The First 48

The First 48 best detectives: Kevin Leonpacher, Atlanta Homicide

The First 48 season 22 is now airing on A&E, giving television viewers access into the worlds of some truly exceptional police officers. There have been dozens if not hundreds of detectives that the show has been able to spotlight over the years, and as a longtime fan, I wanted to take some space to appreciate those who not only make the show the success that it is but more importantly are so great at what they do.

Disclaimer: In the interest of brevity, these features are limited to detectives who are currently being featured on The First 48 (still on the show)—otherwise I’d be writing dozens of articles and a whole essay about how Justin Ritter and Matt Frazier are my version of Batman and Robin.

Detective Kevin Leonpacher is the cop I’d aspire to be. He’s crafty, compassionate, relentless and to paraphrase Tulsa’s Sergeant Marcus Harper, he’s got swag.

Leonpacher (featured in The First 48 episodes including “The Ties That Bind” from season 15, season 18’s “Taken For A Ride” and the unrelated “Taken” from season 21) has all the qualities that we usually see when people play cops on TV. He’s such a dynamic investigator—not just trying to figure out the bad guys but trying to get ahead. At a crime scene he’s asking questions two or three steps down the line. When he’s at his desk looking things up you can practically see the wheels in his head spinning. He’s the one detective on The First 48 where it feels like I have to keep up.

Leonpacher has so many moments on the show that are just plain cool. In The First 48 Presents: Homicide Squad Atlanta he quips to Det. Tracy Casey that his witness is about to have a “come to Leonpacher” moment. “Taken For A Ride” includes a beat where he walks right up to his murder suspect and tells him that while they’ve never met he knows exactly who the guy is. That same episode reveals that Leonpacher’s drink of choice is a martini, just like James Bond.

And while every investigator says they’ll never give up, Leonpacher is the one with whom you unequivocally believe it. He’s so driven that it feels like he takes every case personally and that it would be no surprise at all if he popped up behind someone 10 years later with a warrant for murder.

It’s baffling to think that Leonpacher didn’t always want to be a homicide detective, because the dude was made for this job. Both The First 48 and Homicide Squad Atlanta mention that he went to college in Florida and started out as an engineer before joining the force. That actually makes him a little bit more cool because he doesn’t have the same story that everyone else does. He sort of fell into the job and now he’s served over a decade in homicide.

Det. Kevin Leonpacher in a scene from the “The Ties That Bind” episode of The First 48. (Video Credit: Courtesy of A&E.)

What I personally love about Kevin Leonpacher is that under all that coolness, he’s also a nerd. He’s referred to as such in the Homicide Squad Atlanta spinoff, where Det. David Quinn jokes that Leonpacher is doing that “R2-D2/C-3PO stuff.” Numerous First 48 episodes have shown or made reference to his skill with technology. There’s something awesome about that for those of us that are nerdy people. Usually nerds don’t get to be the hero; we get shown as the hero’s sidekick or the quirky geek surrounded by a bunch of computers. So it’s rewarding to see someone as cool as Kevin Leonpacher also have that nerdy side.

Leonpacher’s best quality, though, is the way he handles people with both incredible empathy and incredible honesty. He does not mince words with anybody but he always treats everyone with respect. Both “Taken” and “The Ties That Bind” show him getting firm with victims’ loved ones who are holding back on him. Leonpacher feels for their loss but he also makes clear that he can’t be the only person standing up for those victims. And the end of the latter episode is heartwrenching not only because of the outcome but because he delivers a very meaningful monologue about how people need to be held accountable for their behavior the first time or the second time before it escalates into something like murder.

That comes from a place of compassion. Leonpacher gets an impossible case in “The Ties That Bind” and he figures out very quickly that the victim’s wife knows who killed her husband. A large part of that episode is about his interactions with the woman, where he expertly walks a thin line between showing care and concern for her and convincing her to give up her son as the shooter. He has a whole other speech (which you can watch above) telling her that if his sons ever did anything wrong, he’d make sure they were held responsible , but that wouldn’t mean he loved them any less. You can hear the conviction in his voice. He’s meeting her vulnerability with a moment of his own.

That episode is gut-wrenching to me not just because of the emotionally devastating case but because you can see and feel the toll it takes on Leonpacher. The First 48 has covered some terrible investigations and the cops wouldn’t be human if they weren’t affected by them, but there are a few episodes where we really connect with our heroes on a personal level. Jason White from Tulsa has the “Unspeakable” two-parter. Matt Frazier had the Ray Howard case. With Leonpacher there was “The Ties That Bind,” but it also feels like there’s a little bit of him in every episode. Maybe it’s his intense personality, maybe it’s because he’s gotten some rough cases, but he’s made a connection with the audience that is something all his own.

Kevin Leonpacher has yet to make an appearance in The First 48 season 22, but the season’s still young and I’m already looking forward to when he returns. Watching him actually work is cooler than the stuff people make up for TV. (I just hope that someday he gets an actual nameplate to put in his cubicle, because he deserves it.)

The First 48 airs Thursdays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on A&E. Fans can also watch every episode on the A&E app with a cable provider login. For the previous article in this series spotlighting Tulsa Homicide’s Det. Jason White, click here.

Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.

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