The First 48

Fan Q&A with Commander Eunice Cooper

Miami Police Department Homicide Unit

Commander Eunice Cooper

Miami's Commander Eunice Cooper took to Facebook and Twitter to answer questions from fans of The First 48. Here are the results.

Ruby Contreras Nugent: How amazing are YOU?
Commander Eunice Cooper: I don't know how to answer that! I don't think I'm amazing. I just have a job that I love!

Alexis Moore: What's the best part of your job?
CMDR Cooper: Getting a case from beginning and seeing it to end with a successful conclusion. Giving the victim's family closure. While it doesn't bring back their loved one, it helps them to have the person who is responsible brought to some type of justice.

Sylvia Benavides Starrat: Which cases do you prefer: the ones that are extremely easy to solve with little mystery OR the ones that call for a lot of deducing with tons of mystery?
CMDR Cooper: I like a challenge. I like a case that makes me think, that makes me come up with ideas outside of the box. I like the chase, the challenge, and the demands of working a case where the mystery is there.

Melissa Casey: What was your toughest case and why?
CMDR Cooper: I don't know. I think that I've had a number of tough cases. As an overall answer - the toughest ones are where you know who the suspect is, but you haven't gotten there yet to prove it to make that arrest. I've had several cases like this.

Nancy C. Parra: What's the most memorable case you can think of?
CMDR Cooper: That would be relatively early in my career. I handled a homicide of a woman who was killed by her boyfriend. It was not a "Who Done It" - it was more of a domestic. It was memorable because she was killed in her home with her small children there. That made it memorable. I was fairly new to homicide then and even to date, it has been the bloodiest scene I have encountered. As the years went on, I had the occasion to work a case in which their father was shot - he didn't die. I know the kids. I still speak with them. The son calls me and we talk.

Teo Gonzalez: Has a case ever hit so close to home that you couldn't work it?
CMDR Cooper: No. I haven't had one. I mean, being human, when you look at a case, there's always going to be some correlation to your life. But there has never been a case that has correlated so much that it's been too tough to work it.

Renee AlmostCapers Plomanteer: How do you even begin to cope with the homicide of a child?
CMDR Cooper: That's difficult. For any child's death - homicide or natural - it's touching. A child victim is so different from an adult victim. It's almost surreal, like you're almost not looking at a real person - for the mind to process it - it's hard. It makes you go home and hug the kids in your life... And kids are remarkable - when they give you a hug, it's healing.

Debra Baldwin: Has working homicide made you more jaded toward the world?
CMDR Cooper: No, I don't think so. I've thought about that before, and I have always said that the day I think that I have gotten jaded, it's time to leave. I haven't gotten there. It actually makes me a lot more compassionate toward the world.

Debra Baldwin: And how do you deal with it mentally?
CMDR Cooper: I disconnect. I have compartments in my life. Work is a compartment, personal is another compartment. Occasionally, the two mix and they cross into each other. I would lie if I would say that when I get home, I don't think about my cases, because I do think about them. Especially now (as the Commander of the unit), because I'm never disconnected from my work. You deal with work, even at home when it comes up at home, you deal with it, and then you move on. I have the ability to do that, but that's not unique. I think everyone who works in this field has that same ability. Sometimes it drags on a little longer in your personal life than you want, but that's one of the things you understood when you come into Homicide, and you accept it when you get into this job. It becomes a part of your life. It is an intricate part of your life and you deal with it like a life issue. At the end of the day it is a choice

Ceciel Scott: How do officers cope with the horrific things they see?
CMDR Cooper: I think officers do remarkably well in coping with what they see. But then again I can only respond to that from a professional standpoint. I don't know how that affects them at home. Hopefully, they're smart enough to get out of (police work) if it affects them too much at home. I can honestly say that I haven't seen any person too affected that they can't do their job.

Ruby Contreras Nugent: How have you dealt with the high stress and emotional toll your job has on you and your family?
CMDR Cooper: I shop a lot! And I spend as much time with my family as I can - that's important. I'm very fortunate that I have a sister who is in law enforcement. And her stress level is very high too - she's an assistant chief - a colonel in her department, so we can relate on that level. As far as the stress, there is stress, but I think over the years we developed a high stress tolerance level as we grew up. So when we get together, we relax, enjoy their kids, have a good time, and do all the normal family stuff that families do. We have a lot of family support - that's very important. My friends who were my friends before I got the job in homicide are still my friends. That's a biggie.

I've also learned that your work family is also your family, but you have to stay grounded with the people outside of this job - that balances you out. A lot of times, when you're dealing only with police friends then you tend to do just talk about police work. When you have another side to your life with other people, it takes on another role. I get together with the girls, we go to the thrift stores, the outlets, we go shopping. I spend time with family, my mother, and with my nephew who is in college and playing football. I have another life.

Dawnelle J. Thomas: I have never seen you lose your cool. How do you manage that when questioning a murder suspect?
CMDR Cooper: I have lost my cool, but I rarely lose my cool. Normally I am contained.

One of the things I have learned over the years is that by the time I bring someone in to the interview room, I have "the goods" I just need to extract details from the person. There's no guessing game at that point. There's no reason to lose your cool. Time is always on your side when you get to the point of bringing someone in. So time becomes your friend. And if you have time on your side, you can afford to be as cool as you want to be.

