By Patti Samar
Slow but steady wins the race.
That cliché sums up the career of Port Huron Police Department Captain Marcy Kuehn.
After joining the department in 1989 just a few months following her high school graduation, Kuehn slowly but surely completed her education – she eventually earned a master’s degree – all while working full time. She then worked her way up the ranks within the department, eventually being named, in May of 2018, captain, which is second in command to the police chief.
She is the first woman in the history of the department, which was established in 1880, to achieve that rank.
Kuehn was recently notified that she has been accepted into the October 2020 class of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. “I’m super excited,” she said. “It has been five years since I applied.”
Only one percent of law enforcement officers in the nation are accepted into the prestigious program.
As a result of her tireless work ethic and results-driven track record of service within the department, Kuehn has been named the Blue Water Woman of the Year. She was nominated by Port Huron Mayor Pauline Repp.
Kuehn became interested in a career in law enforcement after having the opportunity to do a ride-along with a police officer on duty.
“It was instant,” she said of her desire to serve the community in the same capacity. “I would have done this job for free. I was given this gift of gifts at 18-years-old to find what I wanted to do.”
At that point, her immediate interest in law enforcement didn’t come as a complete surprise because a high school aptitude test pointed her in the direction of police chief or FBI agent.
“That result did surprise me,” she said with a chuckle. “I was a girly-girl. But my dad was a Marine who served two tours in Vietnam, and he always wanted to be a cop. My mom was a beautician for 43 years. They were two crazy hard-working people. So I feel like I’m half Marine and half beautician.”
Shortly after her initial ride-along, Kuehn began her career with the department as a cadet. Within two years, she was promoted to communications operator, and three years later became a patrol officer. She served in that capacity for 11 years.
During her time as a patrol officer, she became trained as a crisis negotiator, and also became the Community Service Officer responsible for the D.A.R.E. drug prevention program and the C.A.P.T.U.R.E. program that helps citizens receive rewards for helping the department locate suspected criminals.
Kuehn’s efforts with the C.A.P.T.U.R.E. program quadrupled the call volume to the hotline.
When Kuehn began her road patrol service, the city was experiencing a gang crisis. She was instrumental in building relationships with some of the young gang members.
“There was a zero tolerance policy,” she said of the gang problem. “I was young and female and I liked some of the same music that they liked, and that helped me build trust with them. Plus, I had worked at Kmart with one of their moms, and that helped, too.”
Kuehn was eventually promoted to detective and took on the special victims unit, which handled criminal sexual conduct and sexual abuse cases.
That work was particularly difficult, she said. “It just weighs on you.”
However, a highlight during that time came when she was recognized by the St. Clair County Child Abuse and Neglect Council as the Child Advocate of the Year.
It was after her next promotion to sergeant that Kuehn was able to solve a case that had also been weighing on her mind.
“When I was assigned that case as a detective, I had so many other cases that I was juggling at the same time, I was stressed out,” she said. The 15-year-old cold-case involved the death of four-month-old infant Jessica Syzak.
“I kept that case with me during my promotion to sergeant. While a patrol sergeant, I had just that case I could focus on,” she said. By working with a law enforcement agency in Indiana where the suspect – the child’s father – lived, Kuehn was able to help secure a confession that led to a conviction.
“I was so relieved we obtained a conviction for Jessica and her entire family, who felt this great loss for years, knowing they were lied to, and never being able to heal or move forward.”
Helping individuals and families is the most rewarding part of her job.
“We’re problem solvers,” she said of law enforcement officers. “We are always tackling problems and trying to find a solution.”
And even though she has been involved in the most difficult days of someone’s life while putting them under arrest, that has had its rewards, as well.
“There’s a lady I arrested a whole bunch of times,” she said. “Her kids knew me by name. Well, she’s sober now and she stops by the department to check on me and check in, and that’s pretty cool.”
Kuehn said that the road she has traveled within the department was definitely made easier by the female officers who came before her, like Diana Tramski, who, prior to Kuehn, was the first female to achieve sergeant status.
And while there are definitely more female officers on staff now than when she started, Kuehn hopes that, as captain, she is seen as an exemplary officer regardless of gender.
“They don’t see me as a female,” she said. “They just see me as a kick ass police officer, and they want to be like me. That’s the icing on the cake for me.”