Hats off to a groundbreaker

Published 9:47 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2017

There are always mixed emotions when a highly qualified and well-valued longtime employee leaves an organization for retirement. We’re sorry to lose their expertise and will miss their contributions, but we’re pleased to see them step out into another chapter of their lives.

So it is with the Suffolk Police Department’s loss of Maj. Stephanie Burch with the end of the calendar year. After 25 years of service within the department, she retired effective Dec. 31 from one of three second-in-command posts in the department.

But Burch didn’t just make friends and supporters during her years in Suffolk. She also made history.

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She and Debbie George, who is now the chief of staff in the city’s administrative offices, were the first two women ever to earn the rank of sergeant in Suffolk. They were promoted to that rank by then-Chief Jimmy Wilson.

Since that time, Burch’s career continued to plow new paths for women. Burch later was promoted to lieutenant, then captain, then major, becoming the first woman at each rank.

And these were not promotions designed to make a social statement. Burch has made lasting contributions to the department she leaves behind. A groundbreaking mobile computing program for officers came about under her guidance and — perhaps even more important — a shift in how the department interacts with mentally ill suspects and other citizens could actually save innocent lives in the future.

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

Suffolk will miss her, but there’s no doubt her presence will make a difference in this important initiative.