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Duluth native No. 3 in Los Angeles Police Department

DULUTH -- Unlike most girls from her era, Joan McNamara dreamed from a young age of being a cop. Then, about the time she was graduating from Duluth Cathedral High School in 1976, she saw "Charlie's Angels" hit the television airwaves with the th...

DULUTH -- Unlike most girls from her era, Joan McNamara dreamed from a young age of being a cop.

Then, about the time she was graduating from Duluth Cathedral High School in 1976, she saw "Charlie's Angels" hit the television airwaves with the three angels graduating from the Los Angeles police academy only to quit after being assigned menial duties handling switchboards and directing traffic.

McNamara took her childhood dream, mixed it with a grain of that television fantasy, earned a degree in criminology and sociology at the University of Minnesota Duluth and headed to Los Angeles for what she hoped would be real police work with the Los Angeles Police Department.

The reality far exceeded her dreams. McNamara has been promoted 13 times as a Los Angeles police officer. Commander McNamara is now the third-ranking officer in the 9,963-officer LAPD. She supervises 300 men and women officers in the Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau. She's also responsible for the major crimes division, emergency services, planning and operations, hazardous devices sections and the bomb squad unit, among other duties.

McNamara said she now has the nation's highest security clearance and has traveled to the White House for a briefing with a lot of people she said she recognized from television news (she declined to elaborate on who attended the meeting and exactly where it was held).

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McNamara said training she has overseen recently resulted in a young Los Angeles police officer spotting a major international terrorist.

The officer pulled the motorist over for a traffic violation and noticed how nervous the man was. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel, he was sweating, couldn't speak and he fumbled with his driver's license. The officer called in the man's driver's license.

"The guy he called in sent off every bell and whistle that we had," McNamara said.

One of McNamara's career highlights was being named the commanding officer of the Newton Patrol Division in 2004. She once had to handle 11 homicides in three days. She said that part of the city was known as "Shootin' Newton."

She was credited with leading her division to an unprecedented reduction in crime in that part of the city. She was the architect of a project that resulted in the closure of three multi-story apartment buildings that had served for more than 20 years as the 69 East Coast Crip gang headquarters and was nicknamed the "killing fields."

The McNamara family ties in the LAPD run deep.

Her husband, Bill Fallis, retired as a senior detective after 36 years in the Los Angeles Police Department.

The couple worked as partners in both the narcotics bureau and in internal affairs during their careers. McNamara's brother, Patrick, is a helicopter pilot for the LAPD.

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The Duluth News Tribune and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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