Steamboat taps first woman to serve as city’s police chief

Sherry Burlingame previously served as assistant chief in Tempe, Arizona

Sherry Burlingame
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy

Sherry Burlingame has been selected to become the next chief of police in Steamboat Springs, which would make her the first women ever to hold the police department’s top job.

City Manager Gary Suiter, who has the hiring authority over all city department heads, announced Burlingame’s selection out of four other finalists Monday, saying he feels she is the right person for the community.

“I’m really excited to get in place and start working and doing what I can to serve the community and really bring the police department up to the next level of excellence and public safety,” Burlingame said.

Burlingame, 57, most recently served as the assistant police chief in Tempe, Arizona. She enters the department after the retirement of Police Chief Cory Christensen in September and the resignation of Police Cmdr. Annette Dopplick in May.

The circumstances of Dopplick’s resignation have not been disclosed, but when she left the department, she said in a statement that she hoped the city would act on its inclusion, diversity and equity goals.

Being named the first woman to lead the Steamboat Springs Police Department is significant because there is such a lack of women in leadership across the law enforcement profession, Burlingame said, adding that only 3% of the nation’s police departments are led by women.

“There’s been a lot of conversations lately about women in law enforcement and the skills and attributes that we bring to the profession, and I think that there’s definitely a role for women in policing,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to highlight what women do bring to the field and, hopefully, serve as a role model for young girls.”

Burlingame said diversity is important to her, and she wants to ensure that different aspects of the community are represented on the police force.

“It’s important for our police force to mirror our community and to really appreciate the different perspectives, experiences and backgrounds that people from different races, religions, genders, etc., really bring to the table,” Burlingame said.

Burlingame started as the assistant chief in Tempe, Arizona, at the end of 2019 and left the role earlier this fall.

Before that, she worked in the police department in Mesa, Arizona, for about 23 years. She started her career as an officer in 1997 and eventually rose to the role of assistant chief in 2018. Before she got into policing, Burlingame was a captain in the U.S. Air Force for nine years.

Suiter said there were three different panels that interviewed the five finalists, and he received lots of feedback before making a decision. In addition to her experience and how she conducted herself through the interview process, Suiter said Burlingame’s ability to think strategically stood out.

“Policing is evolving into a more compassionate form of community policing rather than just arresting people, putting handcuffs on them and throwing them in jail,” Suiter said.

Suiter added that Burlingame has already hit the ground running, including getting a local phone number and wanting to reach out to interim Chief Jerry Stabile, who was also a finalist for chief.

“I want to see that commitment, and she has demonstrated that commitment to me and then some,” Suiter said.

Burlingame is set to start in Steamboat on Jan. 17. While she had never been to Steamboat before the hiring process brought her to town, Burlingame said she has been all over Colorado. When here, she said she walked around downtown asking residents about the town.

“Everybody was phenomenal,” Burlingame said. “I felt like everybody was engaged in marketing Steamboat Springs, which is awesome.”

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