Real-life police careers don’t always mimic those on television shows, but for Eric Coe (BSCJ ’12), being a police officer for the last 28 years has placed him in a number of action-hero situations, from kicking in doors to collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses to saving lives.
As a detective in the District Attorney’s Office for North Carolina’s 26th Prosecutorial District, Coe serves as a liaison between the DA and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, working alongside 1,800 other sworn officers to protect and serve the city’s population of about 900,000.
After graduating from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Academy at 20 years old, he started a journey that he immediately knew would be a lifelong career. “From the time I went on my first call, I had the sense this was the right path for me,” Coe remembers. “My family was apprehensive about me becoming a police officer, because there is always risk, but I was inspired by the opportunity to make communities safer for people who live there.”
Coe first worked as a uniform patrol officer and then moved to the Street Drug Interdiction Unit where his career began to more closely mimic those TV action roles. “There were 15 officers in the unit and we led both uniform patrol and undercover investigationsăsetting up drug deals, kicking doors in and confiscating illegal contraband such as guns, drugs and stolen property,” he says. “That job often required us to interact with the baddest of the bad in terms of criminals so we leaned on each other and became a very close unit.”
The team was very successful, receiving praise from the community and department leadership as they worked to get drugs off the streets. “We were able to transform some neighborhoods that were notorious for selling drugs, and even shut down a large heroin ring in a sting that earned national headlines,” says Coe. “It was exciting but dangerous. Yet, we knew we were doing the right thing.”
Processing the daily risk associated with being a police officer is something every cop has to learn, and for Coe, it means compartmentalizing. “If you are constantly thinking about risk, you won’t be able to make smart moves or act in the safest way,” he says. “I know that the benefits of the work outweigh the risk; at the end of the day we are removing people that prevent others from living their lives.”
After much success on the drug team, Coe moved to the Armed Robbery Unit, replacing his uniform with a suit and tie. He would arrive at a crime scene to conduct investigations and gather evidence, often working in conjunction with the FBI on bank robberies.
“This was a new role for me and I learned a lot about the nuances of building a case—determining who did it, how they did it and why, and also how to collect evidence so that it would hold up in court,” says Coe. “Often, the evidence was so good that the accused person had no choice but to confessăin fact, about 80% of cases resulted in confessions.”
After seven years with that team, Coe moved to the role he holds today, as a detective in the District Attorney’s Office. Bringing his years of training and skills together, Coe serves as a liaison between the DA and the police department, helping to prepare for trials by managing witnesses, subpoenas and evidence, preparing materials, updating attorneys on changes, and generally making sure everything is in place so the trial goes smoothly.
“It’s interesting work because I see a lot of different felony cases come across my desk and I want to make sure they are all well represented,” says Coe. “We handle about 10,000 felony cases a year. Of those tried in court, we typically win about 80% of them.”
I wanted a more comprehensive picture of how the office works and the process of taking a case from arrest all the way to prosecution and conviction, so I went back to school.
In was in this role that Coe was inspired to earn a college degree. “When I first started, it was striking to me how well-rounded my colleagues were who had degrees, and I wanted to be a part of that,” he says. “I wanted a more comprehensive picture of how the office works and the process of taking a case from arrest all the way to prosecution and conviction, so I went back to school.”
Having started his education at a community college, Coe was prepared for the rigors of higher education as a working adult. “I was already comfortable with the online environment so transitioning to online classes at Strayer was easy, but I was most impressed with the quality of my classmates and the faculty,” he says. “I really enjoyed the discussions with people from all over the world and my professors were very easy to connect with.”
Coe says his favorite course in the undergraduate criminal justice program was the capstone class in which he examined the inner workings of police department. “Learning about the other side of the operation—the administrative side—really broadened my perspective of what it takes to run a police department,” he says. “It was fascinating to learn about everything the chief must balance, from the different personalities among staff, to ensuring safety, setting policy and working with various stakeholders.”
Armed with a degree, Coe looks forward to growing in his role. However, as a husband and a father to two daughters, and a son who was recently sworn in as a police officer, he still faces perhaps the most challenging part of any police career: convincing his family that he is going to return home from work each day. “You put your life on the line when you put on your uniform—there is always a chance that you can get hurt,” he says. “But it’s satisfying to get criminals off the street and to know I play an important role in our community.”