Doing All Things Well
More than 80 instructors fill the classrooms at the Department of Criminal Justice Training, teaching fresh recruits and seasoned professionals everything from how to properly handcuff a suspect to how to handle the most frantic callers.
The professionals who share their wisdom and skills with students have wide and varied backgrounds. Their expertise and professionalism make DOCJT’s instructors among the highest caliber law enforcement and telecommunications trainers in the country.
Through this series, we will introduce you to the men and women who are leading the way today for a safer and better Kentucky tomorrow.
Shawn Herron, Staff Attorney and Legal Instructor
AT A GLANCE...
Years Working with Law Enforcement: 27
Years at DOCJT: 18
Current Position: DOCJT Staff Attorney
Education: Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Louisville, Juris Doctorate from University of Louisville School of Law
Favorite class taught: Anything involving the Fourth Amendment because it’s the core of what law enforcement does on a daily basis; search and seizure classes.
Why does a lawyer with an English degree who loves researching history, working search and rescue and writing books and blogs drive 105 miles every day to teach at a law enforcement academy?
“I love the [students] and want them to be confident in what they are doing,” said Department of Criminal Justice Training Legal Instructor Shawn Herron. “I enjoy working with them and having the opportunity to help them do their jobs the best they can – and they want to do it right.”
After 18 years of teaching and influencing the lives and decisions of thousands of law enforcement officers across the commonwealth, it’s hard to believe that Herron hasn’t always been the legal superstar she has come to be recognized as.
In 1981, Herron graduated from the University of Louisville with an English degree and began working for the Courier-Journal newspaper as a journalist. As she pursued stories on crime in Louisville, she worked alongside law enforcement officers from the city and county sheriff’s office, and was in and out of the courts.
“I woke up one day and said, ‘I wonder what I’d need to do to go to law school?’” Herron recalled. “There were so many articles I was working on at the Courier-Journal that I didn’t understand what was behind them.”
That overnight revelation propelled Herron into pursuing a new profession, and in 1990 she graduated from law school – and never looked back. While in law school, Herron began working part-time for the city of Louisville’s legal office, which represented public servants such as law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency management, public works and zoo personnel.
After passing the bar exam, Herron stayed with the Louisville legal office for seven years, crafting policy and representing public servants who were sued, she said. Herron left city government to go into private practice, but still was drawn to helping public servants. She began contracting with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, providing instruction for deputies, especially the 180 special deputies who had no prior training.
Eventually, she went to work for the sheriff’s office full-time, and it was there Herron discovered her passion and commitment to help law enforcement succeed. The sheriff’s office was in a time of transition and needed new policy and procedures, and Herron realized she could take the law and break it down and convey it in a way that applied to the agency, she explained.
“At the sheriff’s office, they let me talk to the officers and explain situations, and I was better than my colleagues at bringing the law to them,” Herron said. “I never wanted to make it like I was talking down to them, but instead letting them know, ‘these are the things you need to know, let me package it in a way you can use it.’
“These are perfectly intelligent [individuals,] but it’s like me speaking to a neurosurgeon – it has to be brought into language they get, she continued. “So I take the law and put it in a way they can understand and know what they are doing.”
To this day, bringing the law to Kentucky’s officers in a way that is both easy to digest and applicable remains one of Herron’s greatest strengths as a legal instructor. Her experience working with JCSO opened the door for her to share her knowledge, compassion and understanding with officers from all over the bluegrass.
When Herron applied for the legal training instructor position at DOCJT in 1999, she stood out as the only applicant who already was Kentucky Law Enforcement Council certified. This distinction allowed her to hit the ground running from day one.
“I started on a Monday and was told, ‘After we process you, you’re going to Paducah to teach,’” Herron amusingly recalled about her quick start at DOCJT.
That willingness to jump in with two feet has characterized Herron’s tenure at DOCJT. As the agency has grown, DOCJT’s Legal Training Section has expanded its scope and endeavors, too. Because of her background with the sheriff’s office, Herron was instrumental in the creation of the Certified Court Security Officer course, she said. Then around 2005, after the myriad of homeland security changes that were implemented in response to 9/11, Herron was heavily involved in coordinating the incident-command training that had to be accomplished within one year.
“We received kudos from the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” Herron said. “They were shocked we were able to train people as quickly as we did.”
