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Career Quick Look
Salary: $58,260* Education:
Years in Field: 23.5 High School Diploma
City/State: Hastings, NE View Kathy Eley's Resume

Getting Started: Kathy Eley's career in Law Enforcement started on a dare. Her previous work experience had been in a nursing home, which she liked, but having recently moved back to Hastings with her husband, she needed to get another job. She and a friend had always talked about being cops in a playful way, glorifying the adventure and danger of the job. So when Kathy stumbled across a want ad recruiting new police officers, she thought to herself, "Well why not? What have I got to lose?" She never expected to get the job and was actually terrified of handling a gun, but much to her surprise, she found herself toting a pistol on the night patrol a year later.

Education: At the time when Kathy first hired on with the Hastings Police Department, no education beyond a High School Diploma was necessary to enter the force as a patrol officer, which is still generally the case today. Kathy had to complete a 7-week training program with the Nebraska Law Enforcement Agency where she learned defensive tactics, crime scene preservation, gun handling and related essential skills. She received the rest of her training on-the-job, learning the day-to-day activities involved in Law Enforcement such as how to write police reports, proper contacts and other general policing principles. The length of time required for field training varies with different agencies. Following her field training, Kathy was assigned a patrol unit and sent out to work independently.

Greatest Professional Achievement: In general, Kathy, as most police officers, does not get to see the results of her work. But every once in a while, her professional accomplishments come back to thank her in person. Kathy was once the detective on a case involving a young girl who was being molested by her stepfather. After investigating, the stepfather was indicted based on Kathy's recommendation and the girl was removed from the home. Years later, Kathy ran into the girl who was then a grown women with a child of her own. The girl recognized Kathy and said to her, "I want to thank you for saving my life. I will never forget you." Another case involved a young man whom Kathy had arrested many times for charges ranging from burglary to drug abuse. He recognized her at the county fair and came up to her to thank her for arresting him and setting him on the right path to clean up and return to his family. "You always hope that you're having a good impact," Kathy says. It's great when she can see proof of it.

Barriers: As the first female officer hired by the Hastings Police Department, Kathy naturally had to overcome some resistance in the first part of her career. Some men quit the force and some wives would not allow their husbands to work with her, and as a rookie, she was given the least significant assignments. But Kathy was tough: "I was bound and determined that these people were not gonna run me out of here. I said to myself, 'I will not leave crying.'" Regardless of her co-worker's initial resistance, Kathy was paid the same as any other entry-level cop and the community was supportive of her. After this initial trial period, Kathy "quit worrying about what people thought," and focused on being a good police officer, doing the best job she could with the assignments she was given. This personal focus served her well as she eventually became very popular with the community and was even invited to participate in some talk shows and make appearances at local events. Despite the difficulty, Kathy doesn't regret her path in life, "I've met so many people. I've done so many things than I had never even dreamed of, saw some horrific things I never thought I'd see or knew existed, but it's always been satisfying for the most part."

Working with Men: Kathy remains something of a minority in her department being one of only a handful of female officers in the Hastings Police Department and the only female detective. But she has paid her dues and her standing in the department has nothing to do with her gender. These days, the Hastings Police Department does not tolerate sexism. Sexual harassment policies are in place and sexual harassment training is available. "Back then you just had to put up with it," Kathy says, "I was ignorant and fearful and didn't want to deal with the consequences of bringing it up. I didn't know any other way. But now there are more of us, so it just doesn't happen as much."

Advice for Women: Kathy's advice to those interested in entering law enforcement is to first and foremost keep a clean criminal record with no serious traffic violations. She says you must also be a truly honest person, as you'll be accusing others of wrongdoing. To fit in with the environment of a police station you need to have something of a thick skin to keep up with the teasing competitions among officers. Maintaining a strong sense of humor is almost a job requirement to offset the more difficult aspects of working in law enforcement. As a woman entering this profession, Kathy says the most valuable lesson she taught herself was persistence and learning to trust her abilities.

Typical Workday/Environment: Kathy's job as a detective involves much written and oral communication and she says that excellent reading and writing skills, as well as clear oral communication skills, are essential job requirements. She spends a significant amount of time on the phone following up on details of each case or tracking down individuals and also deals with a heavy volume of paperwork in the form of reports and warrants. She communicates with city attorneys for court cases and interviews and/or interrogates individuals related to her cases. She is also required to occasionally stand as a witness for other police officers in court cases. Her job is essentially independent, but teamwork is required for certain cases depending on their seriousness or difficulty. Other important personality traits she lists for the job are the ability to get along with different kinds of people, a thick skin, a strong stomach and a healthy respect for life and for yourself.

Career Ladder: Anyone entering the police force must start as a patrol officer in order to understand the job from the bottom up. Entry-level wages vary depending on the city you work for, but generally range between $20,000 and $60,000 per year. Kathy's move from Patrol Officer to Detective was more of a lateral transition in her agency, but some agencies offer higher pay for detective work. Officers can receive pay increases and annual cost-of-living increases, but the greatest salary increases occur when an officer is promoted to a rank such as Sergeant. Salaries vary greatly for ranked officers - in some areas of the country Lieutenants can earn up to $90,000 per year. The amount of time this takes depends on the department size. There are usually more opportunities to advance in larger departments. These salary scales are public, so check with your local police department.

Professional Associations:
Local Fraternal Order of Police, Secretary; Police Officer's Association of Nebraska (POAN); Teammates Mentoring Program

Hobbies: When not on the job, Kathy enjoys restoring her older home and doing yard work or relaxing with a good book. She also spends her free time surrounding herself with good friends and family, "You must be around the normal to deal with the abnormal," she says with a chuckle.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Detective based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition

 


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