In September 2013, Kelley Staples Kain became a member of the University of Tennessee Police Department (UTPD). In those six years, she has twice been honored as the department’s Officer of the Year – in 2015 and again in 2019. That’s special.
Kain, a corporal and an investigator, is all of 61” tall. For the math-challenged, that’s 5 feet and 1 inch. Short. Real short. But at work and at home, she stands tall. Real tall. This 43-year-old woman juggles all types of cases as a UTPD Investigator, but it’s safe to say that sexual assault cases are her specialty.
She also juggles life after work – five children ages 3 to 17 – plus a police chief husband and her work after work at home. “Laundry, dishes, daycare, trash, cooking dinner, helping with homework and getting myself and everyone out the door in the mornings,” she says. “I try to get to bed by 11 at the latest and I’m up at 4:45 a.m.”
Super Mom. Super cop. Super stresses.
Life began in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and she was reared in Birmingham. After high school, it was off to Auburn University and sorority life and partying. She flunked out. “I was really immature, didn’t even go to class, and it was a wake-up call,” she says. Eventually, she enrolled at the University of Georgia and graduated in 1999 with a degree in English. She followed a guy to Athens, who turned out to be her first husband. He was a JAG (judge advocate general) lawyer in the Navy and Air Force and she ended up in Knoxville when he worked for TVA.
After a while, William “Chip” Kain entered her life. Married in January 2016 they have a son, James, who is 3. Chip is the Chief of Police at Roane State Community College in Harriman. “Yep, we talk shop a lot at home and he calls me his ‘Shadow Chief’ because I help him with his issues,” she says with a big smile.
Her law enforcement career began, of course, in school at the Knox County Sheriff’s Office Regional Training Academy, also known as Police Academy. Perhaps it was a harbinger of what’s happened since. She graduated In March 2014 and was selected as the winner of the James Kennedy Outstanding Officer Award for her class.
In 2019 she was nominated by her supervisor, Special Operations Lt. Donnie Ross, for the Officer of the Year award. In part, here is what he says of her: “Her skills as an investigator are great and she goes above and beyond in the cases that she investigates. Her work ethic is everything you’d want and then some.”
Among other things, she:
- Serves as the department’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) representative for the university team and the countywide team.
- Serves as the department’s liaison to the university’s LGBT Commission.
- She is the department’s domestic violence instructor and teaches Violence Against Women investigations courses statewide for the Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC) on the topic of Trauma-Informed Response to Sexual Violence and Best Practices in Investigations
- Supervises the UTPD Processing Center at UT football games where people are detained or arrested.
- Develops law enforcement training for both sworn police and communications personnel, including domestic violence-related training.
- Serves as an instructor for Emergency Vehicle Operations
- Maintains liaison with numerous university and community partners including Title IX, Center for Health Education and Wellness, The Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, and the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee.
She began her UT career as a night patrol officer for two years. She then transitioned to the Community Relations Unit for 18 months and in February 2016 she was shifted to the Investigations Unit. Her caseload runs the gamut – sexual assault/rape/sexual battery cases; extortion; burglaries; theft; assault; and cybercrimes.
“It’s not easy work. It’s hard to deal with some of the things you see and hear and in the sexual cases especially it’s so important to just be there, to listen,” she says. “How it impacts me pales in comparison to what the victim is talking about and experienced.
“I’m not a therapist. I thank them for coming to talk and listen and ask questions. I also understand why many of the victims don’t want to talk. Sexual assault is a vastly underreported crime here. But it’s tough to talk with them about rape, sex battery and things like stalking. I have a daughter who will be a student here on campus next fall and I want it to be a safe place for her and everyone.”
She is passionate about her job and doing right by the victims. When asked if there is any one case that has affected her, she says: “Of course there are cases that stick with you more than others, but I try to keep all of them in mind when I am speaking with the people involved, especially since I’m a Mom and have daughters and statistically, most victims are female. I just want them to know that I hear them and I will work hard on their behalf.”
Lt. Ross adds one more thing about his investigator: “Kelley makes herself available at all times and has stayed after regular hours many times to help the department, as well as to complete investigations. This is incredible as she is a mother and she manages the dual roles exceptionally well in spite of the obvious complexities.”
(Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at (865) 659-3562.)