The recent Secret Service scandal shines a light on an elite agency that’s usually operates outside the public’s view. Even more intriguing is the glimpse we’ve been given into some of the challenges one of its leaders.

Special Agent in Charge Paula Reid, a 46-year-old woman who’s in charge of the Miami office, recently found herself having to deal with an unexpected problem. President Obama was due to arrive in Cartagena, Colombia, and the Secret Service was already in town. Early in the morning of April 12, 11 Secret Service agents allegedly brought prostitutes to a hotel. One of the women created a disturbance after an agent refused to pay her.

Reid, who had been staying in a nearby hotel in preparation for the president’s visit, ordered the 11 agents involved to leave Colombia and promptly went public with the story. Her decision to remove the agents right on the brink of a presidential visit and, ultimately, end their careers shocked many observers.

Reid had been controversial before. Her career in the Secret Service began 21 years ago, when she met with recruiters at an NAACP Conference and Career Fair. Dissatisfied with the opportunities offered to her, she became involved in a class action lawsuit claiming the Secret Service practiced racial discrimination.

She later withdrew from the case and earned several important promotions. This year she was put in charge of the Miami office, which comprises more than 150 employees and oversees the South American region.

Reid’s swift and decisive handling of the situation in Colombia triggered some complaints about her management style, according to a story in the Washington Post—and some admiration as well. “If every boss was Paula Reid, the Secret Service would never have a problem,” said a former colleague.

As times change, organizations must be ready to meet new problems. The “wheels up, rings off” attitude supposedly popular among agents has attracted unwelcome publicity to the Secret Service. At the same time, though, many observers have noted with satisfaction that a woman—and an African-American at that—was charged with the responsibility for handling the largest scandal ever associated with the agency.

Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), co-written with the late Mary Mariani. Visit her website at for free report writing resources. Go to for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers.