1. Poliak, Lisa

Article Content

Nancy Cabelus, MSN, RN, DABFN, is not a typical nurse. Nor is she a typical law enforcement official. She is a forensic nurse, at the forefront of an exciting emerging specialty, and also a crime scene detective on the Connecticut State Police Central District Major Crime Squad in Meriden, covering one-third of the state, encompassing approximately 70 towns and cities. She is the only woman and nurse on the team, which investigates homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault, child abuse, carjacking, bank robbery, and other violent crimes. Cabelus has been a nurse these 19 years and a Connecticut state trooper for 18 of those, having passed the state police examination while she was in nursing school. While nursing and law enforcement work might seem an unlikely combination, the dual areas of expertise work well together in her unique career.


"Nursing skills make you look at things a little more critically," says Cabelus. In working on the major crime squad, she collects forensic evidence at crime scenes, and her ability to consider matters from the perspective of a nurse makes her a better detective. "I take my nursing skills and help reconstruct things. The skills come into play all the time," she says.

FIGURE. One critical... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. One critical difference between dealing with the stress of nursing and with that of law enforcement is that 'nurses have support groups; cops don't,' says forensic nurse Nancy Cabelus, MSN, RN, DABFN, whose specialty is death investigation.

Cabelus has remained an active RN throughout her law enforcement career, working per diem to keep her skills honed and to continue her involvement in a field that she loves.


Before becoming a detective nine years ago, Cabelus worked as an RN at a nursing home on the weekends while serving on the security detail of the Connecticut governor at the time, Republican Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. After four years of service, she became a detective and worked on the Casino Licensing and Operations Unit, a job at which, she says, "I got a taste of investigations, but wanted to do bigger stuff, and put my nursing skills to work." Two years later, when she went to work in major crime, her wish was realized.


At the same time, Cabelus learned about forensic nursing at a conference, and her interest was piqued. In 1997 she joined the International Association of Forensic Nurses to learn more, and founded the Connecticut chapter of the association in 2001. In 2002 she earned a master's degree in forensic nursing at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, as a member of the first graduating class of the program in which she is now an adjunct professor.


Her specialty is death investigation, and in 2003 she became the first Connecticut resident to receive certification as a death investigator from the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators. Cabelus also uses her training to teach death investigation techniques and forensic nursing at community colleges in Connecticut and at the Florida Risk Management Institute in Largo.


The most interesting case Cabelus has worked on is also one of the most brutal, a case of triple homicide in which a woman and her two children were stabbed to death in their sleep three years ago. When a suspect in the case was arrested a week later, he confessed to the murder of a woman who had disappeared two months prior; he then led investigators to her body. Cabelus attended the autopsies of all four victims and worked on the case, which is expected to go to trial this month. Because it involved the murder of children, she found it to be a particularly difficult case. "It sort of changes you when you see the aftermath of that type of violence," she says.


An expert in dealing with the significant and unique types of stress that characterize work in the field, Cabelus wrote, with Katherine Zimmer, MSN, RN, "Psychological Effects of Violence on Forensic Nurses," an article published in the November 2003 issue of the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. One critical difference between coping with the stress of nursing and with that of law enforcement is that "nurses have support groups; cops don't," says Cabelus. Then how does she cope with the onslaught of violence to which she is exposed at work? "The secret is to travel, play hard, hang out with friends. I like to laugh a lot."-Lisa Poliak