Waco Police Department’s Director of Victim Services, Melissa Beseda, has a pretty spectacular view from her office at 3115 Pine Avenue — but that wasn’t always the case.
“The old police building [in Downtown Waco] was a jail in the ’70s, so my office used to be an old jail cell,” Beseda said.
That fact alone might cause even a cheerful and levelheaded person to experience lower-than-normal levels of employee satisfaction. But in her 10 years of working in law enforcement with victims of crime, it’s safe to say that Beseda has seen plenty of grimmer situations. She exhibits a special blend of resilience and empathy when discussing her work that makes it immediately clear what an ideal fit she is for her position. While many might be (understandably) depressed by the havoc crime wreaks on people’s lives, Beseda sees opportunities to sympathize with crime victims and displays a remarkable ability to focus on the life-affirming and community-building nature of her job — all while living a full life outside of work with her young family.
WACOAN: Are you from the Waco area originally?
Beseda: Originally from Troy, so close to Waco. Not too far.
WACOAN: What made you want to stay?
Beseda: Well, I met my husband, [Adam], at Temple College. He played baseball, and I was just going to school there to get my basics out of the way. He’s from Abbott, so Waco was kind of our middle ground between Troy and Abbott. We have a farm, and we grow corn and cotton and have cattle kind of out by the West area. So yeah, Waco’s our middle ground.
WACOAN: Do you do a lot of work on the farm during the weekends?
Beseda: Yeah, we feed cows, and we cut our own hay. Right now we have corn growing, about 70 acres of corn. And then my husband’s family farms for a living, so we help them.
WACOAN: Do you guys hire outside people to help you with the harvesting or do you do that all yourself?
Beseda: We do it all ourselves. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun.
WACOAN: What do you like about being in Waco?
Beseda: I like being able to come here — I love my job, and I love coming to work and knowing what’s going on in Waco. But I think with that knowledge it makes you want to go outside of Waco. So I love being able to come in — you’ve got all the good stores to shop at, things to do with your kids — but then I like being able to go away and go out of Waco to go back home.
WACOAN: What led you to this job?
Beseda: I was getting my degree at Tarleton [State] University here at the MCC campus, and I was originally going to school to be a police officer. Law enforcement runs heavy in my family, and my husband’s actually a police officer here. So I was kind of wanting to do the law enforcement thing as a career, and I started out — I had to do two internships.
I started with Bell County, with the [district attorney’s] office, and they have a victim services unit there in the courthouse. It was a little boring because all you did was help people come in for their cases when they go to trial. It was kind of monotonous, and I like to have things to do all the time; you never know what you’re going to get into. But I liked the idea of victim services because that was a side of law enforcement that I had never seen but it was still involved.
My second internship I did here, at the [Waco] police department. And I did a full-time internship: went out on calls, helped victims, helped detectives do interviews when victims would come in. And I fell in love with it. So when I graduated — I had just finished my internship — I got hired on here part time and went from part time to full time to the director of the unit over the course of about six years.
WACOAN: So you’ve been here since pretty much the beginning of your career.
Beseda: I’ve been here a total of 10 years.
WACOAN: You said you were studying to be a police officer. Were you at the police academy, or were you studying criminal justice?
Beseda: I got my bachelor’s in criminal justice and a minor in psychology. I knew I wanted to do kind of a mix of both. In this unit we do — when an officer is out on scene and there’s a victim or witness or family member that just went through a traumatic event, they call us out there to the crime scene.
So we actually go to the crime scene; we help them on scene. If it’s family violence, we’ll transport them to a safe place. They follow up with us or we follow up with them, and we get them counseling.
The scope [of what we do] is so big. It kind of fulfills my need to be nosy about what’s going on out there. [Laughs.] But I don’t have to wear the badge and the gun or do that stuff. I come in when it’s secured and take care of people. So that’s what I like.
WACOAN: Do you provide counseling yourself at all?
Beseda: We do what’s called crisis intervention stress management. So in the moment, it works on calming them down, helping them understand the scope of what’s going on, getting through that shock phase. That’s kind of what we do. And usually we’re there to help them calm down, understand what’s going on and explain the process.
For instance, we get called to questionable deaths. The reason they’re called questionable deaths is — we work them all the same, but we have to figure out if it’s [due to] natural [causes], suicide or homicide. So it could be someone that had a heart attack and that loved one knows they had a heart attack, but we have to do the crime scene the same as a murder. So we have to do fingerprints, take pictures, and sometimes that’s kind of invading. They don’t know why [we have to do that]. They know their loved one died of a heart attack, so [they wonder] why we have to do all that. So we’re there to explain that and help them understand. We walk them through the whole process.
