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Detective Heather Beauchamp a true team player

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Groton — Someone was holding up convenience stores this spring, and town police detective Heather Beauchamp couldn't rest until he was caught.

She and her five co-workers from the back, or detectives, room were out every night, working to identify and arrest the robber.

"You want to stop him," Beauchamp said in an interview at police headquarters. "You want to make sure it doesn't happen again."

The detectives worked with the patrol unit and other police agencies on the case of the Henny Penny bandit. Within days, they were knocking on the door of a heroin-addicted suspect and taking him off the streets.

Beauchamp, 36, joined the police department in 2001. Six years later, in near record time, she became the department's first female detective. She loved delving into cases, even when, as a patrol officer, she could have turned them over to the detective squad and moved on.

"I would go back to the detectives (room) and try to go as far as I could with a case," she said.

Detective Lt. John Varone, the only Groton Town police officer to have been promoted to detective in less time than Beauchamp, noticed her potential.

"The one thing Heather had was her enthusiasm and determination to do a great job," he said. "That made up for her lack of experience at the time."

Beauchamp has since become a "go to" cop inside and outside of her department. 

She is the lead detective for the New London County Cold Case Task Force, the squad of area police that tackles unsolved murder cases. When there's an important interview to be done, Beauchamp is the one you want, said Inspector Kenneth W. Edwards Jr., who heads up the task force.

"She's got drive. She keeps people moving in the right direction," Edwards said. "You either have to keep up with her or get out of her way."

She interviewed two key suspects in the murder of Jacyln Wirth, who was gunned down in front of her children in Norwich in December 2011. When Norwich police charged LaShawn Cecil, Beauchamp was at the police department in Norwich with other task force members. 

"Getting the warrant was huge," she said. "We worked so hard on it. One of the best parts was being able to go and tell the family, 'We're making the arrest.'"

Forensic work, which some might consider tedious, is a challenge for her.

"It's interesting," she said. "With the (crime) scenes today, you can process anything."

She said she and detective Rob Emery collected physical evidence after a robbery at a Citizens Bank and got back a "hit" — a suspect identification — on fingerprints taken from a bank note.

Beauchamp said that she can't always bank on forensics and that the personal relationships investigators develop with witnesses are essential to solving cases.

Cold cases are particularly challenging, because witnesses move away or die and memories fade. Many don't trust the police or fear for their safety.

"These interviews go on for hours," she said. "Mentally, you're drained, but you remember what you're there for. This could be your child, your family. For whatever reason, you have to get the person to come to the realization that it's time (to talk)."

State police asked Beauchamp to interview alleged sexual assault victims during the investigation of Dr. Tory Z. Westbrook. They needed a female, she said. Westbrook is serving a 14-year prison term for sexually assaulting 18 women and for Medicaid fraud.

On July 10, Beauchamp was part of a multi-agency arrest team assigned to capture a fugitive wanted for violent home invasions in North Carolina who was staying in Navy housing near the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.

The fugitive, fleeing police, broke into a home occupied by two teenagers. Beauchamp and a state trooper knocked on the back door, and Beauchamp covered for the trooper as he pulled one of the teens to safety. Other team members captured the man a short time later.  

Beauchamp was married previously to Sgt. Paul Reams, who also works at the Groton Town Police Department. The couple divorced and she remarried last year.

She has a school-age daughter and said that with a regimented schedule, she finds time to work out, keep her home life together and coach her daughter's softball team.

"I pray she doesn't become a detective," she joked.

Prosecutor Christa L. Baker, assigned to Superior Court in Norwich, met Beauchamp through their work on the cold case task force. The two women became close friends, and Beauchamp was in Baker's wedding party.

Baker said Beauchamp is "super organized," and if she asks her to do something, she doesn't have to think twice about whether Beauchamp will get it done.

Beauchamp remained calm and capable when the two women traveled to Quebec to work on a case together. Both of their cell phones died and their GPS unit stopped working, Baker said.

Every map they could find was printed in French, which neither of them speaks. Baker got nervous, but Beauchamp told her, "We got this."

"Heather managed to make the situation fun," Baker said. "She managed to get us back to our hotel and actually managed to get me smiling. She takes any situation she encounters and makes it work."

Back at Groton Town police headquarters, Beauchamp serves as the department's quartermaster, ordering uniforms, evidence and supplies. In some departments, quartermaster is a full-time assignment, but Beauchamp handles it in between cases.

She has also served as a field training officer who helps new recruits learn the ropes. She helped the newest detective, Matthew Hammerstrom, after he was promoted last year, and now they share a desk. 

"You work as a team, and when things happen, we know what each other's going to do before they do it," she said. "You're a cop. You're not a girl, not a boy."

Twitter: @KFLORIN


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