Following a lifelong calling toward policing that took her across the country and landed her at the front desk of the Wrightsville Beach Police Department, one of the town’s newest officers demonstrates how the town is creating law enforcement opportunities for young candidates through internship programs.
For Officer Kassie Fuchs, her journey from California to the department’s front desk and onto a job as a beat cop shows the dedication required to work up through the chain of law enforcement. She started as an intern working the day shift at the front desk while pursuing her criminology degree from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and later took her basic law enforcement training classes at night school.
“It was a huge foot in the door for me,” Fuchs said, “I wasn’t sure where I would be after college. Though they had an intern already, Captain Blanton called and said she would fit me in, so I could do my hours in their department.”
Foregoing days off for over six months, Fuchs worked the front desk during office hours throughout the week while taking her law enforcement training classes from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the evening. She also took weekend classes to finish her training quickly.
With a close family member involved in narcotics, Fuchs said her interest in law enforcement sparked from past childhood experiences.
“As a kid,” Fuchs said, “I was inadvertently involved in bad situations where the only time I knew I was safe was when an officer arrived.”
Though applicants are not required to have a degree in criminal justice, Fuchs said it is necessary for officers planning to move up within the law enforcement field, something that Fuchs hopes to do in the future. Degree holders receive higher pay and options to move up in many different law enforcement positions, including the state police, the State Bureau of Investigation, DMV License and Theft, and even federal positions.
Growing up in a large family of seven other siblings helped Fuchs develop her conflict resolution skills, which she said forced her to develop a strong, deliberate voice. As a female officer with a small stature, it is common for Fuchs to come across situations where subjects may not respect her position as much as they do her male counterparts.
“I’ve had situations where subjects will try to buck up because I’m a smaller female, whereas, if one of my male counterparts is there, the subject will be totally calm,” Fuchs said.
Her most effective tools are her words which she says are carefully chosen to maintain control over every encounter. Since she is much smaller than most of the individuals she encounters, she has learned how to deescalate hostile situations or keep situations from reaching an escalated level until backup arrives.
“I have to be smart with my words because there are a lot of big guys who come down here,” Fuchs said. “I have been trained very well, but when there are tall guys who do nothing but work out, it’s not a good idea to encourage a physical altercation.”
Officer Miguel Sixto is another recent addition to the department who came through the internship program. A Marine Corps. veteran, Sixto went through the program at Miller-Motte College, where he majored in criminal justice. He served in the infantry from 2009 to 2013 and has two deployments to Afghanistan under his belt.
“My service in the Marine Corps. certainly helped prepare me for law enforcement because they essentially have the same goals,” Sixto said. “The military and law enforcement are kinds of homeland security, only in law enforcement I get to stay local.”
Learning all the street names and laws challenged Sixto, but the internship with the Wrightsville Beach Police Department acted as a support system which he said guided him into his current position. Senior employees at the department gave him advice and suggestions about what trainings he should pursue next to reach his career goals, according to Sixto.
“My long-term goal is to become a Drug Recognition Expert,” Sixto said, “which is someone who is trained to recognize impairment in drivers under the influence. I would also enjoy training new recruits in the future.”
The internship experience at the Wrightsville Beach Police Department helped Sixto develop professional relationships with team members, and that network of professionals proved highly beneficial in landing his current officer position within the department, according to Sixto.
Internship participants often begin their journey as the department’s voice at the front desk, delivering professional and courteous customer service to those entering the lobby, according to Captain V.J. Blanton, the internship coordinator for the department. In this position, students learn communication skills, records filing, data entry, and which departments are equipped to handle specific public concerns.
“Applicants are not required to go through an internship program to work here,” Blanton said, “But we do require that they have completed or are working on the Basic Law Enforcement Training course. We are looking for people who are already certified.”
Though not right away, participants of the program eventually have the opportunity to work in the field, tagging along on patrols with seasoned officers, Blanton said. The student will take part in “shadowing” a senior officer as they handle real police calls.
“The internship provides an opportunity to take part in meaningful work,” Blanton said. “They get to work in the office and on patrol, which helps us size them up. They already have a step ahead of other applicants because the program shows us their work ethic and character before they apply.”