for 30 years and has witnessed first hand some of the worst of our society, yet still believes people are mostly good. Join us for a fascinating conversation about how to keep our children safe, mental wellness in the law enforcement community, and the important role that female officers serve. You do not want to miss her incredible insight and advice. Having spent her entire career protecting our society with tenacity and grace, she has even chosen to do so after retirement while transitioning into the private sector. We absolutely need more women like Debbie Garner in our society. #lawenforcement #womeninprotection #mamabear #gbi

Debbie Garner was a GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) Agent for 30 years and has witnessed first hand some of the worst of our society, yet still believes people are mostly good. Join us for a fascinating conversation about how to keep our children safe, mental wellness in the law enforcement community, and the important role that female officers serve. You do not want to miss her incredible insight and advice. Having spent her entire career protecting our society with tenacity and grace, she has even chosen to do so after retirement while transitioning into the private sector. We absolutely need more women like Debbie Garner in our society. #lawenforcement #womeninprotection #mamabear #gbi


Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari, Episode 14: Debbie Garner

Welcome to the pretty powerful podcast where powerful women are interviewed every week to share real inspiring stories and incredible insight to help women or anyone break the barriers, be a part of innovation, shatter the glass ceiling and dominate to the top of their sport industry or life's mission. Join us as we celebrate exceptional women and step into our power. And now here's your host Angela Gennari.

Angela Gennari: Thank you so much for joining me for the Pretty Powerful Podcast. This is Angela Gennari, and I am sitting here with Debbie garner. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Debbie Garner: I am very happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. So, you're recommended to me by a mutual friend of ours from the department of Homeland security. I love that we have these kinds of friends. It's a nice circle to be in. And very appreciative of him. And I will tell you that one of the most impressive things after I've started this podcast, is how many men have reached out to me to recommend, you know, exceptional women. And I get more recommendations from men than I do from women.

Debbie Garner: That's very interesting.

Angela Gennari: I find that to be fascinating. So, I want to introduce Debbie because she's super impressive and I'm very, very grateful to be sitting here with her today. Debbie Gardner is the solutions evangelist for the gray shift, where she assists and educates law enforcement on issues surrounding lawful access to digital evidence. Prior to joining the gray shift, she served 30 years with the Georgia Bureau of investigation where she had assignments in specialty areas covering undercover narcotics, healthcare fraud, terrorism, intelligence, fusion center management, officer-involved shootings, and online child sexual exploitation. In her last position of eight years, she served as a special agent in charge of the GBIs child exploitation and computer crimes unit.

Angela Gennari: Agent Gardner was also the commander of the Georgia internet crimes against children task force and had the responsibility of managing and coordinating that task force, which consisted of over 260 law enforcement agencies in Georgia. She attended the 267th session of the FBI national academy and as a graduate of the command college at Columbus state university, where she earned her Master of Public Administration degree, as well as University of Georgia, Good Dogs,

Debbie Garner: Absolutely Good Dogs, that's where I went to undergrad.

Angela Gennari: So, thank you so much for joining me today. I am so impressed. So, 30 years of law enforcement with the Georgia Bureau of investigation is super impressive. And congratulations on your retirement.

Debbie Garner: Thank you very much 30 years now that I'm sitting here went by in a blank. Now when I was in the midst not so much. But now that I'm sitting here 30 years later, I honestly only had a few bad days. And even when I retired, I still enjoyed walking into the building every day. I still enjoyed my job.

Angela Gennari: Wow. That's amazing. Well, I give you a lot of credit for that because it's not an easy job, especially some of the assignments that you've had. I know it had to weigh on you mentally.

Debbie Garner: Absolutely.

Angela Gennari: You know, I did my internship. I was a pre-law criminal psychology major in college, so I have my bachelor's in criminal psychology.

Debbie Garner: Okay.

Angela Gennari: And so, I kind of understand a little bit about, you know, some of the things that you dealt with, but not even close to the extent obviously. But I studied child psychology and childhood criminal psychology. So that was really my,

Debbie Garner: I would imagine we could have some very interesting conversations.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. I did my internship with the department of juvenile justice, and it was very challenging for me. I was 20, 21 years old and you know, I was on 24-hour suicide watch with three or four different children at the time. And of course, there were suicide attempts. So, at three o'clock in the morning, you get the call, you go out, and you talk to the child. And we had a lot of gang members. We had a nine-year-old girl who purposely got herself arrested because her brother had been arrested for gang activity. He was 13 and she didn't want to be in the house alone. And because of the abuse happening at the house.

