Retiring Steamboat police Chief Hays put ‘community 1st’
January 7, 2012
Steamboat Springs — When JD Hays first interviewed with the Steamboat Springs Police Department, the Los Angeles cop had never heard of Steamboat, and it was snowing so hard he couldn't see his hand in front of his face.
It still was snowing hard in April after he had been offered the patrol position and visited again to buy a house.
"Then when I showed up in July, I was looking around, and I said, 'Hey, this is pretty nice,'" said Hays, 66. "I could easily have ended up anyplace, and anyplace wouldn't have worked. This has been the perfect match for me, Steamboat Springs."
Nearly 32 years after joining the department, colleagues, friends and family members gathered to honor the retiring police chief. On Thursday, a section of Pine Grove Road near the Mountain Fire Station was renamed JD Hays Way.
"I can say honestly and without a doubt that this department was the best that I ever had, and this police chief is the best police chief I have ever worked with," said Paul Hughes, who was a city manager for 21 years, eight of which were in Steamboat.
To describe Hays, people use words including "family," "integrity," "honor," "humble" and "humility."
"Throughout his career, he always put the community first instead of himself, and I think that's an unusual characteristic about him," said Capt. Bob DelValle, who has known Hays since 1980. "He's the kind of man that a man should aspire to be."
Hays moved to Steamboat because he said he did not want to raise his family in Los Angeles. He and his wife, Paula, raised two sons. Scott is 32, and Tim is 30.
"Obviously, I'm a little biased, but I think Dad has done a great job, and I'm really proud of him," Scott Hays said.
JD Hays was promoted to captain in 1983, and in 1997, he replaced former police Chief Roger Jensen, who was in Steamboat last week to celebrate with Hays.
"Whether it hurt him or helped him, he'd always give you an honest answer," Jensen said. "You have to have those credentials, or you can't move forward. That's why he's still here. That's why he can leave when he wants to."
Detective Jerry Stabile got his first job in law enforcement under Hays in 1990.
"He has the same passion that he had 20 years ago," Stabile said. "He's just consistent, and I think it's resonated with the whole department."
Barb Simms, assistant to the chief of police, has worked with Hays since 1983.
"When I start talking about him, it chokes me up," Simms said. "I hate to see him leave. The department is first. He wants the best department ever."
Sgt. Rich Brown is a Steamboat native who was hired by Hays in 1992, when Steamboat officers wore Wrangler jeans and were issued cowboy hats as part of their uniforms.
"He's just very connected to what policing is and what the police department was in the '80s, and I think he's stayed grounded through all of that," Brown said.
Colleagues praised Hays for creating an atmosphere where people look forward to coming to work.
"It's such a fun place, and JD is a big part of that," said Joel Rae, who has been named the new police chief. "He's a true friend and a true mentor that I've had in this profession, and I think we've been a good team."
Hays' advice for the new chief simply was to stay humble.
"So many times, you see people in authority that turn into jerks as soon as they get a bit of authority, and that's really upsetting to me," Hays said. "All people need to be treated with respect and dignity, even the bad ones, and that's what I've always emphasized when I've been here."
Hays said he has gotten the most satisfaction out of the way his department handled the most serious crimes.
"Everything happens here that happens in Denver, just not as often," Hays said.
Now that he's retired, the avid hunter and outdoorsman said he plans to continue enjoying life in Steamboat around his friends and family.
"If I've done anything in the last 15 years, it's surround myself with competent people," Hays said. "I've loved this job, and I've loved this community."
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com