City starts search for new chief | AspenTimes.com
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City starts search for new chief

John Colson

Aspen administrators have begun the initial processes involved in finding a new police chief in the wake of Chief Tom Stephenson’s sudden resignation this week.

City Manager Steve Barwick said Wednesday that he does not expect to hire a new chief for a matter of months, and that in all likelihood the police department will be run by an “interim chief” for some time.

“I’ve never seen a selection process for a new chief take less than two months,” Barwick said, “and three to four is probably more typical.”

Barwick said Wednesday that he has started looking for local officials and citizens to sit on a special “selection committee,” and making plans to advertise in local and regional newspapers as well as in national trade publications devoted to law enforcement.

Plus, Barwick said, he is planning to form a “focus group of interested parties” to advise the selection committee.

He said the focus group would be made up of members of the public, and would be asked, “What are they looking for in a police chief?”

Not forced out

Barwick denied rumors that Stephenson was fired or forced out of his job, citing the chief’s own statements as evidence that “he just needed to do something else.”

Sources familiar with city operations have said that Stephenson’s management of the police department had been under official scrutiny for some time, much of it stemming from the circumstances surrounding the departure of former Assistant Chief Becky Blaine in 1998.

Blaine reportedly resigned or was forced out of the department over disagreements with the chief, and 27 of the officers in the department reportedly took Blaine’s side in the matter. The City Council and city manager stood behind the chief’s administration of his department, but resentments among certain officers continued to simmer.

Officials privately have said that Stephenson’s law enforcement philosophy has never been the issue, and that concerns have focused on his ability to keep his department running smoothly and efficiently in the face of internal crises.

But, those same officials noted, the police department has consistently received high marks from citizens in city-sponsored surveys.

Barwick said Wednesday that he has received complaints about Stephenson’s management from certain cops lately, and added that he can understand why rumors might get started that he fired Stephenson after considering the complaints.

But, he insisted, that is not what happened.

Barwick said he hopes to find someone locally to fill Stephenson’s shoes. He noted that while there are plenty of qualified candidates from outside the city, that would mean hiring “somebody that, to me, has an uphill battle. They’ve got to prove they can fit in with the locals.”

He said he realizes that the community is very interested and concerned about the selection process, noting, “That’s why these are very slow and deliberative processes.”

Assistant Chief Keith Ikeda confirmed Wednesday that he and Barwick have talked about Ikeda taking over as interim chief if a replacement is not found by the time Stephenson leaves the job.

But, Ikeda added, “I’m still in total shock over Tom’s decision.

Ikeda confirmed he is interested in the interim job, as well as in vying for appointment as the next chief of police. “And if I didn’t think I could do it, I wouldn’t say I’m interested,” he said.

Assistant Chief Loren Ryerson has been out of the office this week due to illness, and could not be reached for comment.


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