Debbie Garner: It's heartbreaking some of the things that the children in society go through and it's very rewarding working for agencies like DJJ and anyone in law enforcement or child services, family services, very rewarding, but also incredibly heartbreaking and stressful because you, it's hard to solve all those problems.

Angela Gennari: It's hard to solve the problems. It's hard to connect with the kids who have built up these walls and it's especially hard to not go across the table with the parents. When you know that they're abusing the kids and you have to do a psychosocial assessment, or you have to interview them.

Debbie Garner: Have to go through the process and obey the law.

Angela Gennari: And all you want to do is arrest them. You know and it's so incredibly challenging. And I'm actually diverted at that time because I thought to myself, I don't know if I'll ever be able to do this and have a normal life because I was so engaged in that one summer that I did my internship, that I just thought to myself, I'm going to lose myself in this.

Debbie Garner: That does happen and good that you notice that for your own wellness. There are many people who love that aspect and relish the satisfaction. But it is very mentally tough.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. Well, I give you so much credit because I can tell you, I didn't have what it took to do it, and the fact that you did it for 30 years says a lot. So, thank you for being on that side of it and working to help these kids. So, I wanted to start by asking what led you into law enforcement. It's I mean, obviously it's not something all little girls are sitting there dreaming of, but I think it's something they definitely should. So where was your motivation?

Debbie Garner: So, I did not want a normal job. That is probably the best way that I can describe that when I entered college at the University of Georgia, I actually also entered air force ROTC at the time. And I did two years. I actually wanted to be a pilot. I am too short. So, you know, after doing that for two years and absolutely loving it, I just decided that that was not the path for me if I wasn't able to be a pilot. So, I talked with the cadre at the ROTC offices, and they sort of helped me choose a different path. And what we came up with was criminal justice. And I loved solving puzzles and putting independent pieces of information together to tell a story or to find the truth. And that's sort of what led me to criminal justice and then to investigations.

Angela Gennari: Wow. That's amazing. Yeah. And I think that you know, having that innate skill set obviously made you really good at your job. So, you're able to transition all of those skills that you already had into something [inaudible 07:05]

Debbie Garner: So, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. I'm a very logical methodical person. And so, you know, putting pieces together, to tell the truth, appealed to me.

Angela Gennari: That's amazing. I love it. So, then you get into law enforcement and your first assignment was undercover Narcotics.

Debbie Garner: It was so the GBI at the time, it was an entry-level position with the Georgia Bureau of investigation. And I did an internship with the GBI as a college student. And then was hired about six months later. As an undercover narcotics agent. And at that time, they were hiring former law enforcement. They were also hiring kids out of college. They hired me at 22 years old to drive all over the state of Georgia. And at the time it was crack. Undercover in small towns in Georgia, it was street-level narcotics. For $17,000 a year. And I was using my own vehicle. It was really not a very good deal. But it was my entry into the GBI. I did that for about four and a half years.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. Yeah. But I think it gave you a lot of good sense of how things work on the street.

Debbie Garner: It absolutely does. I worked with a lot of law enforcement throughout the state, a lot of other GBI agents throughout the state, and a lot of local law enforcement agencies throughout the state. And it was like basically working in neighborhoods that legitimately had problems with selling drugs in their neighborhood and they needed help. And so, we would go in and buy, you know like I said, at the time it was cracked from street-level drug dealers and do that for maybe six months and then arrest them all at the same time.

Angela Gennari: Wow. And was that that was successful. I imagine.

Debbie Garner: It was a very successful program, and it was at the time it was a grant-funded program. The GBI does not have that program anymore but yeah, that was my entry into law enforcement.

Angela Gennari: Right. Okay. Awesome. You talk about the last eight years of your career being the most impactful.

Debbie Garner: It was.

Angela Gennari: The best eight years of your life. Tell me why it was.

