I’m honored to have Stacy Eaton here as a guest. Stacy’s one busy woman, and I’m glad I was able track her down. She’s a wife, a mother to two, a volunteer for Domestic Violence Awareness, and up until recently, she also worked in law enforcement for over fifteen years. Add to this, she’s also a suspense novelist with eighteen available titles.
Stacy and I have been friends for years now and with her experience as a police officer, she’s been a tremendous asset for me. She gives freely of her time and knowledge, answering any questions I have about forensics or police procedure. She’s even gone so far as reading my work before publication to ensure that I have my procedures correct. So I figured it was about time that I have her here to share her life journey with us.
And after reading this interview, I’m quite certain you will have a different view on policing. You’ll see the human side of the equation. As I said, I’ve known Stacy for a while now, and before this interview, I didn’t know the half of it. Without any more delay, let’s get to it.
Stacy, please tell us a little bit about yourself and policing background.
In 1999, I was going through a very mid-life crisis, I was only 29 at the time. And I was trying to figure out exactly what I wanted out of life, and where I wanted to go. I was watching the news one night and there was a segment on how the State Police were recruiting women, and about how important women were to the law enforcement field. As I watched it, I was like, HEY! I could do that. So I did.
For 9 months in 2000, I attended the Police Academy 4 nights a week, while I worked a full time job, and got up at 2am to do a paper route for extra money. During my time at the academy, I began to do ride-alongs at a small local department. The township was a small country township with only a few full time officers, and several part-time. By the time I graduated, I was one of the few who already had a job lined up, and walked across the stage in full uniform. It was a very proud moment.
For almost sixteen years, I worked the job. I started out as a rookie street cop in that small township and worked my way up to being a detective. In 2015, I slipped and fell at home, sustaining a concussion. It was my second level 2 concussion in ten years. My first was an on the job car accident. For nine months I was at home trying to recover from my second blow to the head, and when I attempted to go back, I found I had a lot of problems.
As a detective, you have to think quick and act quicker. Unfortunately, my brain did not like that idea, and it really did not like the adrenaline spikes it got. With a job as stressful and demanding as police work, I knew I was no longer capable of doing the job. It takes a strong person to admit that. So, I gracefully took an early retirement in April of 2016. The hardest part about retiring: handing back the gold Detective badge that I had worked so hard to achieve, but I’m happy with my decision.
Wow, you’ve had quite the life journey so far. Can you tell us a little bit about the training and education an officer receives before even hitting the streets with a training officer?
In the Police Academy we did it all. We learned how to write reports, tickets, we took vehicle law, criminal law (wow… did we ever) and even touched on some civil law. We spent time on driving courses, the gun range, and we did physical training. (Gotta add that I won the Physical Fitness Award in my class that year!) We spent countless hours discussing scenarios, learning about juvenile law, domestic violence procedures, first responder medical training and how to handle mentally ill persons. But even after all of that, the moment I stepped into my uniform and put on the badge to get into a patrol car, that’s when the real learning began. There is not one class in the academy that will prepare you for the real life of the streets.
That’s a lot of training, and congratulations on winning the Physical Fitness Award. It’s interesting how you pointed out that hands-on experience is when the real learning began. You had the head knowledge, but now it was being put to use with people, most of whom are somewhat unpredictable.
You also mentioned training in learning how to handle mentally ill persons. From what I learned as being a part of the local police department’s Citizen’s Academy, calls involving mentally ill persons is something that happens quite frequently. A lot of Alzheimer’s patients wander off and officers are called in to help find them.
Once on the streets, I received countless opportunities to attend other training seminars. Each year we were obligated to attend a few days of mandatory updates that usually dealt with criminal law changes over the previous year, along with other training for things that might be happening at the time. A major change to our training came after the attacks on 9-11 and we spent a lot of time training on mass casualty incidents, and how to look for terror suspects.
Things are constantly changing, that is for sure. It’s sad that terrorism is something we even need to worry about, but it’s great to know that law enforcement is kept apprised of the changes going on in the world and adapt their training accordingly.
What official titles did you serve under and can you give my readers a little overview of the responsibilities that went with each one?
