On the Front Lines: Tania Burgess
A dream to serve
Photos by Jeronimo Nisa and contributed
Even as a girl, Tania Burgess dreamed of making a difference in her community. Like many children, she wanted to be a police officer when she grew up – a vision that solidified as a teen and young adult. Now serving as an investigator with the Hartselle Police Department, Burgess is living out her dream every day.
Burgess got her start in the department in 2000. After earning two associate degrees relating to criminal justice from Wallace State Community College, she applied at Hartselle PD.
“Hartselle was the first and only place that I had to put in for a job. I was green; I had never been in law enforcement; but this was the only place I ever filled out an application for,” Burgess said.
She started out tagging along with other patrol officers until completing the police academy in Jacksonville. She said despite the challenges of the academy and her first days on patrol, she knew she was where she was meant to be.
“The roads were iced over, and you’re nervous already – you’re away from home and away from what you call normal – but it was one of those things that, if this is what you want, you have to go after it,” Burgess said.
Burgess said she spent the early parts of her career on second shift patrol. She said she has fun memories from her time there and wasn’t looking for a change when she was approached about an opening in the investigations divisions. “They said, ‘We think you would have good qualities to become an investigator. What do you think?’”
She initially said no.
“My biggest thing was that we spend a lot of time in court. I really didn’t think I was good enough for this,” she said. “I don’t think I could have convinced myself, but even my buddies on the shift, on patrol, said ‘You really should give it a try; you’d be good at it.’”
Burgess found she was in for a challenge, but she said investigator is a role she has come to enjoy.
“It was busy. It was definitely a learning curve,” she said. “We deal with the same people that patrol does, but a lot of times, it’s in a different way. Patrol gets dispatched to calls, and they are required to make a decision right then. We primarily investigate felony cases, and more times than not, we don’t have to make that quick decision. The report comes in, and then we can start our investigation and round up all the information we need.”
Most recently, Burgess worked on the capital murder investigation of Larry Sheppard. After long hours of painstaking effort alongside her team, Burgess said it was a highlight of her career to be able to help give the victim’s family justice.
“That would be in September, when the capital murder suspects were all in jail. This whole department chipped in on that; that was not just a one-investigator ordeal,” she said. “I don’t think there is anyone here that didn’t have some part in helping that case come together like it did.”
Burgess said it’s that companionship and family-like bond that always helps her feel supported, even while handling heavier cases. She said she is grateful for the support from within her own department and all of those who play a hand in helping resolve cases.
“Our camaraderie has always been great. We get along here; we are each other’s family,” she said. “You want to find the people and solve the case. On the other side of that, you are trying to find justice for the family. You owe it to the family to do it right.”
Burgess also credits the department with helping make her dream a reality. She said she has been given every chance to make her dreams come true.
“Females don’t always get treated the same. We’ve had classes before and talked to some of those females from other departments where they have just really been put through the wringer; they get asked to do extra stuff to prove themselves. It’s just different for them,” Burgess said. “I cannot think of one person or one incident where we have been treated differently here. We are looked out for, and it’s almost like having big brothers: We fight like cats and dogs, but at the end of the day, you turn around, and there they are. We come here, and sometimes, it’s not like having a job. We have fun and do our job at the same time.”
Aside from her coworkers, Burgess said her 13-year-old son is her entire world. After a long shift or an especially heavy case, he is what makes it easier to leave the job at the desk.