Debbie Garner: So, the last eight years of my time with the GBI was in the child exploitation and computer crimes unit. And it was impactful to me for a variety of reasons it was very rewarding to work. So, the mission of that office was to detect, investigate and assist with the prosecution of the online child, sexual exploitation child sexual abuse material, commonly referred to as child pornography. We also worked on the online enticement of children by adults and child sex trafficking. So, it was incredibly rewarding and it was really a national effort. So, the task force in Georgia is one of 61 IAC task forces across the country. Who all worked together to combat this child pornography, child sexual abuse material issue. That is basically overwhelming. But the other reason it was very impactful is I loved everyone with that I always worked well, maybe not everyone, but almost everyone that I always worked with. But in my, in the office that I supervised the agents, the digital forensic investigators that were there, the administrative staff that we had were, I know you're not supposed to have favorites, but they were absolutely my favorites. And they were some of the most knowledgeable passionate, and dedicated people to helping children. And that is like their impact on me. That made a huge difference as well.

Angela Gennari: Wow. I know that when you are talking about these criminal enterprises that are going after children, do you find that most of them are trying to meet the children in person, or are they just trying to get photos and exploit them online for others?

Debbie Garner: Both. So, a lot of the cases that we worked on, and both of those things happen regularly.

Angela Gennari: Okay.

Debbie Garner: I don't know that I could put a number on it necessarily, it's probably different everywhere, but I would say that more people are trying to exploit children to send them photographs, nude, photographs, exploitive, photographs so that they can either use those for their own sexual gratification, trade those with other people that are likeminded or to extort the child for either additional photos or to meet them for sex or a lot of times for money. So that happens a lot. And it's the reason it may be happening more is that they can do that from anywhere in the world and they can do it from sitting at their computer. They can do it with their mobile phone. So, there is a very large number a very large component of people that are trying to meet children for sex. We used to do a lot of proactive operations. where, you know, we were very well trained and there's actually a lot of legal guidelines we had to follow, but we would go online and you know, pretend to be a child and people would show up regularly.

Angela Gennari: Wow.

Debbie Garner: That's to have sex with a child. So, and we actually knew that they, we were getting the correct people because many times afterward they would also say that they have had prior sexual contact with children.

Angela Gennari: So that's so sad. I mean, as a mom, you and I are both mothers

Debbie Garner: Absolutely.

Angela Gennari: How this must make you absolutely crazy.

Debbie Garner: It is and interestingly enough, the work unit that I supervised was mainly female. Wow. And it was and still is a work unit of mama bears.

Angela Gennari: I was about to say, mama bears do not mess with the mama bear.

Debbie Garner: No, do not

Angela Gennari: She will eat you for Lunch.

Debbie Garner: And it is probably the hardest work unit.

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. And they're passionate and they're driven and they wake up with a purpose every single day. I imagine

Debbie Garner: There are a lot of great males on the team as well, but that office has for a very long time been predominantly female.

Angela Gennari: Wow. That's great that it's female and that we're looking out for our children because I think that's one thing that we do really well, rather than anyone. So that's great. So, you know, kind of leading into that question, so woman to woman, mom, to mom protection, professional to protection professionals. I own a security company. How the hell do we protect our kids from these crazy people who are out there shooting up schools and doing these things to our children, how do we protect our children?

Debbie Garner: So those are sort of two different questions. So, like online, educate them. Make them aware. And I guess that's in school as well, but there are certain rules they have to follow when, you know if there's an active shooter situation. I mean, they can be as aware as they want, but online being aware, educating them, talking with them, having a conversation about online safety, we teach them to cross the street. You know, we have to teach them how to be safe online. So that's the brief answer for that as far as you know, school shootings I will readily say *that there are professionals that are much more educated about that than I am. However, I will say that every law enforcement officer in the United States is basically trained very similarly to handle active shooter scenarios.

So, you know, right after Columbine and Sandy Hook you know, it was renewed training. But most law enforcement officers are trained exactly the same as far as preventing it from happening. I do believe, you know, just personally personal opinion you know, mental health is a huge factor in criminal activity in general and as well as if we're going to get into politics, I am a second amendment supporter. However, I do believe that there are some things that we could do to make society safer with regard to gun laws.

