Sue Sinclair was as humble as they came and committed to doing her job well. So when trouble arose, the former Los Altos police officer was usually the first on the scene.
Mrs. Sinclair, who had the distinction of being the first woman police officer in Los Altos, died March 25 at her home in Lake Oswego, Ore., after a battle with cancer. She was 76.
Born in Milwaukee, her father’s career as an engineer required the family to relocate to Yakima, Wash., before settling in the Los Altos area. She later graduated from Los Altos High School.
Her husband, retired Mountain View police sergeant Patrick Langner, said Mrs. Sinclair had a passion for law enforcement from early in life. In Yakima, the sixth-grader was cited in 1955 for being “a great help on our school patrols directing traffic.” She wrote next to her citation, “Take note of this, haha.”
After Los Altos High, she graduated from a college for dental nurses in San Francisco and worked as a hygienist. She later became a surgical podiatry nurse and worked at the Palo Alto Medical Clinic in the early 1970s. She had two sons by her first marriage.
In her 30s, she pursued work in law enforcement. She entered the police academy as a civilian and graduated in 1976. She worked in the Palo Alto Police Department and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office before beginning her 11-year career in Los Altos in 1979. Her knowledge of the city proved instrumental – she was selected from among 50 applicants.
During her service in Los Altos, Mrs. Sinclair earned many acclamations and letters of appreciation from the public, Langner said – this at a time when sexism in law enforcement was the norm.
“Everyone that knew her respected her,” said Langner, who met Mrs. Sinclair on patrol. “She would tell the stories of the jokes, the cracks (about being a female police officer). She took it all in stride, never complained.”
Sinclair recalled her pioneering role in an interview with the Town Crier last year.
“Generally speaking, my reception within the department was good but very watchful in the beginning,” she said. “Understandably, all officers want to know that they have a competent backup officer. We all thought of one another as fellow officers, not ‘female’ or ‘male’ officer.”
She admitted, however, that for the first year or so, “the public seemed to look upon me either as unique or as an oddity.”
Mrs. Sinclair was not one to shy away from trouble – quite the opposite. She eagerly embraced graveyard shifts and Friday and Saturday nights, when many of the heavy crimes took place.
“She had a reputation of being the first on the scene of hot calls,” Langner said. “She was not hesitant to get involved in any kind of crime.”
Before long, she was promoted to the rank of detective and worked on murder and homicide cases.
Former Los Altos Police Capt. Don Thomson, who worked with Mrs. Sinclair, said she had success as a detective because she had the ability to make people feel at ease and talk with her.
“She was very professional,” he said. “Cops need to have what’s called ‘command presence.’ … ‘I’m here, I’m going to make things better.’ She exuded confidence. There wasn’t a call she couldn’t handle.”
Thomson noted Mrs. Sinclair wanted to set an example as the city’s first woman police officer. “She wanted to show that females could do the job.”
“It has never surprised me that women have risen through the ranks,” Sinclair told the Town Crier last year. “It takes a special breed of woman to have a career in law enforcement. … It is exhilarating and rewarding beyond belief, especially for someone like me who has an overload of empathy for others.”
A warm person
Mrs. Sinclair retired in 1990. She called her Los Altos career “a dream come true.”
“There are so many wonderful things about her,” said Langner, who married Mrs. Sinclair 27 years ago. They relocated to Lake Oswego after he retired in 1997.
As Langner thumbed through memorabilia, he cited Mrs. Sinclair’s involvement with a Police Olympics Pistol Team and her volunteer work for Oregon Dog Rescue.
“She was humble and modest,” he said. “She hated it when I bragged about her.”
As far as Langner is concerned, there’s a lot to brag about.
“She was a sweet, gentle and warm person – except if you were the bad guy,” he said.
In addition to Langner, Mrs. Sinclair is survived by sons Robert and Christopher; stepchildren Michael Langner, Kimberly Caldwell and Sandra Auzas; numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and brothers Frank (Beverly) Rasmussen and John (Carmella) Rasmussen.
In keeping with Mrs. Sinclair’s wishes, there will be no memorial service.