I had 31 years in law enforcement. I worked patrol, undercover narcotics, training, and Internal Affairs to name a few assignments. For the last ten years of my career, I supervised what is now called the Special Victims Unit (SVU), the unit that investigates sex crimes and crimes against children. The majority of our time was spent investigating child molest cases. Any investigator will tell you that these are the most difficult and challenging to investigate.
Many of my family and friends ask me, “What was the best assignment you ever had on the police force?” I tell them every time, investigating child crimes. The response I usually get back was, “really?” They didn’t ask what assignment was the most fun, but rather, which one was the best. Let me clarify- investigating child crimes is no fun at all.
Let me explain further. I, like most police officers I know, entered law enforcement to help people and “make a difference.” Very few enter this field because it is a stable job with benefits. There are many other jobs out there that are stable and less dangerous or emotional. The bottom line was, I wanted to help people and put bad guys in jail. When we had a successful investigation in SVU, the bad guy would go to prison for a long time. But the most rewarding part of the job was seeing the transformation on the victim’s face before and after we got involved.
As a supervisor, I spent a considerable amount of my time evaluating the emotional wellbeing of my detectives. Many times I had a detective in my office either in tears over a difficult case or frustrated they weren’t able to make a case against a perpetrator, who they knew was guilty.
I was fortunate enough to work for a progressive agency with the Mesa PD, who had the state’s first Family Advocacy Center. At the Center we had detectives, DCS, medical staff, and other resources for the victims and their families. The Center had, and still does have, an open and inviting atmosphere. No suspects are allowed at the Center, making it a safe place for victims and their families.
Let me walk you through a “typical” case. Usually we would get a report from a mandated reporter (usually a school official) of a child who disclosed some kind of sex crime. Usually, it was a family member who was the accused. The officer who took the initial report would be directed to bring the child and any siblings into the Center for interviews. When the child would arrive, there was usually a stoic look on their face. They were a shell of a child. After a briefing from the officer, a forensic detective would take over the investigation with the help of a forensic interviewer, a DCS worker, and a Victim Services Specialist. If the interview went well, which usually they did, we would get a disclosure of a heinous sex act. Within the hour, a medical team would conduct a forensic medical exam. Many times, we could gather the necessary statements and any supporting evidence (if any) and develop enough probable cause to make an arrest. Many times this was done within a few hours. Our reward came from knowing the bad guy was going to prison and would stay there well into the child’s adult life. This added to the safety of the child. The second part of our reward was seeing this child, now leaving the Center with his/her family members. They had a smile on their face and a bounce in their step. Why? Because most victims will tell us in their later years that one of the biggest steps towards recovery was being empowered. In other words, they told their story to someone who believed them, and in turn, did something with that information.
Don’t get me wrong, not all cases had a good outcome. Sometimes we could not collect enough facts to make an arrest. But even in those cases, we could put safety measures in place with the assistance of DCS. It’s hard not to agonize over the cases as they came in. It seemed they never stopped coming.
Now that I’m retired, I admit there are times I miss being on the force. But my family tells me I am much more relaxed now that I’m out. I’m not sure how to take that. My efforts now are toward education on the reporting process. My hat’s off to those still working and fighting for victims. My heart goes out to all the children who have to endure abuse.
Signed, Retired Sex Crimes Sergeant