Angela Gennari: I agree and I'm on the same page as you. I mean I qualify every year with my handgun because we are a licensed armed security company. And so, I hold the license, I have to qualify, I am a gun owner, I believe in the right to own guns. However, I like your belief that there could be more restrictions. I think that access that people have and the limited I guess standards when it comes to who can get what is problematic. And that's [inaudible 16:13]

Debbie Garner: And I think gun safety education. From a very young age, my kids were introduced to firearms, I want to say early, I did not grow up with firearms. I did not grow up hunting, I grew up with a single mom and my dad who lived very close, but neither were gun owners. I didn't shoot a weapon until I started in law enforcement but my children, I introduced them very early on just simply to

Angela Gennari: Take away the mystery

Debbie Garner: Exactly.

Angela Gennari: That's what I did too.

Debbie Garner: The curiosity of like, this is what it is. You know, and I never had an issue after that, educated them about gun safety. They knew all the rules, they knew how to use them. And they were honestly very disinterested.

Angela Gennari: I think that's the important part because I did the same thing with my son. When I bought my firearm, we immediately went to the gun range and I said, this is how you use it. This is the safety aspect of it. This is how you don't use it. And we went through a whole class, but I strongly believe that you should have to take some sort of safety class. You wanted to get a firearm or at least a license to have a firearm. So, you know, and I think that there should be some sort of mental health testing involved because you know, obviously the wrong, you know, guns in the wrong hands, whether it's on the criminal side or lawfully, you know, that turns criminal because if you own a firearm, it's a deadly weapon. You should have responsibility for how you know who has [inaudible17:43]

Debbie Garner: It is a lot of responsibility. I will say that one of the things retiring that I actually looked forward to, you know, I still carry sometimes but I was actually looking forward to not carrying. Because it is a huge responsibility. If I, have it with me, I have to know exactly where it is and that it's safe a hundred percent of the time if I'm in a restaurant if I'm in the grocery store, or at someone's house that has children, it can't just be in my purse in the bedroom. So, I was actually looking forward to not carrying sometimes.

Angela Gennari: I can totally relate to that. I don't carry as often as I could. And mostly because I don't want the added stress and responsibility of where it's at, you know, and who I'm around.

Debbie Garner: I understand.

Angela Gennari: Most of our clients are big universities, places that I can't carry anyway, but at the same time I'm thankful for the ability to carry when I want to. So, I know that law enforcement can be both rewarding and stressful. So, the mental wellness of law enforcement personnel is an important topic and it's the same thing with the military. And I think about this a lot with our veterans returning home and law enforcement retiring and law enforcement on the job. And I know that the stress of that can be really detrimental to your health. So, tell us why officer wellness is so important and, and how we can do better.

Debbie Garner: You know, officer wellness is important because an officer that is in the right frame of mind, that's feeling mentally healthy is simply a better officer. So, you know, all of us go through stressors. It doesn't matter what profession you're in. But officers and public safety in general. And like you said, the military, sees horrific things daily and it affects them. So, in my office, they were watching horrific child sexual abuse on video and you know, children of all ages. And that absolutely takes a toll on you mentally you know patrol officers are seeing horrific car crashes and having to notify families. You know, crime scene specialists are seeing horrific violence on crime scenes and all of those things absolutely take a toll and even, you know, answering calls for service for domestic violence or domestic abuse or, you know, those, those things absolutely all take a toll.

And you know, having people to talk to, whether it's your peers or professionals having you know, resiliency training or you know, time off if you need it to recoup from a traumatic incident those types of things are all incredibly important and they're important because, you know, officers are literally doing this to keep their community, they're doing this for their communities. So, we need to do that for them. But it also makes a better officer, right. If they are in, you know, a bad mood all the time, that shows. It shows in their interaction with the public it shows in their decision-making. So, an officer that is healthy mentally and physically certainly makes a better officer.

Angela Gennari: So, we know it's important. Is it readily available?

Debbie Garner: So, it's getting better. In my 30 years in law enforcement, you know, early on it was you signed up for it. You were all mentally tough, rub dirt on it and move on. You didn't talk about things. We were all tough. And that's the way it was for a very long time, it is changing. And I still think that attitude still exists in some areas, but it is absolutely getting better. I know in the agency that I worked for, we had a peer support network in the office that I worked in, we had a mental wellness program and in ICAC world, what I call ICAC world, the 61 task forces across the country that work internet crimes against children. It has been a huge topic for a very long time. And in my office, we saw a mental health professional once a year, and we had group discussions with mental health professionals. We had mental wellness training, and resiliency training on a regular basis, and some agencies are getting much better.

