WINCHESTER — Most of us would be lucky to find the fulfillment that Winchester Police Lt. Amanda Behan has found in her career. You can hear the enthusiasm in her voice, see the passionate spark in her eyes when talking about a career she loves — but didn’t originally plan for.
Behan’s original goal was to become an attorney, a path she began as a paralegal at a law firm in Fairfax. Although she loved the company she was working for, she felt something was missing.
“I just felt that there was something more for me,” said Behan. She just didn’t know what that something was yet.
One fateful day in 2000, she saw a recruitment ad for the Winchester Police Department in the newspaper. She had previously worked as the part-time assistant director of the Frederick County Victim/Witness Program, where she had interactions with law enforcement officers and crime victim.
“Through this experience, I learned and developed compassion for what victims go through, not only as a result of the crime but as a part of the judicial proceedings that occur after. That is what made the most profound effect on me.”
Recalling that experience, Behan responded to the Winchester Police Department recruitment ad. She was hired in 2001, leading her to her true calling — becoming a police officer.
Her first assignment landed her on the midnight shift patrol, where Behan said she learned the importance of teamwork.
“When you only have a few other officers working with you, you really have to rely on each other, especially during those particularly difficult or violent encounters,” she said.
“We established a really strong working relationship, and that set the groundwork for my career because I had a wonderful lieutenant, he was one of the mentors that I had who made me who I am today.”
Behan was soon offered an opportunity to work with the drug task force the following year, leading to her next role with the department.
“I was nervous about moving in my career that early, but I remember when somebody asks you, what are your goals? Well, I just don’t want to pass up on any opportunity when it presents itself. That’s why I decided to go for it,” she said.
Behan worked closely with regional law enforcement partners on significant cases, including a few federal cases, which she said was an eye-opening experience.
“I think I grew up in a bit of a sheltered home, it was very disciplined. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to crime. It opened my eyes a lot,” she said.
In 2004, she was asked to transition to general investigations; it was also the same year she gave birth to a baby boy.
“That time in general investigations definitely impacted me emotionally, especially after having a child,” she said.
“I think that in this career, that does something to you. One of my first calls was a child death investigation, and that was really hard because my son was the same age as this child. It’s one of those cases, I think it will always haunt me.”
During this time, she got a chance to work on something she felt passionately about — recruiting. At the time, the department did not have a formalized recruiting program. Behan and a coworker applied for and received a grant that helped them create a recruiting program.
“It was something I was always interested in, because I wanted to do what I could to make our agency full of great people,” she said, with emphasis on the last two words.
“That’s not always easy going out trying to recruit, especially as the law enforcement profession has changed in the eyes of the public. It’s becoming increasingly difficult,” said Behan.
When she was promoted to a supervisor in 2007, she formalized the applicant mentoring program, so that recruits would have a full understanding of what to expect throughout the process.
“I really got to know the individuals. By the time they were hired, I felt like they were really a close acquaintance of mine. I think that’s really important, because you want them to feel like they’re part of a family coming in,” she said.
Mentoring could be considered one of the mainstays of Behan’s career. Because she experienced such support from higher-ups in the department throughout her career, she wanted to foster that same spirit in her interactions with new recruits.
“While the hiring process itself is disciplined and structured, there is no reason the ‘human’ component can’t be there. This is especially important for recruits hired out of the area,” she said.
“In these instances, they are leaving their college towns, military life, or families behind. Helping them through the adjustment by assisting them with where to live, the introduction to other officers, having them do ride-alongs, and being available to answer any question provides them with the security they are joining a great department and community.
In September of that year, Behan returned to general investigations as a first-line supervisor. It was then that she stepped into the role of public information officer, a role she today still fills for the department.
Promotions kept coming. In December 2009, she was promoted to lieutenant, where she oversaw recruitment full time, training, and the accreditation process. In October 2012, she transitioned to dayshift lieutenant, where she supervised a shift of senior officers.
“I was worried about going back and how people would feel toward me, but it wasn’t long until they were completely comfortable with me. I developed a mentoring opportunity because those opportunities were given to me to be developed, and that was really important to me. I wanted people to progress in the organization. I worked with a few folks who had some aspirations and had great success in getting them to places,” she said.
Five years later, Chief John Piper moved Behan to his office, where she serves as lieutenant in the Office of Professional Standards. In addition to her continued public information officer role, Behan created a series of outreach programs, which has become one of her favorite parts of her career. She particularly enjoys the programs that create positive interactions between children and police.
“That part is why I continue to want to do this job, I think that’s probably number one now — continuing to be out there in the community. You just don’t know when you’re doing these things, the impact that you make on a child’s life, or the life of an adult,” she said.
She had experience working on such outreach events — Behan previously served as the director of the popular Kids and Cops program from 2007 to 2013.
“It was always something that was near and dear,” she said.
“Every year in Kids and Cops there would be some encounter with one of our campers that would just pull at my heartstrings — and usually not just one, but several. Giving them the opportunity to interact with us and make an impact that will likely last a lifetime to some of them. That was really important to me. I get so emotional when it comes to the kids and what we do, and the impact we make on them.”
At the time, the Kids and Cops program was one of the few outreach events the department had. After success with 2017’s Coffee with a Cop, an event that took place at police departments around the country, Behan wanted to do more similar outreach events.
Behan sat down with Caitlin Squires from the City of Winchester’s Communications Office to develop several new programs, like Cookie with a Cop, Coloring with a Cop, the Junior Academy, the North End Summer Kickoff Cookout, Badges and Batter, and Behind the Blue.
“I just want to inspire those children who may want to get into law enforcement, to see a different side of us that maybe they haven’t seen,” she said.
“Children are resilient, some go through terrible tragedies... It’s amazing to me what a child can go through and what they can bounce back from. Or, they can be holding those things in. So whenever we can interact with them, and they can feel that they can trust us, that they’re not going to hesitate to call us if they need us.”
In her time away from work, Behan throws herself into family life. She and her husband have two active children — her son plays football and her daughter plays volleyball for Frederick County Parks and Recreation, where Behan serves as a coach. The family takes vacations to Lake Anna, where Behan gets a little ‘me time’ to enjoy a book.
“It’s an opportunity for me to get a whole book read in a short amount of time. I’m a huge James Patterson fan,” she said. She also has gotten into true crime podcasts.
“I think part of that is because I’m so far removed in the past couple years, I don’t get to do what got me into this, which is make a difference in the community going to calls. I enjoy listening to those things because I don’t get to do it,” she said.
Physical fitness is important to Behan, who oversees the WPD’s fitness program. She runs, bikes, hikes, and does interval and circuit training.
Behan also loves to indulge her creative side.
“I love interior design and working in the yard. This is therapeutic and allows me time to be creative,” she said.
“Some of my best thoughts about work have occurred while landscaping around the house.”
When informed that she was one of the finalists for our Movers & Shakers, Behan was shocked.
“When the chief told me about this nomination, I was like, I don’t know... This is because of so many great people,” she said of the many people who play a role in her career.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without a wonderful family, that’s been hugely supportive,” she said.
“My many mentors in and out of law enforcement, who have guided me and my way of thinking in leadership.”
“To me, somebody who is a mover and a shaker is someone who is positive, always on the go, ready for new ideas, ready for change, and always thinking of something else to do next,” she said.
It sounds as if that description fits her to a tee.