Nicknamed 'Calamity Jane,' Rookie Cop Anita McKeown Gets Nothing but Bad Breaks

UPDATED 08/12/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/12/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

Anita McKeown, a 5'9" blonde with a movie star's face and Hulk Hogan's muscle power, thought hard about becoming a police officer before applying to the Santa Monica force last year. She wanted a job that was different, one where she wouldn't be tied to a desk. And, confesses McKeown sheepishly, "There was a little of the fantasy about cops on TV."

McKeown, 24, may have had Hill Street Blues on her mind when she entered the police academy in April 1984, but after nearly a year on the job her story seems destined more for Emergency Room. During her first 10 months on the 148-strong city force, she suffered more serious mishaps in the line of duty than anybody can remember in the department's history. Her colleagues call her Calamity Jane and jokingly dive for cover whenever she strolls into the station house. That isn't often: She has spent 29 of her first 50 weeks sidelined with injuries. Consequently, her superiors told her she has failed probation and will have to repeat as a rookie if she wants to stay in the force. She vows to do just that. "I think it's just the luck of the draw," shrugs McKeown, a 140-pound Californian, now recovering from her second broken ankle. "If I thought it was anything more, I would quit."

Still the year has been so bad that McKeown, a psychology major who attended Cal State-Northridge on a basketball scholarship, has become a celebrity. She is scheduled for Johnny and Merv, and veteran Hollywood producer Andrew (The Rebel) Fenady has snapped up the rights to her life story. "I started tingling when I read about her," he gushes.

Consider the lowlights of McKeown's rookie year:

Nov. 10, 1984: McKeown, who finished in the top 17 percent of her class (and second among 16 women), is working the 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. shift. She pulls over a car for a routine traffic check, but the drunk driver gets out and starts running. McKeown gives chase, overtakes him and wrestles him to the ground. He grabs her gun, but she smashes his wrist. She subdues the man, but breaks a finger and badly wrenches her back in the process. She's out for five weeks.

Dec. 23, 1984: McKeown stops her patrol car at 11:30 p.m. to question two youths who, neighbors complain, are noisy. "Before I know it, one of them pulls a knife from his waist and lunges at me," she says. "He got me in the hand and shoulder." The other boy shoves a gun to her head and pulls the trigger. Nothing happens. "When I heard the click, I thought I was dead," says McKeown. Later she is found by backup officers facedown and unconscious from a blow to the head. She spends 12 hours in the hospital. Her superiors tell her to take two weeks off.

Feb. 9, 1985: After a week of desk duty she is back on patrol. About 1 a.m. she reports a three-car collision on the Santa Monica Freeway. McKeown is helping to push one of the cars off the road when a drunk driver clips her and she is thrown to the pavement. Forever diligent, she limps over to the car, which has crashed into the center of the divider, and arrests the driver. Score this one a broken right ankle and torn kidney. She's out for seven weeks.

April 23, 1985: Four trouble-free weeks end at 2:30 a.m. She spots a car without taillights, and is close enough to read the plates, when one of the passengers leans out the window and starts shooting. The bullets shatter her windshield and miss her head by inches. "It was the one time I came close to quitting," she says.

June 13, 1985: McKeown gives chase at 100 mph to a stolen car that crashes into a wall, killing one passenger. The wall stops McKeown too, and she spends two days in intensive care and four more in the hospital for injuries including a broken ankle, bruised heart and torn eye tissue.

There is a bright side to all this. McKeown's once sputtering social life has picked up again. "I lost my boyfriend when I entered the academy," she says. "He just couldn't handle the fact that I was a cop." Her current beau, whose appropriate name is Mike Hurt, 29, handles it better because he, too, is a Santa Monica officer. They got to know each other when he helped investigate her stabbing incident; he later consoled her through her other medical traumas. In fact, some of their early dates were in the emergency room. Hurt, a muscular guy, isn't wild about McKeown being on the force. "Look, I just figure if you've got a bad guy out there and he's built like Arnold Schwarzenegger, you need somebody just as strong to take him out."

But plucky Anita, one of five kids of an electrician and a homemaker, isn't about to give up her $22,000-a-year job because of a few broken bones and stray bullets. "My family and friends are crusading to get me to retire," she says. "But I've decided to grit my teeth and go back." Come August 22, McKeown returns to active duty. Watch out, Miami Vice. Or better yet, General Hospital.

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