On a balmy May evening, Metropolitan Police Department Officer Tiara Brown bounces around the ring at Old School Boxing Gym in Fort Washington, preparing for her upcoming title fight. Her dreadlocks are tucked in a purple bandana and quarter-sized hoops dangle from her ears as she executes maneuvers that have become second nature after 17 years between the ropes.
Brown’s coach, Marcus Patterson, feeds her encouragement: “Perfect,” he says as she bobs and weaves her head under his swinging arms. She churns out fluid combinations, unloading hooks and uppercuts to Patterson’s body shield and mitts. “You cannot train a wolf!” he shouts.
The round ends. Brown can’t stand still. She paces back and forth.
“You ain’t hungry enough to win no title, don’t be in the gym,” Patterson says during the break.
In a male-dominated sport, Brown is usually the only woman in the gym. “I’m pretty used to it, but I just feel like I always have to prove myself,” Brown says. “I always feel like I have to try to outwork the guys.”
And she does.
During the heat of the day, Brown patrols the streets of MPD’s sixth district, which experienced the most violent crimes and homicides in the city between May 2018 and May 2019. Through community outreach, a bubbly demeanor, and a reputation for respectful interactions, she is affectionately known to residents as “Officer Friendly.”
The rest of the time, she is “The Dark Menace,” a professional boxer boasting a record of 7-0 with five wins via knockout.
“I’m chasing my dreams,” says Brown, 30. “I don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”
On Saturday, May 18, Brown will attempt to realize one of those dreams when she fights at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in D.C. for the North American Boxing Organization junior lightweight title.
Patterson says he normally doesn’t train female fighters, but Brown is different. “She works harder than any man I work with—that’s the only reason I work with her,” he says.
Brown typically wakes up at 3 a.m. to exercise. Around 4:30 a.m., Patterson receives a video on his phone of Brown running on the treadmill before work. She’ll typically patrol the streets on a bike for about 10 hours during her shifts.
After her post-work training session from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., she goes home and gets approximately five hours of sleep before repeating the process.
“There is a sixth gear to Tiara,” Patterson says.
Brown was born and raised in Fort Myers, Florida, in an area she calls “a pretty bad neighborhood.”
“I remember sometimes I would go to school and a SWAT team would be like two houses down kicking in somebody’s door,” Brown says.
With this early exposure to law enforcement, familiarity began to breed admiration.
“You see the cops chasing the bad guy that did something [and] I wanted to be a part of that because it’s like they’re superheroes. They’re real-life superheroes,” Brown says. “I wanted to be a positive light.”
Brown’s mother and father split up before she was born. Her mother, Sharon Pointer, then reconnected with a former girlfriend and later married her. Brown’s mothers provided a solid foundation for her to flourish and instilled a sense of confidence that she and her two sisters could achieve anything.
But Brown was often bullied because of her family makeup.
“Me and my sisters got picked on a lot. We fought a lot because of that,” Brown says. “We were the kids with two moms.”
Pointer remembers the bullying took a toll, especially back then. “They went through hell, they really did, and it was hard, but you go that extra mile and you show them that with love you can overcome so many things,” she says.
Early on, Brown turned to athletics as an outlet—and excelled.
She dominated school field day events, played for a city basketball team, and occasionally swam. Brown would later attend Columbus State University in Georgia on a full track scholarship. Her cousins, though, were talented amateur boxers. She looked up to them and would watch tapes of their fights.
The sport intrigued her, and Brown internalized the punches, steps, slips, and blocks, even as her cousins beat her up in the gym. Soon enough, that spark of interest grew into a flaming passion.
Tragedy struck in 2010, when Brown’s half-brother, Jermaine Thomas, was shot and killed in Fort Myers. Pointer recalls Brown wanted to leave school and come home, but Brown stayed and the loss strengthened her resolve to fight crime.
She also found refuge in the ring and began to dominate the amateur boxing circuit. Brown used a jutting left hook as her weapon of choice, which she says once broke an opponent’s ribs. She became a three-time USA National Boxing Champion and won gold at the 2012 International Boxing Association World Championships in Qinhuangdao, China.
“All the pain that I felt actually helped me win all those fights,” Brown says.
Next up, she eyed Olympic gold, but in the Olympics, women’s boxing is restricted to just three weight classes. Brown, who at that time fought at 125 pounds, had to gain weight to fight at 132 pounds.
She wound up not making it past the Olympic trials.
“I knew I was a shoo-in to go to the Olympics and win gold at my weight,” Brown says, “but then, they didn’t take my weight so it was like a slap in the face.”
Her life turned nomadic for a time as she travelled and competed on the amateur boxing circuit. A few years after graduating from school in 2010, Brown started visiting D.C. during the summer to work as a youth boxing coach and facilitator at the Bald Eagle Recreation Center in Ward 8. There she met a number of local police officers and in 2015, decided to move to Maryland.
After reading the MPD code of ethics, Brown says she made up her mind.
“I started looking up to D.C. police,” Brown says, “I wanted to be a part of that because change really starts in the nation’s capital.”
But across the country, including in the District, tensions have flared between police officers and the communities they serve. Brown occasionally comes across citizens hostile to her uniform, and when she does, she strives for empathy: “The same way you don’t want to get stopped just because you look suspicious, don’t hate me just because I have on a badge,” Brown says. “When I say that to people, it clicks.”
For Brown, policing is about putting the community first and giving back.
She’s a regular at District Heights Church of Christ, feeds the homeless at Martha’s Table, and volunteers at the Humane Rescue Alliance on her days off.
“God planted that seed in my heart and it’s flourishing,” Brown says. “And I like doing it. It makes me feel good.”
Celeste Santana, a master patrol officer who trained Brown, says that Brown was the only officer she knew who would follow up and check in on people afterward to make sure they had the services they needed, especially after domestic violence calls. She would even call to ensure that someone had their locks properly changed.
“Tiara cares about people. That’s just her personality,” Santana says. “You can’t learn that in the police department.”
Back in the gym, Brown shifts between orthodox and southpaw stances. She brings her right foot and shoulder forward and turns her body to mirror her usual stance. It’s an effort to further polish her craft so she can box left-handed.
On March 19, 2019, just four years into her job, Brown walked across a stage to be honored as MPD’s 2018 “Officer of the Year.” The city of Fort Myers declared April 16, 2018 Tiara Brown Day, and in May 2018, she signed with major New York-based boxing promoter Lou DiBella.
But Brown’s not satisfied. She wants to one day unify all the belts at featherweight, super featherweight, and eventually work her way up to welterweight.
“I’m the best,” Brown says. “I want to show the world.”