She may be the newly appointed supervisor of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department's Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU), but underneath it all, Sgt. Tania Bell is still ''daddy's little girl.''
''My father and I are really tight,'' she says.
He was the first person Bell called last week to share the news that she had been chosen to follow in the footsteps of Sgt. Brett Parson, as the new head of the GLLU. Parson, who had served as the commanding officer of the unit since its inception in 2001, resigned from the position in January to take on a new assignment in the Police Department's Third District Patrol Service Area 302.
Lt. Alberto Jova, the gay assistant to Washington's interim Police Chief Cathy Lanier, is now the commanding officer of the unit, whereas Bell, 39, will serve as a supervisor.
''Lt. Jova can tell you, when he told me [about the appointment], I think I almost busted his eardrum,'' says Bell, who joined the Washington Metropolitan Police Department in August 1990. ''I was so excited. I'm still excited and I know that my father is proud of me.''
It's a feeling that must be mutual, as Bell repeatedly mentions her family, the strong bonds that they share, and the hardships she's endured -- including the deaths of her mother and twin sister.
''I still think about her a lot,'' Bell says of her twin, who worked for the U.S. Treasury Department and died shortly after their 30th birthday in 1997, due to complications from diabetes. Bell recalls how her twin reacted to her being gay.
''She said, 'You know what, although you're gay, you're still the same Tania, and I still love you.'''
When her sister died, Bell says she felt like she could not go on. She took a break from life, and stopped working, although she doesn't recall exactly how long.
''There was always in the back of my mind, [knowing] that she would want me to continue and not just stop,'' she says, ''because life still goes on. I just got myself together. The same thing...when my mother passed away. Me, my father and my brother went through our own grieving time, but we picked ourselves up.''
Bell, a native of Fort Washington, Md., born in High Point, N.C., and currently residing in District Heights, Md., attended Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina and Morgan State University in Baltimore.
Originally assigned to the Third District, Bell went on to work for the Youth and Family Services Division, as well as a patrol for the Fifth District. In 2002, Bell was promoted to sergeant and became one of the supervisors in Patrol Service Area 306, which includes Dupont Circle. At the GLLU, Bell says she will oversee day-to-day operations, while Jova acts as commanding officer of the unit.
Bell says she always wanted to be a police officer, though before applying to join the force she worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development as a computer-analyst assistant. She says a friend recommended she apply to join the police force in Washington.
''At that time, I didn't tell my parents that I wanted to be a police officer. So when I got home from work, my parents saw the envelope that came with my results and my mother was like, 'You want to be a police officer?' My parents were always very protective. They'd say, 'What if you get [hurt]?'
''After my mother got over the shock of me wanting to be a police officer, she was just as excited about it as I was. I'm still excited,'' Bell says.
Jova shares that excitement.
''Bell came across as highly qualified and very interested in the position,'' he says of her application. Though Bell was the only applicant for the supervisory position at the GLLU, Jova says it was her experience that landed her the position.
''I don't want it to be misconstrued that Tania was the only applicant and that's why she got it,'' he says. ''I believe she would have gotten the job even if there had been 100 applications, because she is just exemplary. I would rather have the position unfilled than to have an unqualified member. I think in this case it was a win-win: She was interested and I endorsed her.''
In addition to bringing Bell on board, Jova says other advancements for the GLLU are in the works.
''We're not disbanding, we're just growing bigger,'' he says. ''We recognize that there are community needs in other places besides the Third District, and we just want to ensure equal and equitable coverage for all citizens.''
The GLLU is currently in the process of bringing in two more officers, totaling seven, to represent the seven police districts in Washington, Jova says.
''Another change is that now, the GLLU is assigned to the Office of the Chief of Police. Before it was assigned to the Third District, now we are assigned to the Office of the Chief of Police, so that removes a layer of bureaucracy. In terms of accountability and getting resources, it makes it a lot easier.''
With all the changes taking place, Bell and Jova both point out that the mission of the unit remains the same.
Says Bell: ''I feel good when I see folks happy, and I want folks to continue to know that we're still here for them; just because we've got a new regime, as far as the dedication and serving the community, it's still the same.
''Although we are the police, we're still people too,'' she adds. ''We're not 'RoboCops.' We have compassion, empathy and we just want to make sure people know that we're here for them, to serve them.''