Local police investigator draws on his childhood

Posted: Friday, November 29, 2002

Children broken by abuse, men and women broken by each other, and all the other things people try to hide behind closed doors are what police investigator Paul Hatch gets to see every day.

Hatch, 33, who grew up here, has been a Juneau police officer for 11 years. He is one of several officers who make up the investigations unit of the Juneau Police Department.

He's come a long way from kicking around a one-room, low-income apartment with twin brother, Blain. Yet, it was his hand-to-mouth upbringing that Hatch credits for his ability to reach into the dark of an investigation and bring the truth into the light.

"Think about it," said Hatch. "You have to get someone, usually a child, to tell you the biggest, darkest secret of their life, and they not only have to tell you they have to tell everybody. ... I have to ask the hard questions no one wants to talk about."

Fellow investigator Kris Sell said that is one of Hatch's assets.

"He just is great at interviewing - everyone from small children to the most cynical person tired with law enforcement," said Sell. "But he's especially good with small children. He just relates to them on their level."

Sell said Hatch is responsible for gathering evidence for robberies, assaults, sexual offenses and other "crimes against a person, usually involving violence." She said their department sees an abundance of abuse cases involving children.

Hatch said one of the hardest parts of his job is listening to the story of a child who's been abused, or dealing with a young kid already at the wrong end of the juvenile justice system. He said he draws on his experiences growing up in Juneau to see him through.

"Take away a few years and I'm them," Hatch said. "I've lived in low-income housing with my grandparents. I know what it's like to have cardboard boxes for furniture. I understand what pressures come with having only one parent in the home.

"Growing up this way gave me an appreciation for what kids that come in here are going through: To live in an out-of-control situation, to lose your temper because you've just had enough of your situation and parents, not knowing where your family is going, not being able to do anything about it and not having control. We come from similar roots, so hopefully my experiences help them to warm up to me and talk."

Hatch said his family came to Juneau when he was 1 year old. His grandparents managed Cedar Park, a low-income housing unit downtown. Hatch said his mother and brother lived in one of the apartments.

"Powdered milk and burgers were staples," said Blain Hatch, also a Juneau police officer. "We earned what we got with a few blessings along the way."

Though Paul Hatch experienced circumstances similar to those of some of the suspects that walk through his office door, he and his brother chose to take a different route.

Hatch said he attributes his success to a close-knit, supportive family, and being involved in the community and the church. He takes protecting his community personally, he said.

"The biggest challenge I've had is having to put aside what my personal opinion of justice is," Hatch said. "You know you work a case for a long time and you get to know victims and their families intimately over the course of six months to a year sometimes.

"You may think you have a solid case and that the person you're investigating should be sentenced to the maximum allowed, but the justice system doesn't always work out that way.

"Sometimes you just don't get justice. ... My heart goes out to those people (victims), but all you can do is just go out there and do the best you can do."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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