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San Diego Hero: Seán Snow

How the detective at the San Diego Sheriff's Department seeks justice for children

By Kai Oliver-Kurtin | Photography by Robert Benson

San Diego Hero: Seán Snow

San Diego Hero: Seán Snow

Detective Seán Snow | Major Crimes Division, Child Abuse Unit, San Diego Sheriff’s Department

One of the city’s most prominent detectives dealing with child abuse started out, of all things, as an actor. The NYU grad was trying to find his big break in Los Angeles, but then the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 changed everything. Seán Snow wanted to help, to make a difference—and that’s when his career took a 180.

Fast forward to 2005, and Snow is arriving as an officer with the Glendale Police Department to the scene of a Metrolink train crash, which killed 11 people and injured almost 200 more. He compares the experience to being in a war zone, though being able to help reaffirmed his calling.

Today, Snow is a detective for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department Child Abuse Unit within the Major Crimes Division, where he focuses on felony crimes committed against children ages 13 and younger. His team receives more than 5,000 reports of alleged child abuse per year.

During an investigation of a physical abuse case last year, he discovered the suspect had been a person of interest in an earlier case involving a four-month-old child. The victim was brought to an emergency room in respiratory failure with numerous unexplainable bone fractures and a throat laceration. County Child Welfare Services ultimately removed the child from parental custody, while Snow conducted a thorough investigation, talking with every medical professional who had treated the child. With assistance from the deputy district attorney, the suspect was arrested and charged with torture. For his work on this case, the San Diego Police Officers Association recognized Snow as the 2018 Peace Officer of the Year for the Sheriff’s Department.

“Child abuse is a chal­lenging crime to investigate because, by its very nature, it almost always occurs when there are no witnesses,” Snow says. “Being able to put together a strong case with enough evidence to arrest the suspect is very rewarding. One of the things I’ve learned is that child victims want to be heard, and they want to be believed.”

Child abuse is a challenging crime to investigate because it almost always occurs when there are no witnesses.

He previously held the positions of police officer and later detective for the La Mesa Police Department. “There’ve been many occasions where people have yelled and screamed at my partners and me as we did our jobs, and you learn to recognize that most of the time it’s not about you,” he says. “I will say, I’m not a big fan of being bitten by a person… it happens surprisingly frequently in this line of work.”

While working patrol, he learned how to remain professional and focused during high-stress situations—the adage that law enforcement officers often encounter people who are having one of the worst days of their life rang true—which now helps him while investigating child abuse cases.

“Like an emergency room physician, you have to maintain a certain focus away from the trauma around you, or you can’t do your job,” he says. “Over time, you learn not to take the negativity personally or it overwhelms you.”

Snow has investigated more than 150 child abuse cases and assisted on dozens more, which are all eventually closed out in some form. Fortunately, so far all of them have resolved in a way he considers fair. While he admits that his job can be emotionally trying, he believes he makes a difference in these children’s lives by holding their perpetrators accountable.

“When children are abused, the consequences will usually follow them for the rest of their lives,” he says. “I hope that knowing someone tried to bring justice to them will someday help them heal.”

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