WACOAN: That sounds like it could be a pretty emotionally draining job.
Beseda: It is sometimes, depending on what kind of calls [we get]. But the thing I always tell myself [is], ‘If I’m having a bad day, the people that I’m helping are having an even worse day.’
WACOAN: That helps put it into perspective. I saw you have a little play area out there in the lobby. Do you have to bring victims in sometimes, and that’s for their children?
Beseda: We will bring victims in if they’re being interviewed by detectives. We take custody of kids for [child protective services], for the state. So if we’re out on a call and parents get arrested or even if a lost child is found, we’ll go get them clothes. We have clothes stashed up here and hygiene items. We’ll go grab them a Happy Meal and bring them up here. The longest I’ve had a kid with me is about six hours. If CPS has to do an investigation, we’ll bring them up here.
We also do Crime Victims Compensation through the state, so if it’ll require them to come up here and fill out the application, then we have an area to keep the kids busy. That was a huge thing before — we had all these kids running around, screaming, and we couldn’t really do anything with them. We’ve had some kids we’ve had to stay overnight with. We have little cots in the closet here that we can fold out.
WACOAN: That must break your heart. I think that would break my heart.
Beseda: It does, yeah. It’s hard to take some home. My husband’s gotten mad at me — before we had kids I once brought home two different little kids, and he said, ‘No, you’ve got to separate work from home. There’s too many liabilities with it.’ And I said, ‘But—’ It’s really hard.
Kid calls are my favorite, though. If we have to go out and take custody of kids, or even just—I’ve sat in a ditch on the side of the interstate with coloring books, coloring with a kid just waiting for family to show up. It really just depends.
It’s hard to describe our job because we do so much, from transports to taking custody of kids to family violence, sexual assault, homicides, drownings — that’s a big summer thing. There’s just so much that we do. You never know what you’re going to get.
WACOAN: Why are the kid calls your favorite?
Beseda: Because little kids are just innocent. They don’t care who you are as long as you’re nice to them and you have things to play with and stuff to do. They are so fun.
Usually I’ll get them comfortable with me, and I’ll take them around and let them say hi to all the detectives and get the badge stickers and the Waco tattoos and get candy and get them spoiled while they’re up here. And that may be one more kid that might grow up liking law enforcement or understanding that we’re here to help. So it’s just really fun.
And it’s neat to see those officers with — I remember one call. This little boy, I think [his] mom was involved in drugs. She just left the little boy in the van on the side of the road all night by himself. And by the time we got there the bottle of milk [he had] was spoiled.
WACOAN: How old was the boy?
Beseda: Right at 2. When I got there the officers called and said, ‘Bring something to eat for a 2-year-old, and we’ll have everything else covered.’ I pulled up, and they were changing his diaper in the back of the car with gloves. He had really bad diaper rash from being in the same diaper for probably 12 hours. And before long he was sitting in the back of the police car eating pancakes from McDonald’s and loved all the police officers, was talking about all their equipment and looking at all their stuff.
I mean, there’s just no judgement in a kid. They’re my favorite. I love going out on kid calls. And that’s probably changed since I’ve become a mom. You kind of have that motherly ‘I want to take care of you [mentality].’
WACOAN: You see your kid’s face in every kid’s face.
Beseda: Yeah. Something else I do is that I’m the coordinator for the peer support team for the police department.
There are 15 of us that are nationally trained in debriefing critical incidents, so any officer-involved shooting, or recently in Robinson they had a young lady commit suicide. So we went and debriefed the officers that arrived on that [scene]. She was a 14-year-old girl. We’ve gone down and helped Temple recently when they had their officer that committed suicide.
We’ll do any officer-involved shooting, so when an officer in our department has to pull the trigger, any kind of traumatic call. So if someone shoots themselves in front of them, if [there’s] a fatality accident that’s really bad, we debrief. That’s what our team does.
We travel for agencies all around and then our own, and we debrief and do referrals. We have a network of mental health providers here in Waco where we can refer people out for counseling or [eye movement desensitization and reprocessing] treatment.
