OCALA, Fla. – It’s a special bond decades in the making.
Tara Woods saw an ad for an Ocala Community Service Officer at a church in 1990.
“I saw there was one position open at the Ocala Police Department. What I was most intrigued about was you got the police car, you get to wear the uniform, but at the time you weren’t a sworn police officer, but you got to work at the police department,” Woods said . “It was a great way to give back to the community I grew up in.”
Robin Ford entered the Ocala Police Department the same year as a Patrol Officer. She had previously been an officer in South Florida.
“My father was in law enforcement and my husband was in law enforcement. I fell into his footsteps,” Ford said.
Ford’s love for horses drew her to the Ocala area.
After a few years, Woods attended police academy and became a sworn officer, working side-by-side with Ford.
“We’ve always been friends. She’s my spiritual buddy and someone I could always go to when I need cheering up or calming down,” Ford said.
“We were a good balance. We could always agree to disagree and move on. We leaned on each other for support,” Woods said.
Both women earned their college degrees while working at the Ocala Police Department. Balancing work and family life they both continued to move up in the ranks. Ford became the first female Captain then Major. Woods following as the first Black female to serve in several positions from Detective to Major.
Trailblazers who always looked out for those coming behind them.
“We have always tried to encourage and train those behind us to pull them forward, so when my seat is empty there’s always a person that can fill it,” Woods said.
Woods said one of her fondest memories was her time working with teens as a school resource officer.
“Not only was I the school resource officer. I taught dance class pom-pom after school. I participated in the gospel choir with the kids. There was a hair and nails club,” Woods said.
Woods said the students dedicated a yearbook to her one year and she still keeps in contact with some of the teens, now adults.
Ford was a part of OPD’s Mounted Unit that was established in 1996. She said she enjoyed having a horse as her companion on the job, but the Mounted Unit was disbanded around 2004 for budgetary reasons.
Entering OPD together, Ford and Woods also retired the same day January 31, 2021. Ford said it was a difficult decision to make.
“It becomes part of your family. The people that you work with become special to you, that’s the hard part. As far as the job, after 36 years I’m OK with letting that part of it go because it drains on you as you get older,” Ford said.
They weren’t retired for long. Twenty-two days later both Woods and Ford are back serving their community as civilians.
Woods returning to OPD as the Community Liaison Coordinator. Woods works for the city of Ocala heading the office of homeless prevention. They continue sharing their stories of strength and perseverance and encouraging others to follow their dreams.
“You just have to want it bad enough. For any woman to say this job, ‘I can never do that,’ you can do that. The people here will let you do it, you just have to work hard,” Ford said.
Woods and Ford said through their new jobs, they’re able to help bridge the gap between community and law enforcement and look forward to their continued friendship.