Angela Gennari: Well, and I know in my previous life, I had owned a company and we did group travel and meeting management. So, I had owned a company for 10 years that did that. And the government was actually our largest client. So, we did a lot with the department of defense department of Homeland security and then each division of the military. And one of the most important things that I feel like we did was yellow ribbon retreats. Which is when the soldiers are coming home, they reunify with their families, but in a way that is different because when you're fighting a war every day for however many weeks or months or years that you're there, you're on deployment, you come home from deployment and then all of a sudden, it's okay honey take the trash out, you know, change the diapers, and act like you're back to normal after you've been through so much trauma is where things get really fractured. And there are a lot of mental health issues.

Debbie Garner: That transition I can't even imagine. I know for me the transition from going just home every day from work to home, you know, there'd be times I would just sit in the car for about five minutes. And mentally make that transition. I can't even imagine coming home from war and trying to make an immediate transition.

Angela Gennari: Well, and it's two completely different environments, you know, you've got the warm and cozy home with your spouse and your children, and then you also have this fighting a war with people who you're relying on every single day on these people to have your back. And you're constantly in fear of potentially losing your life. And then to come home and act like you can transition well it's not normal. And so, these yellow ribbon retreats were great because for at least a weekend they were able to get counseling. They were able to have childcare where they could spend time together as a family, but then also spend time together as a couple. And just spend some time really getting to reunite with each other and kind of that reunification retreat, I think is so important. So, do you think there could be something in law enforcement were like a yellow ribbon retreat, you can allow our law enforcement professionals to really get that balance of work and family life that they can, you know, manage it in a way that is less intense on the family because I know a lot of families struggle with law enforcement?

Debbie Garner: No, absolutely. There is training out their good agencies have to; you know the command staff of agencies have to make that happen.

Angela Gennari: Has to be a priority.

Debbie Garner: It does and like I said that's changing. But it's still not full across the board there are very interesting programs started in South Carolina and we have in Georgia called post-critical incident seminars. Okay. And so, an officer goes through a very traumatic incident, whether it's personal or professional. So, think maybe they were involved in an officer-involved shooting or their officer or their partner got killed, or maybe there was a child that like something in their personal life, or so they have these post critical incidents seminars where they go with their families, with their spouse for three days and they get professional counseling. They are seminars like that, but those are very rare.

Angela Gennari: Okay.

Debbie Garner: But they, but, you know, I guess things have to start somewhere.

Angela Gennari: Sure. Absolutely.

Debbie Garner: And we're making headway, you know, I actually do presentations in my post-law enforcement career with the gray shift. One of the things they allow me to do is still assist and educate law enforcement in certain areas of expertise that I have. So mental wellness I give presentations across the country on how agencies can start developing mental wellness initiatives in their agency.

Angela Gennari: Wow. That's amazing because I think that's probably one of the things that we can do to help our officers more than anything is presenting the idea of taking care of yourself and I've, you know, and not that this is the same, but I feel like there's a little bit of a parallel between, you know, now that everybody is working at home, we don't have that decompression time after work anymore. So, like with me, when I would go into my office, I find that that 30, 40 minutes it takes me to get home is the time I can decompress. And instead, if I'm working at home now, what ends up happening is, you know, I'm scrambling, scrambling, scrambling, okay. It's six o'clock. I need to make dinner for my son. I'm a single mom, so I've got to figure it all out. And then I go downstairs and he's trying to have a conversation with me. And I'm still in work mode thinking through how to answer an email or, you know, a proposal that I have to work on. And I haven't disengaged from work the way I would normally.

Debbie Garner: Totally resonates with me.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. [Inaudible27:22]

Debbie Garner: And I find that we end up working more at home.

