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Top cop quits

Tim Mutrie

After seven years as Aspen’s top cop, Tom Stephenson yesterday announced his retirement as police chief.

With more than 20 years as a law enforcement officer with the city of Aspen and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, Stephenson, 44, said he’s ready for a change.

“It’s been seven years, seven good years,” Stephenson said yesterday, “and I think it’s time that we change administration and hand the baton off to the next generation police chief. The job is a stressful one, and it takes its toll on chiefs over the years.

“I also have a personal need for challenge and intellectual stimulation, and … the job of police chief doesn’t change a whole heck of a lot to present that.”

Stephenson and his wife, Ann, a patrol director with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, plan to remain in the valley for the foreseeable future.

During Stephenson’s tenure, he introduced several innovative programs to the department, including the establishment of a Latino Resource Officer Program, a Victim’s Assistance Coordinator, a Youth Outreach/ School Resource Officer program at the Aspen School District and a Citizens Police Academy. Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis also credited Stephenson for helping to facilitate healthy cooperation between the two local law enforcement agencies.

“I’m proud of where I’ve taken the department and the personnel I’ve hired,” Stephenson said. “I’m leaving the department in great shape, I think.”

Many of Stephenson’s colleagues were saddened Tuesday by the news of his pending departure from the force.

Assistant Police Chief Keith Ikeda, who has known Stephenson for more than 22 years, said he was “in total shock” when he heard on Monday.

“The community is going to be losing a very compassionate and very caring police chief,” Ikeda said. “I think his philosophies and values are a perfect match for this community.”

Stephenson plans to remain with the department to assist in the hiring of his successor and the subsequent transition. Baring any personal matters that may arise, Stephenson said he will likely remain with the force into the spring. No official date for his retirement has been set.

Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick, who will spearhead the hiring process for the next chief, said yesterday that no hiring timetable has been set.

“It’s usually a slow and deliberate process, but I’ve literally not had time to think about this. We’ll get to it soon, though,” he said. “I would prefer to find a local, but it will be a public selection process.”

“I’ve given serious consideration to this for the last year,” Stephenson explained at a press conference Tuesday. “Last week was my seven-year anniversary as police chief, which also marked my 20 years as a law enforcement professional.

“I don’t have anything specific lined up,” he continued. “I’ve got a few irons in the fire, but nothing concrete. … I rather doubt that I’ll remain in this profession, and quite frankly, I’m excited to find a new career path. I’m very sad to leave here, a little nervous – being a cop is the only profession I’ve ever known – but I really feel personally that it’s time to move on.”

Sheriff Braudis said Stephenson had discussed his future frequently over the past year or so.

“I think what it boils down to is, was he happy on the job?” Braudis said. “Life is finite and time seems to accelerate as you get older. Time is truly the only nonrenewable resource in the human experience. Tom’s a very good friend of mine, and based on the past year or so, I’m willing to bet he’ll be happier in the future.”

When pressed yesterday, Stephenson wouldn’t rule out a run for sheriff in the future, though he said he has no firms plans to do so, especially if it would mean running against Braudis.

“Bob Braudis and I are cut from the same fabric and I’d like to see law enforcement in this valley continue along the same path that it has – a humanistic, yet talented and skilled work force,” Stephenson said.

Braudis, who served on the hiring committee in 1993 that appointed Stephenson as chief, said the city manager and City Council face a great challenge in finding a suitable successor.

“I have reason to be a little scared about the future,” he said. “Tom is a chief who believes in interdepartmental cooperation, as opposed to rivalry, and the live-and-let-live mentality of this town. Now, the City Council and the city manager have a challenge to hire a chief who reflects the mores and the standards of the city of Aspen.”


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