Burch rises through ranks to become major

Published 8:04 pm Saturday, April 10, 2010

Five years into her career, Stephanie Burch didn’t know if she could handle police work.

Her days at the Suffolk Police Department were filled with constant criticism from a handful of her supervisors. Nothing on her paperwork was ever correct, according to them. She once got written up for not drinking coffee with the other officers.

“They told me I wasn’t interfacing with others the way I should have,” Burch said Friday. “My supervisors felt compelled to find fault with everything I did. It’s hard to work in an environment where you can’t do anything right.”

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However, Burch got through those years with prayer and the encouragement of others. The turning point, she says, was a phone call to her supervisors’ supervisor.

“Really, it did come down to that one moment in time when I called Larry Wilson,” Burch said. “I told him I can’t do it anymore.”

Shortly thereafter, the nitpicking by her supervisors stopped, and Burch was promoted.

As those who plagued her disappeared from the Suffolk Police Department, Burch was promoted again and again — to sergeant in 1997, to lieutenant in 1999 and to captain in 2003. She shared the distinction of the first woman in the Suffolk Police Department to be promoted to sergeant with one other woman. Since then, she has been the first woman at every rank in the Suffolk department.

It didn’t stop in 2003. Last week, Burch was the first woman to be promoted to major, sharing the department’s second-in-command spot with none other than Maj. Larry Wilson.

“She’s a very smart lady,” Suffolk Police Chief Thomas Bennett said. “She contributes in a very positive way to the department, and she’s going to be a valuable asset to us in her new position.”

The inspiration for Burch’s law enforcement career began when she was working as a social worker in Sussex County. One of the requirements of her job was to investigate child abuse cases, which she did hand-in-hand with sheriff’s deputies.

“I found that what they were doing seemed more fulfilling than what I was doing,” Burch said. “I felt I could be more effective in law enforcement.”

One of those sheriff’s deputies, Paul Burch, would eventually become her husband. When he moved to the Suffolk Police Department, she wasn’t far behind. The two were married soon after she entered the police academy.

After her first promotion, Burch “ended up with a squad of officers who were willing to give me a chance,” she said.

Burch is quick to point out that most people in the Suffolk Police Department in the ‘90s were kind to her, and that many women in law enforcement have had to endure more than she did.

“I just had a bad run of people,” Burch said. “There are probably a lot of women who went through a lot more than I did.”

As major, Burch is now the deputy chief for operations, which puts her in charge of the investigative staff and patrol staff. Most of the department’s sworn staff report to her.

As for her law enforcement aspirations, Burch used to want to be police chief badly. Now, her view toward the position is somewhat more subdued.

“My philosophy on being chief is if that’s what the Lord wants for me, it will happen,” Burch said. “I would rather wait and be prepared.”

Burch emphasizes that she has not gotten to the rank of major through her own efforts.

“There have been a whole lot of people who helped me look good throughout the years,” she said. “It would be wrong of me to assume I got where I got because of me.”

Burch holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree in human resource management from Troy State University. She and Sgt. Paul Burch have two children, Carson and Campbell.