The First-Person Project

Jennifer Sattler Murphy ’94

Southampton, MA

Detective, Criminal Investigation Bureau, Holyoke Police Department

Major: Management

Associate’s Degree: Chemical Dependency

I grew up right here in Holyoke. I have an older brother, Scott, and a twin brother, Matt. My father was in law enforcement, with the State Police, and my mother was mostly a stay-at-home mom. I played youth soccer here and was involved with athletics even as a young child. I grew up riding horses and my brothers grew up riding motorcycles and snowmobiles, things like that. The three of us were very close.

At Holyoke Catholic High School, I played soccer, skied, and ran track. When it came time to go to college, I wanted to play soccer and I landed at Keene State. It was a manageable distance for my family and for me, and I thought I would be able to manage academically and athletically – which I did. Keene State was a Division II school back then, and the soccer team played four or five teams in Division I. My sophomore year, my brother Scott transferred to Keene State, which was great.

I was the homecoming queen at Keene State. It was such a funny event, because I was like, What exactly is a homecoming queen? I was a soccer player. A messy soccer player. I was in a sorority, too. I joined with another soccer player – I think we were the first varsity athletes to do that. Anyway, they accepted us. I think about Keene State now and I realize what a terrific, wonderful experience it was. For me, it was a perfect, perfect fit.

I majored in business management, and also earned an associate’s degree in chemical dependency. But the more time went on, I realized that I needed a little bit of direction.

So when my father signed up my brothers for a civil service test for Massachusetts police officers, I said, “Well, why didn’t you sign me up?” He said, “It’s not something for you. You have no worldly experience. Your world is soccer and horses and sunny days.” I remember saying, “You said I could be anything I wanted to be.” So I went with my brothers that day, and I scored high enough. The Holyoke Police called and offered me a position as a reserve officer while I was still in college – which meant I would make myself available for full-time work as an officer.

But really, even then I didn’t know that this would be my future. But when we were graduating from school, and I was looking at my business degree and thinking maybe business wasn’t something I was overly interested in, the Police Department called and offered me a full-time job. I took it. They sent me to the Police Academy, and I also got a master’s in criminal justice.

Initially I was on patrol in uniform, in an area of the city that I wasn’t familiar with. There are sections of Holyoke that have low-income housing, so they’re densely populated. There are different ethnicities and different languages, which was something I’d had no exposure to. So it was difficult because it was unfamiliar, but I worked with some terrific people who showed me how it was. That’s really what hooked me, I think. About three years later, I got transferred to the detective bureau. That’s when I started the kind of work I do now, and I still love it. I’ve seen different bosses; different partners have come and gone. But really, it’s about personal satisfaction. I like to help people, I do. My eight hours here do not feel like eight hours.

I’m a detective in the Criminal Investigation Bureau. This bureau’s responsible for any case work regarding a serious offense. So it could be property damage, personal injury, computer crime, pornography. We have shootings here; we have a large drug problem. So this bureau does anything that would require follow-up. We write search warrants, we do interviews and interrogations, we talk to victims. I specialize in sexual abuse and child abuse. A lot of the things I’m involved with, there’s victims.

I think I was funneled into working with victims of sex crimes partly because I’m a woman. I’m compassionate. And I’m empathetic and sympathetic. I may not have gone through it, but I’m willing to listen. Sometimes that’s what it takes. And people need to know we care. What I generally think is, What if this was my family?

With sexual abuse, the victims are children and adults, mostly female but also males, and sometimes it’s males or females that are disabled, easy targets. We give victims their options – some people don’t want to go through the court system – but we ultimately include them in the decision making. But the other side of that is I have a responsibility to the community and to the city of Holyoke.

I tell people, even the people that are accused, “You understand that we clear people, too.” Our job is about collecting information, it’s about looking at what’s the best option, it’s about giving the victim their rights as a victim, and giving the accused the opportunity to give an explanation. I believe in that.

There’s a lot to it. It’s not just Tell me the info, then go arrest the bad guy. With CSI and Law and Order, people want that. With budget constraints, out-of-date equipment, lack of personnel, no overtime, we do the best we can. We work hard.

When the case involves child abuse, the Holyoke Police uses a team approach so these kids are not interviewed multiple times. So it may be a medical person, may be police, may be somebody from social services, may be a school official. Nobody wants to force a kid to relive any trauma. So that’s a practice we stand by here, and I’m proud of us for doing that. Now, would we like to get the bad guy? Yes. But we’re not going to do that at the expense of the child.

I’m especially proud of an honor I got in May, the One with Courage Award from the Massachusetts Children’s Alliance, the advocacy center that coordinates a response to child abuse allegations. Getting an award like that really makes me feel like I’m serving the people I need to serve. I’ve been given a couple of other awards recently, too: the 2014 Excellence in Performance Award from the Massachusetts Association of Women in Law Enforcement and the Excellence in Performance Award from the International Association of Women Police in Cardiff, Wales.

I do a lot of testifying in court. It’s nerve wracking. But really, I listen to the questions and I answer honestly. If I don’t know something I’m not embarrassed to say I don’t know. I testify at the district court and the superior court level, and I often present cases to grand jury.

I was assigned to a murder last year; I’m assigned to one now. I have one that’s going to trial shortly, and I had a trial in April – a guy was stabbed right in the neck, broad daylight on a Sunday, the day of the Spanish parade. When you get a murder case, you move along, and you don’t sleep. If you’re here 20 hours, you’re here 20 hours. That’s why I think it’s important that if you’re in an investigative bureau, you commit. You’re not just punching the clock for eight hours. So are there days where I don’t get out of work on time? More often than not.

I’ve seen a lot of changes in my years on the job. There’s so much happening. The equipment is changing, the laws are changing, the technology is changing. We try and keep up with that. Cellphones can lead to GPS coordinates, text messages. They can link to who the drug dealer is, who the major supplier is, who’s carrying guns. So we now examine phones.

Every day for me is a different day. That is a huge draw to me. And really, I like dealing with people and all the different kinds of people, and I think they all should be treated fairly, even the ones accused. They have rights.

Every once in a while, I think about, What will I do next? As it happens, I’m married to the police, too. My husband, John, is a retired State Police lieutenant – he works part time now at the federal courthouse in Springfield. We have a 10-year-old son, whom we may not steer into law enforcement, and really, I don’t want him to get hurt. He wants to be a teacher or a doctor. I just want him to be a nice person. My husband’s a marathon runner. He loves to run. We ride motorcycles, we exercise, we golf, we have a house on Cape Cod. I love to fish. I have a horse that I keep at my parents’ farm.

The other part of this job – there are things that happen in this world that are very sad, and you feel all of it. I don’t like people being taken advantage of. I don’t like them being hurt in the ways that we’re seeing people hurt. There’s burnout for people that do the things I do. The Holyoke Police is shocked that I’m still doing this. And that I want to. Every now and then a case comes along where I say, We can help these people. There’s a photo of this guy and it hangs by my desk. He’s a quadriplegic who’s nonverbal and has a seizure disorder. Thanks to DNA, I made an arrest in his sexual assault more than 20 years after it happened. The match came up, and I tracked the suspect down in Maryland. His photo is there as a reminder for me on those days that I start to say, What am I doing? I look at it and say, This is exactly why I’m doing it. These people need us so they can have a voice.

I’ll be honest. I love this job. The Holyoke Police took a chance with me. I was a kid who had no background in this. I had no idea what the job was going to be like. I’m still here because every day’s a different day.