Angela Gennari: And you never disconnect, you don't have that, okay I was at the office and then I shut my computer down and now I'm at home and I'm in a family world now that doesn't happen anymore with the work at home thing. And I feel like that might be part of the wellness issues with people and working. And I've noticed still even through 20020, we obviously had a lot of issues with mental wellness with what was going on with the pandemic. But I think even more so now that we're trying to figure out this new way of working without that decompression time, without that ability to separate work and family, and how do we do that? And law enforcement is I think one of the most critical ways that you really need to separate the two. And how do you do that as a mom sending your child off to school or seeing them on the phone or seeing them on TikTok or Instagram and knowing what you know, and still being able to stomach it? It's definitely a challenge I would imagine.

Debbie Garner: Every parent has their own parenting style, and they make their own parenting decisions. But I always made the decision that I was just going to teach my kids how to be safe online. Because I think it's unrealistic to keep them offline.

Angela Gennari: Well, I am a big believer in the more you restrict somebody from doing something more curiosity builds up. Just like we were talking about with firearms. I actually had a college roommate who went to an all-girls school. Her father was in law enforcement and super strict upbringing. And when she got to college, it was, you know, all of the craziness because it was the first taste of freedom. And so, I think you can do too much in terms of restriction. And so, I'm more of a guardrail kind of mom.

Debbie Garner: That’s me.

Angela Gennari: I know you're going to do things that I don't necessarily agree with. Here are your guardrails stay within these guardrails and we'll have a problem. So, in your job, as the commander of the Georgia internet crimes against children, task force, you have seen a lot of children manipulated and exploited online. So, going into this whole, how do we parent now, what advice do you have for parents who are trying to keep their children safe online?

Debbie Garner: First and foremost, talk to your kids. It's an awkward conversation. I'm not going to lie. But you can talk to them, you know, age-appropriately kids are getting, I know my kid’s got phones when they were in sixth grade. Like when they started middle school it was sort of the norm, they’re getting them even younger now. So, you know, there are parental controls and things, you know, at that age that are probably a good idea, but mainly talking to your children, telling them what the rules are about, and they're really sort of basic rules. Don't talk to anyone you don't know online, especially at that age. Unless you know them personally you don't talk to them, don't allow them to follow You, don't allow them to friend you those types of things.

Don't provide personal information. It's all really sort of easy rules. Tell them that there are people online that may pretend to be someone else, not everyone you meet online is who they say they are. Those types of things are sort of the general rules. The other things that I will tell parents are if your kid has Snapchat or TikTok, then you need to have Snapchat or TikTok on your phone and follow them. And know how the app works, get your kid, you know, sit down with your kid and say, hey, show me, show me how TikTok works, you know? Even today in, in my job, I had to know all the apps and things like that. But my daughter and my kids still know how to use Snapchat and TikTok better than I do. That will always be the case. But knowing what they're into, be engaged. But having the conversation and it gets more involved as they get older. And not taking nude photographs and sending nude photographs. And that it stays online forever just educating them, you know, that there are consequences to their actions and how to stay safe. That would really be the biggest piece of advice that I would give parents.

Angela Gennari: Okay. Well, I also noticed it when my son was younger, and he was playing video games online. Yes. And he started being able to chat online on Xbox with other kids that well, and then he's like, well, yeah, there's a man that's on there. I'm like, why, why is there a man? Why are you talking to a man online? And so, I had to have that conversation even before he had a phone when he was just doing Xbox. And because it was the same thing.

Debbie Garner: Messaging features

Angela Gennari: They're asking questions and they're inquisitive. I'm like, why would a grown man need to play Xbox with an eight-year-old? And so, there are things that really were red flags to me, even at a young age before social media,

Debbie Garner: Absolutely predators are on gaming platforms. It is not uncommon even if they don't have a phone they can still be reached.

Angela Gennari: I tell my son all the time the internet is forever, be careful what you say, be careful what you post. Everything can be found at some point by somebody who wants to, so the internet is forever. Just keep in mind that you're going to apply for a job one day and you don't really need something coming back to you or, you know any other position really. So, tell me what advice would you give to women who are looking to make law enforcement, their career choice?

