What is your name and department/agency?
My name is Shannon Leeper. I am a detective with the Lenexa, Kansas Police Department.
Please give us a little background about yourself, i.e., family, education, hobbies, etc.
My family roots are in the DEEP south, but we moved to Lenexa, Kansas in 1980, so I consider it “home.” I graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, with a Bachelor’s Degree in the Administration of Justice, in the spring of 1997. During my last year of college, I completed an internship with the Johnson County, Kansas District Attorney’s Office, working for a judge in the juvenile division. My original plan was to pursue law school, but as luck would have it plans changed. I applied for a job with the Lenexa Police Department and began a career in law enforcement instead. I am married with two AMAZING little girls, ages 6 and 2. My hobbies include photography, writing, dance, and working out.
When and why did you decide to become involved in law enforcement?
I had actually been working in the public library system for about six years when I decided to put my college degree to good use. So, in the fall of 1998 I applied for a civilian position, as a station officer, with the Lenexa Police Department. I enjoyed the work, but soon realized there were more opportunities available to me as a sworn police officer. It wasn’t long before I was graduating from the police academy (first in my class) and hitting the streets of Lenexa in a black and white.
What is your present assignment?
I have been assigned to the Investigations Division, as a detective, since January 2005. I primarily investigate crimes of child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence.
What do you like most about your job?
Every day brings new challenges and opportunities to actually make a difference, especially with the most vulnerable victims and their families.
What do you like least about your job?
It is quite possible to juggle the responsibilities of a career in law enforcement with motherhood and to do both well, despite what some may believe. It can be difficult though, and the guilt associated with not always being able to be in two places at once is hard. Obviously, things happen, and what starts as an eight hour work day can quickly turn to into a 12-16 hour work day. This is why it is so important to have the strong support of family and friends to step in during those times I have to be away.
How does your family feel about you being in law enforcement?
My family has always been extremely supportive, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of worry. This was especially the case when I was a new patrol officer and my mother would hear police sirens nearby, while I was on duty. It wasn’t uncommon to take phone calls from her asking what was happening, if I was involved and if things were okay. Now that I am a mother, I can only imagine how many more times she wanted to call, but refrained. I am also blessed to have an understanding and encouraging husband and extended family that is proud of the work I do. With an unpredictable schedule, I often rely on the help and support of family and friends.
Do you think the consensus is that law enforcement is a man’s job? If so, have you had difficulty being accepted as an equal?
Unfortunately, I do think the overall consensus is that law enforcement is a man’s job, but I hope the tide is starting to turn. Women who decide to pursue a career in this field must quickly learn what they need to do in order to be successful and gain acceptance among peers. Every woman I know in law enforcement has experienced some difficulty, at one point or another, based on gender. The good news is I have many female friends in law enforcement, so we have not been deterred! Women DO face unique challenges in this line of work, but we also bring an abundance of unique qualities and skills that can’t be ignored. I am fortunate to have the leadership of a female chief of police, who brings over 30 years of experience and guidance to the table.
What would you like the public to know about your job?
Often times, I am asked about the “best,” “scariest,” “saddest,” case I have ever worked. I think it is a natural curiosity public exhibits, especially with the type of cases I generally work. It is hard for the public to understand why I can’t come up with an answer. You see, every day brings new experiences and opportunities to peek into the lives of others. This is very personal for victims and I take something away from each encounter, both good and bad. Those of us in law enforcement see things on a daily basis that are foreign to most people. It really is difficult to explain what makes a particular case better or worse than another. There are definitely cases and people who leave more of a mark or impression, like Dakota Smith, whom I wrote about in the book, but that doesn’t make the other cases less important.
If you had it to do over again, would you choose law enforcement as a career?
I feel like this career in law enforcement actually chose me instead of the other way around. I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a police officer. Circumstances in my early life definitely pushed me in this direction, without me even realizing it at the time. Now that I am here, it is hard to imagine spending the past 14 years doing anything else.
Is there anything additional you’d like to share?
It has been an honor to be part of such an amazing project, highlighting women in law enforcement! I hope our stories provide a bit of insight into our world.