Herron’s ability to help with the incident-command training stems from her other primary love – emergency management. Her involvement in emergency management evolved from a chance circumstance during the 1994 snowstorms that froze Louisville’s roads and resources.
After arriving to work 15 minutes late at the Louisville legal office on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Herron realized she was one of the three out of 40 employees who actually made it into the office that day. She was told that the emergency management folks could use some help and chose to spend her day assisting them. Her experiences that day led to a lifelong commitment and involvement with Louisville’s emergency management, and specifically with search and rescue.
As DOCJT’s Legal Training Section has continued to grow, teaching more hours and being involved with more basic training practicals and in-service and leadership classes, Herron has developed relationships with law enforcement officers and leaders across the state. After 18 years, many law enforcement leaders have come to trust Herron and the other instructors in the legal section, calling on them with questions about policy and procedure, how to interpret certain laws and advice on how to approach certain situations dealing with complicated case law, Herron said.
“We try to keep up with and look at case law and trends, such as TASERs and body-worn cameras, when we know there is potential for issues,” Herron said. “I tell them (officers) to call and ask me questions and then when the next person calls, I’ll look brilliant because I already have the answer. I figure if I receive one call on an issue, I’ll receive at least three on the same topic.”
Though the legal section instructors avoid labor questions or anything that puts them between the officer and the agency, they are willing to give officers and agency leaders information, and they encourage them to discuss things with their city or county attorneys. But fielding these questions from around the state allows them to understand where the issues are coming from and link together agencies that are dealing with the same issues, Herron said.
“I’ve watched these guys grow up,” Herron said about her interaction with officers. “I’ll be ready to retire about the same time as the first officers I trained are ready to retire. Watching them grow up and make rank or make chief and having that ongoing relationship with them has been so enjoyable.”
Even for the officers with whom Herron has not made those one-on-one connections, her voice and perspective still have impacted thousands of Kentucky officers for the past 15 years through her involvement with the Kentucky Law Enforcement magazine. In its early days, this publication received a legal submission that conflicted with what DOCJT instructors were teaching officers. At that point, Herron volunteered to look over future submissions to verify they were congruent with current academy legal instruction.
It wasn’t long before the journalist still hidden inside of Herron from her days at the Courier-Journal surfaced, and she began writing legal articles for the magazine, explaining everything from critical case law regarding Miranda rights or Fourth Amendment issues to the latest updates from the Supreme Court of the United States. Her journalistic ability, adept legal knowledge and desire to help positively influence Kentucky officers’ understanding of the laws they are sworn to uphold, became the perfect marriage for producing informative and timely legal articles for the magazine’s audience.
However, writing quarterly articles didn’t completely satiate her desire to research and write. Herron became enamored with researching historical Kentucky line-of-duty deaths that had not been recognized up to that point. Through pursuing this research and the rich, compelling and often complicated stories associated with many of these cases, Herron has embarked on another new journey – penning her first book.
Her book, nearing completion, tells the story of two Louisville officers killed in 1888.
“I became interested in [these officers] because looking at line-of-duty deaths I realized they died on the same day and I wondered what happened,” Herron said. “The more I dug into what occurred, I discovered the significance of what their deaths meant to law enforcement in Kentucky.
“It is story telling – telling the story of how these two officers in 1888 lived and what law enforcement was like in 1888,” she added. “The significance of this case directly connects to why we have a state death benefit today for officers killed in the line of duty; I wanted to bring that forward for people to understand.”
Heron already is in the early stages of developing her next book based on a 1909 murder trial involving a 9-year-old girl in a Louisville church, she said.
In addition to crafting articles for KLE magazine and working on her books, Herron also writes a blog titled, “Kentucky Cop Stories.” Through her blog she tells the stories of Kentucky’s officers who can no longer speak to tell their own stories.
With all of these additional endeavors and driving to and from Louisville each day, the way in which Herron works with DOCJT students, counsels law enforcement leaders and keeps up with her own training to stay even a half step ahead of new issues as they pop up truly is exceptional.
When asked why she enjoys wearing multiple hats, Herron used an example from an Alexei Panshin novel, “Rite of Passage,” in which the characters living their whole life on a spaceship had to decide if they were going to spend their entire lives as specialists or generalists.
“That always stuck with me because I like being the generalist,” Herron said. “I like knowing a lot of different things and pulling them together to make something new – and that’s what we get to do here. I’m not practicing doing one thing, instead I’m able to be broad and know enough about different things to make the links.”