Police department looking forward with new chief | SteamboatToday.com

Police department looking forward with new chief

Routt County Judge James Garrecht swears in Steamboat Springs Police Chief Cory Christensen on Friday at Centennial Hall.

— The Steamboat Springs Police Department turned a new page Friday with the swearing in of its new chief, Cory Christensen.

After Routt County Judge James Garrecht delivered the oath, a choked up Christensen thanked his family and colleagues.

"I feel like I belong here already," he said.

About 50 people attended the event at Centennial Hall. The group included city officials, employees, community members, Christensen's family members and law enforcement officers from numerous agencies.

Officers and deputies traveled from Fort Collins to support Christensen, who was assistant chief at the Fort Collins Police Department before coming to Steamboat.

"We're proud of Cory," Fort Collins Police Chief John Hutto said. "It's going to be a loss for the city of Fort Collins but definitely a gain for Steamboat Springs."

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Hutto said the Steamboat community was a good fit for Christensen.

"It's not like he was shopping around to be a chief," Hutto said. "He was very selective. It had to be the right community."

He said Christensen brings fresh ideas, is very progressive and stays on the leading edge of policy.

"The community is in for a good thing with their chief of police," Hutto said.

Christensen steps in after a turbulent eight months at the department during which an independent investigator was hired to examine the department and its leadership. At the close of the investigation, former Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle resigned.

"We're glad to be moving forward with a new police chief," Steamboat City Council President Walter Magill said. "We look forward to a long tenure."

Steamboat Police Capt. Jerry Stabile said members of the department are very optimistic.

"Very positive and very much looking forward and not backwards," he said.

Christensen has 26 years of law enforcement experience and holds a degree in mass communication from the University of Denver. He also has a bachelor’s degree in information technology and a master’s degree in leadership and organizational studies from Colorado State University.

Christensen was the unanimous choice of a five-member citizens committee that interviewed the candidates as part of the selection process. During the interview, citizens committee member Bob Dapper told Christensen he was a great communicator, but Dapper wanted to know who Christensen was.

"Cory is a boring guy to a certain degree," Christensen said. "I’m the type of guy who is in bed by nine (and) at work by 6:30. I’m the guy who would rather talk about good things than bad. I’m the guy that was raised that law enforcement is one of the most important things you can do as a profession."

Christensen's father worked in law enforcement for 42 years.

The committee also quizzed Christensen on his 22-year military career. This caused some committee members concern, given that the Steamboat department had been characterized as having a paramilitary culture in which there was a lack of communication up the chain of command.

"Doing 22 years in the military is the best thing I did for myself," Christensen said. "It taught me the importance of waking up in the morning. It taught me a lot about being uncomfortable and getting the job done."

For nine years, Christensen was an active-duty U.S. Marine, where he worked on jets, and for 12 years, he was a public affairs officer for the Wyoming National Guard.

On Thursday — just four days into his new job — Christensen said he was loving it. He said he likes the lack of traffic in Steamboat, has been trying out a different lunch spot each day and enjoys getting out of the office to wander Lincoln Avenue.

"It's friendly. It's comfortable," he said.

At the same time, however, Christensen is loading up his schedule with community leaders and already has had meetings with mental health officials, the district attorney and Advocates Building Peaceful communities.

He has also already set priorities, including community engagement, implementing effective policies and shoring up staffing at the police department, where he needs to hire another captain, two sergeants, two detectives and a records supervisor. He also has to select a school resource officer and an officer to work on the All Crimes Enforcement Team drug task force.

On Dec. 1, Christensen will give his first report to the city council.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland