Chief Doug Stephens says he’s ready to lead the Littleton Police Department to a fresh start filled with unique opportunities, and he intends to promote an atmosphere of recognition and appreciation.
“My motivation and my goal is to give them more ownership of their fate and how we operate,” he said, both sworn officers and civilian employees.
City Manager Michael Penny says he’s excited to have Stephens on board.
“He is going to be able to bring a new perspective to the department,” said Penny. “His approach to law enforcement and leadership is just what this department needs to re-energize and focus on the future to meet the needs of the Littleton community.”
Stephens, 45, has a wide swath of experience in law enforcement. Raised in Cheyenne, he graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in criminal justice. He earned his master’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder and successfully completed the FBI National Academy, Session 231, in 2007.
He started in the Denver Police Department in 1991, where he stayed until taking the helm in Littleton on May 20.
“It’s the only real job I’ve ever had,” he laughs.
Stephens lives in Arvada with his wife, Susie, an investigator with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office. They have two sons: Hayden, 8, and Brenten, 5.
He most recently headed up Denver’s gang unit, but worked everything from street patrol to internal affairs to officer training to hostage negotiations. He headed up the pattern crimes unit for a while, investigating trending crimes despite not having any detective experience.
“They told me they didn’t need a detective, they needed someone to lead the bureau,” he said.
Stephens believes a good leader helps talented people get the things they need to do a good job, supporting them along the way.
“We need to give them opportunities to advance and explore the things they’re interested in,” he said. “When you learn, not only does it keep you interested, it makes you a better officer.”
Asked about recent morale issues at LPD, Stephens said that from what he’s heard so far, they’re no different from any other department’s.
“When you see the perception of morale issues, it’s really a communication issue,” he said. He believes the best way to lead is to remain open, accessible and inclusive.
“Then you don’t have to rely on rumor and speculation, which can hurt morale,” he said.
That goes for the community, too, Stephens said. Outreach is invaluable to a police department, he believes, so he’ll look at reviving the special-enforcement teams that were disbanded last summer, or something like them. SET teams focus on crimes like graffiti, gang activity and such, and the officers take on dual roles of crime-fighting and outreach.
“I’m a fan of proactive units,” he said.
Having come straight out of Denver’s gang unit, many are wondering how Stephens plans to impact the northeast neighborhood in the wake of last year’s gang-related homicide. While he said he’s not yet intimately familiar with the area’s issues, he will be.
“Generally, the best approach is a comprehensive one that involves both police and the community,” he said. Earning the respect and trust of residents is key, he believes, and says Littletonites already have a good relationship with the department.
He said the city and the department are both sized just right — big enough to have good resources, but small enough to get things done.
“It just feels good,” he said.
Stephens intends to leave the two division-chief spots vacated by Bill Christensen and Bob Brandt vacant for now and focus resources instead on making sure there are enough officers on the streets.
“The supervisors now are really stepping up to the plate,” he said.
Asked about what stands out so far in his career, he said that, sadly, it’s the bad things — dead friends and tragedy.
“But there are so many good things about this job, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said. “My favorite memories are a combination of all the smiles and laughs and camaraderie with all the people I’ve worked with. It’s like spending time with your friends.”