Like most officers, I started out on the street as a Patrol Officer. I did traffic stops, wrote thousands of tickets, arrested DUI suspects, apprehended subjects with warrants who were un-lucky enough to be pulled over. I was dispatched to medical calls, domestics, robberies, burglaries, criminal mischief, animal, and a host of other complaints. At that time, our small department did not have a detective and the patrol officers did it all: from the start of a complaint, through the investigation and into the prosecution.
During my time as a patrol officer, I took a major interest in investigation and specifically, Crime Scene Investigation. I was lucky enough to have attended a training over ten months where I received my Local, State, and International Certification for a Level I Crime Scene Investigator. Many of the people that I took the class with received the local and state certifications, but in order to be Internationally Certified you needed to take a 200 question – extremely detailed—test where 70% of the people failed the first time. I passed. At the time that I took it, only 18 other officers in the state of Pennsylvania had this certification. It was a proud moment.
And of course, as I mentioned, I retired as a detective. The first detective of our township and another proud moment for me. This entailed putting my CSI training to use. I investigated burglaries, identity theft, robberies, rapes, child abuse, domestic violence, homicide, suicide and a host of other cases.
Your story is fascinating, and it seems to me that you were born to be a cop. You worked hard to make your way, no doubt, but the job came naturally to you. With that said, what area of policing did you feel most passionate about?
Hands down, the investigations – but I was also very passionate about helping the victims find closure. Whether it was a simple theft case, or a homicide, the victims were always important to me.
Beautiful. In my Detective Madison Knight series, what keeps her going is her drive to find justice and closure as well. Her least favorite thing to do is give notification to next of kin. What area of policing did you least enjoy?
Going to court! Hours and hours of sitting around waiting for your case to be heard. And then having to get up on the stand and explain the hours and hours of investigation you put into it to have it all picked apart. It was frustrating, but necessary.
Yeah, that doesn’t sound like much fun at all! Can you tell us a little bit about the police department where you worked?
My department was located in Southeastern Pennsylvania, about 35 miles west of Philadelphia. We had everything from million dollar horse farms to poverty mobile home parks. It was a mostly residential area with little business, but did contain two schools within its limits. I believe we had 97 miles of roadway in our township, and I’d dropped thousands and thousands of miles in my time as a patrol officer.
Our department was very small, when I first started, I believe there were three full-time officers and five part-time. When I retired we had nine full-time officers and five-part time.
Oh, wow, that is a small department. I’m wondering, then, did you have a forensics department where the collected evidence was analyzed or did this go out of house?
Before we had a detective, most evidence for minor crimes was handled by the patrol officer assigned to the case. All the evidence, if it needed to be processed, was sent out to our state lab or our county detectives to handle. Once I became a CSI, I processed more major scenes, with the help of the county if I needed it, and handled some of the evidence processing myself.
Although drugs, blood, gun, DNA, and computer forensics always went out of house. I was lucky to have worked with some great detectives at the county level who assisted without question and helped to mentor me as I learned.
What about autopsies? Where were they handled and was it by a coroner or medical examiner?
Anytime a deceased body was found, unless it was a hospice case, a coroner was called out to the scene. If it was believed to be a suspicious death, an officer would attend the autopsy with the medical examiner when it was done.
I attended more than my fair share of these, and I will not miss them!
I find it very interesting that you insisted on attending autopsies, and I’d assume more light might be shed on the case with you being able to talk with the examiner throughout the process, as well.
Now, when I was on my police ride-along, I attended a death investigation. At the time, I handled the situation fine, detached even, and was able to focus. Later on, I realized it adrenaline had been my friend. However, later that night, it really hit that someone had lost their life. Emotion set in and I had a hard time falling asleep that night. I really couldn’t imagine going out the next day and possible living that type of thing—or worse—all over again. How did you handle the emotional impact? Does the job get any easier? I’m sure some crimes have stuck with you and you live with them, but how do release these scenes from your mind to function on a regular basis?
Cops have to learn to compartmentalize what they see. Yeah, we see bad shit. A child crying in pain because they fell off a pogo stick and busted their nose, a body trapped in a car after an accident, skin hanging off a burn victim, a bone sticking out of a limb, a body torn apart in rage, or beaten and left for dead. It digs deep into your head, lives inside your gut. The evil we see, the pain, the horrendous disregard to human life, we see it, we deal with it, and then we move on.
Many times I dealt with a situation, and while I was there, I was stone cold. There were no emotions, maybe some anger, or a touch of sadness, but I had a job to do, and emotions were not allowed to be part of that.
