Kathy Eigelbach, hospital security guard-turned juvenile justice worker-turned police officer-turned Assistant St. Matthews Police Chief-turned college professor, traces her fascination with criminal justice to a trip to Alcatraz that her family took when she was 11 years old. From then on, she knew that was the field where she would exercise her passion for helping people.
Eigelbach received a bachelor’s degree in correctional administration from Eastern Kentucky University in 1980, and in 2007 she returned to EKU to pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice. While she was working on her master’s, she had the opportunity to attend the FBI National Academy, an exclusive program for which she was one of just three officers nominated from Kentucky.
“Not only was it fun, but it was learning fun,” she said. “People I met there I still stay in touch with today. It’s a great networking experience.”
Eigelbach’s career has been ever-evolving. After working as a hospital security guard straight out of college, she secured a job with the juvenile court system for which she served warrants and subpoenas. In the late ’80s she began working for the St. Matthews Police Department as a patrol officer and eventually worked her way up to Assistant Chief of Police. In 2010, she retired from the police force and became the internship coordinator for Bellarmine’s Criminal Justice Studies program. She is now an adjunct professor both at Bellarmine and at the University of Louisville, teaching Women in the Criminal Justice System and Criminology, among other courses.
“I have always liked to teach, and for part of my police career I was involved in teaching the DARE program. I also taught highway safety and did a lot of crime prevention programs,” Eigelbach said. “I really like the age group of college students. [They are] at a really great time in their life when they’re exploring new avenues and setting their sights down the road for adulthood and what they’re going to do, so it was an easy decision to say, ‘Yes, I would like to teach a class.’”
Eigelbach’s work in the police force and as a professor led her to begin working closely with the Southern Police Institute at UofL. That connection, in turn, led to work on a project offering leadership training to the Lebanese national police, the Internal Security Forces. She worked on training materials and logistical support for the program and traveled to Lebanon to see the ISF’s work firsthand.
“It’s fun for me to meet people who basically do the same job and have the same career that I had, but in a completely different setting,” Eigelbach said. “Their job titles might be the same, but the work that we do sometimes is really different, but then by the same token, a lot of it is really the same.”
In the ’80s, one of Eigelbach’s duties as a St. Matthews police officer was to take fingerprints for people seeking U.S. citizenship. She met an elderly woman who had been living through the Lebanese Civil War.
“I got to talking with her and I said, ‘Tell me about your country’… and she said, ‘My country is very beautiful; the mountains meet the sea,’ and she said, ‘Don’t believe what you see on the news—it’s really beautiful.’ I never forgot that,” Eigelbach said.
Years later, when she visited Lebanon for the ISF training, Eigelbach saw the country through the eyes of that woman.
“I was amazed. I just stood there and thought about that woman telling me how beautiful her country was, and sure enough, I got to see the beauty of her country—how the mountains meet the sea,” she said. “It was just an experience like fate stepping in and saying, ‘This is who we’re gonna work with, and you get to be a part of it.’”
After 21 years of service in the St. Matthews Police Department, Eigelbach has a lot to be proud of. She cites in particular her work in bringing the department along technologically and working with the community.
“A lot of my proudest moments are when people come back and say what you did really helped me out and it really made a difference,” she said. Being a police officer is “a people profession, it’s a service profession, and if you like to help people, those are the kind of people who are drawn to become police officers. When I think about police officers, that’s what I think about.”
By Emily Gahafer ’17
Photo by Jessica Ebelhar