Basically we’re there for everybody. We check on people. If there’s a hard call, we’ll call [the officers] or we’ll go sit with them, depending on if they’re with patrol, and we’ll just [say], ‘Hey man, how was that call? Tell me about that.’ And we’ll just check on them. We try to, as a team, take care of everybody here at the PD.
WACOAN: And is that throughout the state? Or the region?
Beseda: Just here. It’s a Waco PD team. We’ll go as far as Bellmead, Lacy Lakeview, Robinson, Temple. We can go outside of our police department and debrief, but we do a lot for our department.
WACOAN: You said that’s national training?
Beseda: National training, yeah.
WACOAN: What does that involve? What do you have to do to get trained for something like that?
Beseda: It’s a three-day course. You have to get trained on peer-to-peer, which is just one-on-one counseling and critical incident stress management. And then you [also] get trained for a group, how to do a large group, like the Twin Peaks debrief.
We take all the officers that were there when — our term that we use is whoever was there ‘when the bullets were in the air.’ So we had 15 officers in a room, and we just go around. That was about a three- or four-hour debrief. We go around and hash out the incident. We talk about what each person does from beginning to end and what role they played. And then we ask, ‘What are your hobbies? What are you doing? Are you still sleeping? Are you having any issues with this?’ We just go around and put it all out there on the table and make sure they either walk away 1) feeling better about it or 2) at least with resources and referrals to go out and get help. It’s kind of like victim services, but for the guys.
WACOAN: That’s really important, I think. I can’t imagine the kind of traumatic things they must see on the job every day.
Beseda: Every day, yeah.
WACOAN: Do you do any work with volunteers?
Beseda: Yes. We are a 24/7 unit. We couldn’t survive without our volunteers.
Victim services alone goes out on about 600 calls a year. We work Monday through Friday, 8-5. So on nights and weekends, we have a team of about 30 people that we put through an academy training and we partner them up for a three-month training period. Then they can start going out on calls. They sign up for the shift they want, they take a radio. We provide vehicles, car seats, uniforms, and they go out there and answer those calls at night and on the weekends. It’s awesome. Without them we wouldn’t have a life.
WACOAN: Do you guys ever get called in if they come across a particularly terrible situation that they aren’t necessarily equipped to handle?
Beseda: Yeah, any homicides we usually go out on. Of course, we’re available by phone if they ever need to just call. We have a primary [volunteer] and a primary two and then the staff on call, and sometimes it happens that we get so busy that there are two calls out at one time and then a third one comes in, and that’s when staff has to go. It just depends on how busy [it is] and what’s going on.
Last week I had to go out on a death where one of my volunteers was a little overwhelmed — he had about 20 people that were there. So the commander called me, and I went out and helped him. You never know. We rely on them frequently. They do about 13,000 hours a year.
WACOAN: And you said your husband is a police officer? For the Waco Police Department?
Beseda: Yes, he’s a police officer here.
WACOAN: Do you cross paths at all at work? Do you ever go to crime scenes where he’s working?
Beseda: No, he’s actually in a specialized unit. He’s with street crimes, so they do mobile drug enforcement. But there are some days where he’ll work 2 [p.m.] to 12 [a.m.], and I’ll go downstairs and give him a kiss at 2 o’clock. And I won’t see him again until the next day. We have a lot of police couples here that do the same thing.
I used to go out on calls with him when he was on midnights, but since he switched over to that specialized unit I don’t really go with him anymore. They always have drugs, or they’re always doing something different.
WACOAN: That’s interesting, I wouldn’t have thought that there would be a lot of couples in the law enforcement area.
Beseda: Here at Waco we have, I’d say, close to 10 [couples] where both spouses work here. Yeah, it’s pretty neat.
WACOAN: And you have two girls, right? How old are they?
Beseda: Two and 5. The oldest one, she’s fixing to be 6, so she’ll go into first grade. And the 2-year-old will be 3 — she’s going into ‘3-K.’ We’re going to try out the pre-K for 3-year-olds.
WACOAN: Is that through Waco ISD? Is that a public school program?
Beseda: We go to a little six-man school way out in the middle of nowhere, and they do 3-K, 4-K and kindergarten. So it’s kind of an opportunity to see how your child learns and if they’re ready or [to gauge] their attention span. You can always hold them back. But we thought it was a little bit better than day care because it was more learning structured, structured toward school instead of just playing.
WACOAN: What are your daughters like? I’m sure they’re full of energy.