Debbie Garner: I will readily admit I was very lucky in my career. You know, I worked for an agency that wanted a very diverse workforce. And you know, that GBI is about 30% female and I worked with great law enforcement agencies, local state, and federal for 30 years. And I think that there may be a little bit of a myth that, females aren't wanted in law enforcement. I actually think that they are. There are some small-town agencies you know, and even large agencies that, and people it's not really an agency culture most of the time. It's a few people. Who may think there's no space for women in law enforcement, but I think by and large that's actually not true. So, I would want to tell them, don't be afraid of applying you know it's, there are skills that women have that make them great law enforcement officers.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. I can definitely see that. So, who inspires you?

Debbie Garner: So, I knew you were going to ask this question and so I gave it some thought and I honestly came up with two answers. Okay. the first one, I was really inspired by the people that I worked with especially, you know, I mentioned it a little earlier, but especially the people in my office I don't even know that I can articulate the level of dedication in brain power that they have and are working these crimes against children. And the amount of work that they would do trying to work-life balance was absolutely amazing. And they literally inspired me. It was my job to get them what they needed but they, you know, if I did that they went above and beyond. The second answer would be my kids actually inspire me. You know, my kids inspire me to be a better person to make good decisions. I've traveled a lot in my career with the GBI and I travel a lot now. And my husband has always traveled a lot, so they had to be very independent, very early. And they've absolutely exceeded my expectations, but they would be who would inspire me.

Angela Gennari: That's awesome. I agree my son inspires me too. So, what advice would you give to 18-year-old you setting out on your journey?

Debbie Garner: I would tell myself to adventure sooner, try new things sooner. You know, I have no problem doing that now, but I have an extensive bucket list. I would've liked to have started that sooner. I've never really been a scared person, but I didn't know how to make those things happen. I would want to figure that stuff out sooner. And you know, the second thing, and this wasn't really when I was 18, but after I became a GBI agent there was a very long period of time where I thought the most interesting thing about me was the fact that I was a GBI agent. And it was my total identity. And I don't really think that that's the best way to think of yourself as like a singular. But I really thought that was the most interesting thing about me. And not that I really didn't have any other value, but that's sort of where it ended up leading me. It took having kids and adventuring and, trying a lot of different things to really think of myself as interesting, beyond being a GBI agent.

Angela Gennari: Sure. And I think as women, we do that a lot. Right. We identify as our kid's mom or so, and so's spouse, but it's hard for us to live in our own identity and all that it encompasses career kids, spouse, work, life volunteering and, you know, make us as a whole interesting people. And so that kind of leads me to the next question as women, we often give our power away because we feel like we want to give those accolades or that power to somebody else in our lives. We are givers by nature. We're nurturers. So, tell me about a time that you gave your power away and a time that you took it back.

Debbie Garner: Okay. So, you know, I've mentioned how much you know, in the office that I worked in we really were a team. Law enforcement as a team. My office was a team. And rightly so, I always gave a lot of credit to them. For a lot of the wins that we had, I gave a lot of credit to them, but I rarely took any of that for myself it was my job to equip them properly and make sure they were well mentally and physically and advocate for them, whether it was in internally or externally with the press or legislators or, you know, that was my job. and in retrospect, I think I did that fairly well. But I really always gave the credit to them and a lot of it should go to them, but I rarely saved any for myself.

Angela Gennari: I think that when we do that, that's what holds us back in our careers. When they say, you know, we could have advanced further, but we do so much of giving credit away, power away from that I think that's one of the things that if we're not out there advocating for ourselves, then nobody's recognizing what we'll bring to the table. People we're helping do, but maybe not those who are one or two people removed from us. And so that may be another reason why we don't advance as quickly as men do.

Debbie Garner: So, you also asked

Angela Gennari: A time you step back into your power.

Debbie Garner: Yes. I think that comes to the position that I have now. When I reached 30 years, I thought I could work for GBI for another couple of years. But also, after working for 30 years and for the same company, how do you look for a job? I have no idea how to look for a job. So, I started developing a presence on LinkedIn and I did a few things, but I identified some companies that I wanted to work for. And I don't want to say targeted them, but I did. And I ended up asking for the job that I have now. Approaching them and said, I would absolutely love to work for the gray shift and that worked out for me.

Angela Gennari: Good, That's fantastic.

Debbie Garner: You know, so and that was a huge step for me. I was petrified I will not lie.

Angela Gennari: Well, going from public service your entire career to the private sector, I'm sure it's a huge transition.

