Our view: New chief faces challenges, opportunities | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: New chief faces challenges, opportunities

At Issue

Steamboat Springs’ new police chief, Cory Christensen, will enter his new job with a full plate of challenges

Our View

We encourage the new chief to view these challenges as an opportunity to begin rebuilding the department’s damaged relationship with the city it serves

Editorial Board

Suzanne Schlicht, publisher and COO

Lisa Schlichtman, editor

Jim Patterson, assistant editor

Tom Ross, reporter

Diane Moore, community representative

Carl Steidtmann, community representative

The city of Steamboat Springs is emerging from a difficult summer in terms of its relationship with the police department, a relationship deeply wounded both by a series of allegations that ultimately led to the departure of former Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle and the city’s attendant reticence with regard to the particulars of those allegations.

At Issue

Steamboat Springs’ new police chief, Cory Christensen, will enter his new job with a full plate of challenges

Our View

We encourage the new chief to view these challenges as an opportunity to begin rebuilding the department’s damaged relationship with the city it serves

Many still want to know if the subsequent investigation supported the allegations or repudiated them, and we certainly understand that desire.

But at this point, it’s water under the bridge; the time has come for both the city and the department to move forward, and we hope last week’s hiring of Cory Christensen as Steamboat’s new police chief will prove the first step in our collective journey beyond the mistrust and unanswered questions that arose in the wake of last summer’s controversy.

We think there’s good reason for such hope.

Christensen, who is to assume his new duties in Steamboat on Nov. 16, brings with him an impressive resume.

In addition to his more-than 26 years in law enforcement, most recently as Assistant Chief of Police for Fort Collins, he holds bachelor’s degrees in mass communication and informational technology and a master’s degree in leadership and organizational studies, all of which should serve him well as he goes to work on the challenging tasks ahead.

For these reasons, we are hopeful that Christensen — with his expertise in communication and his stated policy of transparency — may indeed be the right person to move the department forward and repair the rifts that have opened during the past few months, both internally and externally.

But in and of itself, the hiring of a police chief will not be nearly enough to mend the department’s wounded relationship with the city it serves, nor will it cure the toxic culture that has come to characterize the department.

Such imposing tasks call for more than academic credentials or real-world experience — they demand decisive action.

We are not law enforcement professionals and do not presume to tell Christensen how to do his job. But we are observers, and based on what we’ve observed these past several months, we suggest several areas and problems the new chief might look to in the opening days of his tenure.

First, trust must be restored, and a prerequisite of trust is open, honest communication. Christensen himself noted near the end of the hiring process that law enforcement agencies tend to say “I can’t tell you” far too often, and while we realize there are times and situations in which certain information must be kept from the public, we think such times and situations should be the exception rather than the rule. Trust requires understanding, and understanding proceeds only from candid communication.

Second, Christensen must address the perception the Steamboat Springs Police Department is an exclusive club to which only Caucasian males need apply. Ideally, the makeup of a police force should mirror the makeup of the community it serves — a community that includes people of both genders and of varied races and creeds. And sadly, the SSPD — rightly or wrongly — has come to be seen by many as an organization and culture hostile toward female and minority employees.

Both the department and the community need to see tangible evidence of efforts to change this culture, and because so many of the SSPD employees who lived and worked through the era that spawned and nurtured it are still there, change may prove difficult and will definitely take time. But it’s crucial for the new chief to show the community such change is underway. Perhaps the hiring or promotion of a highly qualified female or minority candidate into a leadership role would be a good place to start, as it would send a clear and unmistakable message that change is on the way.

Third, we hope the new chief will prioritize mending fences with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office. Both agencies share common goals and face similar challenges, and often, their tasks overlap. This overlap can lead either to antagonism or collaboration, competition or cooperation. It seems obvious that collaboration and cooperation are the more desirable, and moving toward the possibility of a new shared facility on the RCSO campus will require — and facilitate — such a collaborative relationship.

These are but a few of the challenges the new chief will face, and while they are daunting, we’ve found the most difficult challenges typically yield the most promising opportunities and the most beneficial results.

So the challenges — daunting though they may be — are, at the same time, opportunities, and the potential reward of meeting those challenges — of seizing those opportunities — is a community in which the police department and the residents it serves are partners, working together in a trusting relationship toward the betterment of all.

We hope Christenson will take advantage of them.

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