Groundbreaking major retires

Published 8:57 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The groundbreaking career of Maj. Stephanie Burch in the Suffolk Police Department came to an end recently, but she’s already moved on to new endeavors that also allow her to serve.

“It is wonderful and terrible at the same time,” said Burch, speaking of her retirement after nearly 25 years in the Suffolk Police Department. “I have mixed emotions.”

Burch retired at the end of the year from one of three second-in-command posts at the department. Reflecting on her career, she believes she did good work and looks forward to the next chapter.

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Burch came to the Suffolk Police Department after a few years as a social worker in Sussex County. She now looks back on her first five years in the department as a formative time.

“In retrospect, those five years really made me a lot tougher,” she said. “It also taught me what I didn’t want to do as a manager.”

Burch says her first five years were marked by constant scrutiny and criticism by her supervisors who did not believe women should be police officers. She once got written up for not having coffee with the other officers.

But once she got promoted, things started to change. She shared the distinction of being one of the first women to be promoted to sergeant in the Suffolk Police Department with one other woman — Debbie George, now the city’s chief of staff.

Burch thanked former chief, Jimmy Wilson, for giving the promotions.

“He believed in Debbie and me to do something that hadn’t been done before,” Burch said.

She believes being a sergeant in uniform patrol was her most defining time in law enforcement.

“The squad I was given gave me a chance,” Burch said, even though the department had previously had no female supervisors. “They didn’t automatically dismiss me because I was a female. They were people who could have made the choice not to believe in me, but they chose to believe in me.”

Burch later was promoted to lieutenant, then captain, then major, becoming the first woman at each rank.

Burch believes her most lasting contributions to the Suffolk Police Department have been related to technology and crisis intervention.

The mobile computing program was implemented in 2001 under Burch’s guidance.

“Getting that implemented was a huge shift in how we did business back then,” she said.

She also names getting an assessment site for mentally ill people and changing how they are handled by law enforcement among her biggest accomplishments.

But she’s quick to point out she didn’t do any of it alone.

“It’s not my contribution as much as our contribution,” she said. “It has always been a team of people that have assisted me to get it done.”

Burch will be moving on to a part-time job with the Virginia Beach Justice Initiative, a faith-based organization that does prevention, intervention, advocacy and awareness of human trafficking. She has been volunteering there for several years.

“It gets me back to the reason I originally got into police work, which was working with victims,” she said. “That has always been my heart.”

Burch said she is looking forward to her retirement.

“Most of my adult life has been spent here,” she said. “Marriage, kids, birth, growing up, they all occurred within the framework of this job.”

She and her husband, Paul, have two children, ages 21 and 16.

Overall, Burch said, she believes she has left the department better than she found it.

“I feel like I’ve served well,” she said. “I feel like I made some valuable contributions to the city and to our organization. It’s a great department, and we have great people. That’s what makes this department good, is the people.”