Beseda: My oldest one is my little princess. She reminds me a lot of me. She worries about how to make everybody happy, and she’s big into coloring and helping Mommy around the house.
My younger one, she’s going to be the one probably to ask to play football.
WACOAN: Really, she’s a tomboy?
Beseda: Yeah. They’re on vacation with my in-laws this week, and before they even made it to the resort they were going to, she had an M&M shoved up her nose. They had to pull over to the side of the road and get the M&M out, just stuff like that. She’s already been to the [emergency room], and my other child hasn’t. They’re just so different. I couldn’t have two more opposite children.
WACOAN: What are their names?
Beseda: Charleigh is the oldest one, and Corie is the youngest one.
WACOAN: I know they’re a little young now, but do they know what you and your husband do?
Beseda: Yeah, our oldest one does. She loves coming up here to the police department, and she has her certain detectives that she has to visit to get candy and say hi to and get spoiled. But she knows that Daddy’s a police officer, and the way that I describe my job to her is, ‘Mommy helps people.’ That I help kids, I help people who are upset or crying. That’s how I explain my [job] to them because they don’t really know what a victim is yet.
But she actually made me cry. They wrote a book for kindergarten, and she put that she wanted to be a police officer like her daddy and drew this cute little picture. So she understands.
The younger one, no. My husband changes into his uniform here so they don’t really see him in uniform unless they come up here with me and we go see him if he’s in the building. The younger one doesn’t really have an idea yet.
WACOAN: So this article is called Keeping Balance. What does “keeping balance” mean to you? Or how do you achieve balance in your life?
Beseda: Keeping balance to me just means as a mother and as an employee, just staying organized. I’m big on routines and schedules. And actually, coming to work is kind of my getaway from being a mom. I love my kids, but I love coming to work and being with adults.
Keeping balance means staying mentally focused, mentally fit. You have to take care of yourself and allow yourself time. My thing is going to the chiropractor and getting adjusted and getting a massage weekly or biweekly. And at work, we’re lucky enough to get paid to work out. We have wellness time, so three hours a week we can go run, we can go hike the trails, and we get paid. That helps you keep balance. It helps you take care of yourself. So that’s what I do for me.
And then at home, just those routines. My kids know we go home, we cook dinner, we eat, take a bath, go to bed, every night. And usually by 7:30 [p.m.] they’re asking to get in their beds.
WACOAN: Wow, that’s great!
Beseda: Yeah, I’m kind of proud of that. So that’s what I do for myself and how I keep my family balanced.
WACOAN: What about hobbies? Do you have anything outside of work and wellness things that you like to do?
Beseda: It’s hard to have hobbies when you have so much going on, because we have our farm. So just getting outside and mowing or riding around on our Polaris and feeding cows, stuff like that. I’d say just being outside is kind of my hobby. Once my kids get older I think I’ll probably take up more, but as of right now my kids, my family and our farm are my hobbies.
WACOAN: How do your girls do on the farm? Do they help out at all?
Beseda: They do. Usually when we go feed cows. We have about 60 head of cattle and they just swarm around our Polaris, so [the girls will] usually talk to the cows and yell at them from inside. But they want nothing to do with them because cows are big. They’re still a little intimidating to them, but they like to help.
WACOAN: You talked about this a little already, but what are some of the things you like to do in Waco? Or if you and your husband have a date night, what kind of things would you do in Waco?
Beseda: We usually go see a movie. Ninfa’s is our favorite place to eat, have a drink. We’ll do Painting With a Twist, stuff like that. Now, Waco has kind of exploded as far as things to do, like the river tour — we would probably try something like that. It just depends. We don’t like to come into Waco too much because of our jobs. Sometimes we’ll go to Fort Worth.
WACOAN: Do you guys like to cook a lot too?
Beseda: Yes, we like to cook. We’re big on grilling, and I like to just make up recipes.
WACOAN: What are some recent recipes that you’ve come up with?
Beseda: Well, my favorite one, it sounds kind of gross because I know I wasn’t a Brussels sprouts person —
WACOAN: I love Brussels sprouts.
Beseda: OK. It’s shredded Brussels sprouts — you can buy them already shredded at H-E-B — and onion and garlic and sweet peppers, just sautéed with potatoes. And then I cooked sausage and combined it all.
WACOAN: Sounds like a really good hash.
Beseda: Yeah, it was amazing.
WACOAN: It sounds like a really easy, quick meal to make too.
Beseda: And the girls ate it, so that’s a winner.