Nikki Illidge: How do you feel once you get the criminal responsible for the crime he committed?
CMDR Cooper: Great! I was thinking about that because I'm at a point now in my career where I compare myself to a young detective like Detective Douglas - for him, it's a great feeling to get someone off the street and through the justice system with a conviction. I think I'm pleased now but I don't have the same great feeling of rejuvenation that a young detective has because it has happened to me a lot. I think I'm beyond that. At this point in my career its more like satisfaction.

Ashlee Danko: What is the first thing you usually look for as evidence on a crime scene?
CMDR Cooper: That's a very interesting question. I don't think there is a first thing. You go with an open mind and you look at everything. There is no first thing that you look for. You try to encompass and observe everything. You work your way from "out to in," so you don't miss anything relevant. It's not a matter of the first thing you look for. But if I had to say there is a first thing, it would be - obviously - to make sure that that homicide occurred there. But whatever you observe will tell you if that's where it occurred. Oftentimes, you may have a body at a crime scene, but the homicide didn't necessarily occur there.

You have to take an overview and not look for any one specific thing, but look for everything.

Angela BedroomEyes Floyd: What made you continue with your job all these years?
CMDR Cooper: It's a funny story. When I was first asked to come to Homicide, of course, I said no. Then I was asked again, and I said no. Then the third time, I wasn't asked, I was just transferred. It was funny because I said to my mother, "One thing they say about homicide detectives is that they get to travel." So my first week I went to Miami Beach - right over the bridge. Not a big deal!

What has kept me here, after getting past all those "no's" is, I actually fell in love with the job.

I'm very glad that there was one persistent person who persisted with my "no's." He didn't listen. Otherwise I wouldn't be where I am today. I think that opened up my mind to Homicide. On my own I may have not done it. Someone did it for me and it was a great thing and I fell in love with it.

Teo Gonzalez: How are you able to separate personal and work life? Does one ever overflow into the other while working a case?
CMDR Cooper: I've learned to juggle really well because, at end of day, we're human, like everyone else. In addition to a job that demands a lot, we have a normal life - family, responsibilities, a house, a car, leaky sink, a broken A/C, and other problems, all that other stuff. You just learn to deal with it. I think it helps - the job actually helps in your personal life because when you deal with death, everything else seems small. Aside from life-threatening illnesses, you learn that everything else can be fixed.

So you don't stress out about it.

Ruby Contreras Nugent: What do you do for fun to release the balance the high stress?
CMDR Cooper: I love my orchids. And I love to talk! I also like to teach and give presentations to young people. I also go to church. I try to keep my religious balance (even though I cuss a lot). Cussing is a part of relieving a lot of the stress, too! Those kinds of things!

Melinda M Ray: If you weren't working for MPD, what other job could you see yourself doing?
CMDR Cooper: If you had asked me that years ago, I don't know what the answer would have been. But now, I would say not necessarily teaching, but lecturing so I could set own schedule. Some type of job that allows me to teach and enlighten people, but not an everyday standard type of teaching.

Adam Simpson: Who is your biggest inspiration?
CMDR Cooper: My mother. Absolutely. Hands down - my mom.

I remember the day that my mom pinned my badge on me. She told me, "Don't ever let me read about you unless it's something good." That has been a big inspiration. She had 6 of us. My parents instilled in us to work hard and enjoy life, and my mother was really ahead of her time. She also said, "Get married only when you have to, don't let it be the first thing you do... enjoy life first, see the world, meet people. Let marriage be one of the last things you do." I probably took it too far - I haven't gotten married! But I would say my mother has been my greatest inspiration.

Melissa Casey: Have any of you regretted doing the shows?
CMDR Cooper: No, actually I find that the shows have in a lot of ways helped. It brings us into people's homes and they get to see our personalities. It helps people to decide whether we're trustworthy, it shows who we are and our dedication. It helps people relate to us. It lets them see that we're real people, people that you can sit down and talk to. The program also shows a compassionate side of us. I think that's the thing people need to know about people in law enforcement. We have a difficult job because of the things we see every day. Some people think that we are unapproachable, but I think the program helps us with that, it makes us more approachable.

Eddie Curry: How is Joe Shillaci doing? Does he keep in touch?
CMDR Cooper: I see Joe occasionally and he seems to doing well.

Valencia Ellebee Blossoms: What is the one most important thing that you need the public to know and understand about the nature of what you've been doing the past 24 years in homicide?
CMDR Cooper: I would want people to understand - on behalf of everyone who works in Homicide - that we give a lot. We give of ourselves. And it's a choice that we make. Obviously it's a choice we didn't mind making because we do it.>

It's worth it to bring closure to a family who has lost someone tragically. It's important that people understand that we too have families, a life, and things that are going on.

I also think that people need to understand that a lot of time it may seem that we're not doing anything on their particular loved one's case, but understand that with a homicide it's always open for investigation - forever. We may not always contact you every week, but somewhere someone is working on your case - manually by us, forensically by someone else. A lot of times people don't understand that because society is bigger than the homicide unit, the work is bigger than the number of people we have to handle it. Sometimes we go from case to case and we don't have the luxury of 6-12 months to dedicate to just that case. But we don't forget - we keep pounding away. It may not be a mountain at time, it may be sand, but we're moving.