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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Next, we continue our series on people reinventing themselves through their work, and today we meet a woman who has traded in her office cubicle for a patrol car. Here's NPR senior correspondent Ketzel Levine.

KETZEL LEVINE reporting:

Turning points, whether in one's life or career, are often unwanted. Consider the incident that changed Casey Amato's(ph) life.

Ms. CASEY AMATO (Police Officer): It was a relationship thing that was just very, very bad, you know. It ended up financially ruining me. It kind of set me back for a few years. Police actually got involved. I was--I had a shotgun pulled on me, and I realized I could--I was a lot stronger than I thought I was.

LEVINE: Her sense of herself transformed, Casey Amato decided she was ready to pursue an abiding interest--police work. So she joined her local volunteer force and went on to become the first female sergeant in the history of the Dearborn, Michigan, Police Reserve.

Ms. AMATO: Everybody always says this, you know, when you ask `Why do you want to become a police officer?' And everybody says, `I just want to help people,' you know. I really do. I just want to be able to go home at night and--See, I'm starting to get emotional--and have a feeling that I actually contributed something, in some small way, to somebody's life.

LEVINE: Through her five years as a volunteer, Casey Amato kept her day job designing wiring diagrams for automotive magazines, the most recent variation in her 20-year publishing career. Now 41, having successfully tested the waters, she was ready to reinvent herself as a professional cop. But Michigan requires its police to have college degrees. She didn't have one. She'd have to go out of state for a job. Not a big deal in the scheme of things, but Casey Amato was a single mother, and her teen-age son, soon to be a senior in high school, did not want to go.

Ms. AMATO: It was his decision to stay with his dad, and I knew that's what he was going to do, you know. I mean, we talked about it as a family because it was such a huge move, and people's lives were going to change.

LEVINE: And one of them was none too thrilled with his mom's new career.

DOMINIC AMATO(ph) (Casey Amato's Son): I didn't really like it at first because I was kind of scared for her, because it's a dangerous job. I was like, `No, you can't be a police officer. You're going to get, like, shot.'

LEVINE: Dominic Amato was assured by his mother she would not work in areas of high crime. After a brief job search, she found a job 600 miles away in a Kansas City suburb. Casey Amato left this past April, with the blessings of her parents, her ex-husband and her son.

Ms. AMATO: When I dropped him off at his dad's the last time, it was--I was a mess.

AMATO: She dropped me off around noon, and my dad was still at work, so I was home by myself until 6:00. I tried calling my friends, seeing if they could come over, because I knew that they'd help, but none of them were home. The dog went with my mom. We ended up getting fish that day, because I told my dad, I was, like, `I need a pet.' And he was like, `All right. Let's go get fish.'

LEVINE: Dominic regained his equilibrium pretty quickly after his mom moved away. A driver's license worked wonders. She, however, was quickly immersed in a Herculean trial, 15 weeks of police academy training--running, shooting and fighting--with classmates nearer her son's age than her own.

Ms. AMATO: Almost every week, I said to myself, `What the hell are you doing? What are you thinking? How can you ac--I mean, how--what made you think you could do this at 41 years old? Am I crazy?'

(Soundbite of police academy graduation)

Unidentified Man: And now it's time for me to present to you the 76th police academy class.

LEVINE: Late last month, Casey Amato graduated as an officer in the Overland Park Police Department. She's now patrolling its suburban streets and making around $40,000 a year. Despite how she soft-pedaled her job's risks to her son, Officer Amato is no Pollyanna. She expects to be stepping into situations that once might have made her run.

Ms. AMATO: Just hearing the stories from the other cops that will come in and talk to us, and, you know, some of them had been shot, I guess--I'm scared, you know. I mean, I'd by lying if I said I wasn't. But I'm confident in my abilities, too.

LEVINE: When asked how we might recognize her, Casey Amato answered, `I'm the blonde with the ponytail, badge number 895.'

Ketzel Levine, NPR News.

INSKEEP: You can find a picture of Officer Amato and hear other stories in our Take Two series by visiting npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): And I'm Renee Montagne.

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