Later, after the evidence was bagged and secured, and the piles of paperwork from crime scene logs, to responding officer initial reports, witness statements, and anything else you could think of was piled up on my desk and I was on my way home, then the emotions would hit.
There were times I could not sleep and the thought of food was revolting. Times when the words of the victims, or the suspects, or the faces of both would haunt me both awake and asleep. But once it was time to strap back on the gun and the badge, those thoughts were put back into the box where they were stored. From time to time, I would allow them to come out, but for the most part, they sit quietly in that box. Once in a while, I’ll bring one out, examine it in my mind, and if I have finally processed it, I can let it stay out, but many times I find it still causes pain, o
r raises questions and back inside it goes.
And without needing to get into the details, what really sticks with you the most even long after the evidence has been collected and maybe even after the case is closed?
The face of the victim. I worked on a few homicide cases, some attempted homicides, too. But one major case is still on my mind, and I will forever remember the victim’s face.
She was a sweet woman who was trying to move on with her life. But after over eighteen years with an abusive man, she was having trouble getting away from him. We had tried to assist her, but she felt she could do it on her own.
Unfortunately, he had decided that if she wasn’t with him, then she wasn’t going to be with anyone. He shot her twice with a single barrel shotgun. When we received the call, from him, that he had shot his girlfriend, we responded and took him into custody. We then searched the house, and found that her body was up against a door and we couldn’t get in. I ended up having to climb through a window to check for signs of life, and I will never forget the moment I looked down at her face through the viewfinder of my camera.
It altered my very being.
I’m not even sure what to say to that… One officer I met said to imagine that everyone is a glass with water being continuously poured inside. Everyone has different limits, but eventually everyone’s glass will overflow. In your department, was PTSD something that came up often? How large of an issue would you say it is?
PTSD is a major factor in our job. Some cops refuse to acknowledge they have it. They are the ones that need to be watched. I was lucky to work in a department where we were able to talk to one another about the things that bothered us. I can recall many times I sat in my Chief’s office and we discussed a case, both of us emotional. Or when other officers would come to me because they just needed to get something off their chest.
Luckily, we had a great support system and places to obtain therapy if we needed it. There are many cases that I worked on that caused some type of PTSD in me. One of the strongest ones was an explosion at a nearby steel plant. If you lit a match near me, I am instantly back in the dark, sooty, doors of the building, helping burn victims the best way that I can.
If you could share one or two things with the public that would give them more insight into policing, what would it be?
Police officers are unique people who can withstand a lot, but they are human beings, too. Many times officers are misunderstood when it comes to the way they act emotionally. You might see them eating outside the perimeter of a murder scene, or laughing at a fatal car accident, but you have NO CLUE why they are doing what they are. Yeah, there are some real asshole cops out there, trust me, I’ve met a few, but did you know that the officer who is shoveling food in his mouth, just left another scene where he’d spent eight hours processing evidence and talking to victims, and he hasn’t had any food for sixteen hours because he got called out at one in the morning? How can he be expected to function, or use his brain to figure things out if he’s not fed?
Or the cop who is laughing at the car accident. Ever thought that what he saw inside the car horrified him so much that laughing at something else was the only way to keep from throwing up, curling into a ball and bawling like a baby?
Cops are people, we need to eat, sleep, laugh, cry, be angry, and work our asses off to protect people who don’t understand why we do the things that we do. Next time you see one, stop and tell them thank you. And when you see an officer standing on the side of the road at a horrific scene, say a prayer for them, even if they are laughing, say a prayer that they will be given the strength to deal with the scene they are dealing with.
Wow, Stacy. Beautifully put. And on the topic of police officers being people, what do you enjoying doing for fun?
I listen to music and love photography. Sometimes I make jewelry, I used to sell it, but now only make it for personal use, or gifts. My family and I love to visit Disney! We go at least once a year, if not twice. You’re never too old for the magic of Disney. I absolutely love sitting on the beach, listening to the waves, touching the sand, feeling the breeze and absorbing the sun – it helps to energize me.
Oh, I’m with you when it comes to the beach!
Thank you so much for sharing your life journey—and providing this in-depth look behind the tape—with me and my readers.
Thank you so much for allowing me to visit. I enjoyed the interview and I’m glad that I can help you when I can on your books!
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