Debbie Garner: It's been a great transition. It's a phenomenal company to work for. We provide a tool to law enforcement, so I still get to work with law enforcement. I still get to see all of the connections that I've developed across the country, throughout my career. And about 10% of our company is former law enforcement.

Angela Gennari: That's great. And I think that helps also is just knowing that you're still serving the community.

Debbie Garner: It is. Absolutely.

Angela Gennari: That's awesome. Okay. So, what do you want more people to know?

Debbie Garner: I want more people to know that you know, cops are real people.

Angela Gennari: Thank you for saying that by the way.

Debbie Garner: Cops have personal lives that affect them professionally and they have that happen at work, you know, affects them personally. As we talked about, they see horrific things they make mistakes. You know, most of them are very well trained but still make mistakes. And I think most often those are genuine mistakes. And every police officer that I have ever known truly wants to help their community. They are in it for the right reasons. I realize that is not universally true. But I absolutely think it's, it's mainly true and extrapolating that out to general society. I think most people are good. Even after being in law enforcement for 30 years and seeing what I've seen, I absolutely believe most people are good.

Angela Gennari: I'm so happy to hear that because, you know like we talked about at the very beginning, when I did my internship and I studied criminal psychology and I really thought oh, I can do this. I can do deep dives on people's psyche and understand how they tick until...

Debbie Garner: It's crazy when you get in their head sometimes.

Angela Gennari: And so, until I had to put it into real-life action, it's one thing to read it in a book it's a whole other deal to like live it and understand that the person's sitting in front of you and what they're capable of and then you start to see people differently. But I'm really happy to hear you say that people are mostly good.

Debbie Garner: I absolutely think that and, you know I realized or fairly early on in my career, not the undercover narcotics days, but there was a period of time where I worked Medicaid fraud you know, there are a lot of good people that make really bad decisions. And I've arrested them they were not bad people. They've made some really bad decisions. Right. You know, and there are other people who I would put in the classification of their bad people. but most people are good and make really bad decisions.

Angela Gennari: Right. And a lot of it and going to the criminal psychology background, a lot of it just comes from the past traumas that they've had and their inability to deal with those things in a healthy way. And going back to mental wellness, you know, this is why mental wellness is so important in our country and well globally, but when you're dealing with traumatic episodes, especially as a child and you don't have the tools to process that in a healthy way it comes out in an unhealthy destructive criminal way and you know, how do we start fixing that earlier? And how do we reach these people earlier? So, yeah, I think it's an important conversation we need to continue to have and start finding the red flags earlier and getting out there. And I applaud your work at the GBI because I think that you were definitely at the forefront of that. So, thank you for your dedication to our communities. So, well, thank you so much for your time today. I'm really, really excited that we had a chance to sit down and talk. I think it's really genuinely going to help a lot of people. I think your story is inspiring and I'm so grateful that you were part of our GBI network for 30 years helping your children.

Debbie Garner: As I said, I thoroughly enjoyed my career. And I'm thoroughly enjoying my life after a law enforcement career. And I still feel very lucky.

Angela Gennari: You're still helping the communities and you're still helping law enforcement. So, thank you for that.

Thank you for joining our guests on the Pretty Powerful Podcast. And we hope you've gained new insight and learned from exceptional women. Remember to subscribe or check out this and all episodes on pretty powerfulpodcast.com visit us next time and until then step into your own power.

Debbie GarnerProfile Photo

Debbie Garner

Solutions Evangelist for Grayshift, Retired Law Enforcement Executive and former ICAC Commander

Debbie Garner is a Solutions Evangelist for Grayshift where she assists law enforcement with issues surrounding lawful access to digital evidence. Prior to joining Grayshift, Garner served 30 years with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation where she had assignments in undercover narcotics, healthcare fraud, terrorism intelligence, fusion center management, officer involved shootings, and online child sexual exploitation. In her last position of eight years, she served as the Special Agent in Charge of GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit. Agent Garner was also the Commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and had the responsibility of managing and coordinating that task force which consisted of over 260 law enforcement agencies in Georgia. She attended the 267th Session of the FBI National Academy and is a graduate of the Command College at Columbus State University (CSU) where she also earned her Master of Public Administration degree.