Investigator helps people find healing after victimization

Area native Cassie Wegelin came back to the area in 2017 to become an investigator with the Troop E office of the Nebraska State Patrol in Scottsbluff.

SCOTTSBLUFF — Cassie Wegelin of Gering, an investigator with Troop E of the Nebraska State Patrol in Scottsbluff, has been named by Gov. Pete Ricketts to the Commission for the Protection of Children.

“We’re a group or individuals from different areas of child protective services and the foster care system that reports directly to the governor,” she said. “I’m the representative from the State Patrol for law enforcement.”

Many different agencies are represented, including legal services, county judges, foster care, Health and Human Services, juvenile probation, Court Appointed Special Advocates and more.

The advisory commission was created in 1991 when Ben Nelson was governor. The group was charged with identifying potential glitches in the child welfare system and offering input into possible solutions.

Wegelin described her entry into the law enforcement profession as “not a fancy story.” She attended college for a completely different degree before realizing she wasn’t that interested. She moved back home to Bridgeport, and soon after that to the Gering area.

“I was working at the hospital and had some interaction with law enforcement,” she said. “That’s how I got interested in that field.”

Wegelin’s first job with the State Patrol was as a dispatcher, but she always had an interest in investigations. One of her good friends was an investigator and mentored her on that side of the work.

For all new troopers, the first two years are spent patrolling the state’s highways. Wegelin spent her time with Troop D, based in McCook and then came back to Scottsbluff as an investigator in January 2017.

“My very first day at work, a young woman was killed by a freight train near Minatare,” she said. “I was thrown to the wolves but I love the work. It’s always interesting.”

Wegelin said there’s no “typical” day on the job because it involves individual cases.

“The patrol has a drug division and a criminal division,” she said. “I’m an investigator for any criminal case that doesn’t relate to drug activity. It includes adult and juvenile sexual assaults, thefts and internet crimes against children.”

When a new case comes in, she’s off conducting interviews and talking with the people involved. If the case is something that just happened, they’ll also do case work on-scene.

“We frequently assist Health and Human Services when they go out for home visits,” Wegelin said. “Some of the cases they’re called to investigate aren’t in the most stable family environments, so having us along helps out.”

A recent graduate from polygraph school, Wegelin is also conducting polygraph interviews.

The Nebraska State Patrol has a division that’s dedicated to working on internet crimes, but it’s located in Lincoln. On the local level, investigators handle those cases as they come up.

“The internet and social media have had a huge impact on the number of online crimes we investigate,” Wegelin said. “We’ve already doubled the number of cases we saw just last year. With so many social media apps, it’s easy for kids to get in contact with each other. They might not know who the person is on the other end.”

She said education is so important to inform kids about the dangers that lurk online. The schools are also helping address the problem by bringing in experts to explain to students what is and isn’t appropriate online behavior.

“I think a lot of the kids realize the danger,” she said. “There’s just a lot of peer pressure in trying to fit in, but once a picture is online, it’s there forever.”

While investigators are ready to make presentations in the schools, they’re in a very reactive profession. As Wegelin said, “We don’t come until the crime has already been committed.”

Still, she gets real satisfaction from working with families in need to help guide them through difficult times to a place of healing.

“That’s what keeps me going during the day,” she said. “While we don’t deal with the best people in the community, we want to offer help to those who have been victimized. That’s what it’s all about.

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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