Clovis’ newest police chief discusses plans, challenges

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Steve Sanders was sworn in as Clovis’ police chief on Oct. 13.

Steve Sanders was sworn in as Clovis’ police chief on Oct. 13.
Sanders, 47, is a former commander with the Northglenn Police Department, has more than 21 years of experience in law enforcement and also holds a master’s degree in computer information systems.
He succeeds former Chief Dan Blair in the position.
Interviews were conducted via e-mail and in person. Responses have been edited for clarity and grammar.

Q: Give us an overview of your first month as police chief. What has it been like and how has your time been spent?
A: Well, my first month has been very busy. The first week I spent meeting the officers, other city employees and several members of the public. I really enjoyed meeting community leaders and citizens at the “meet and greet” the department sponsored for me. Everyone has extended to me a very warm welcome.

Q: One of the things you said you were going to do as chief was meet each officer individually and talk with them about what they care about and their ideas for change. How have those meetings been going?

A: You are right. That has been my main focus the past three weeks. I started out by meeting with all the police department employees during the first two weeks. The talk was about “Who am I.” It was an opportunity for me to share with all of them my background and experience, along with my beliefs and expectations related to police work.
After the group meetings, I have set up an individual meeting with each employee. These meetings are one-on-one discussions allowing me to get a view of the department’s strengths and weaknesses based upon the individual’s perspective. These have been very informative and will later help me to identify some opportunities to create and prioritize some projects to make the department more effective from the employee’s point of view.

Q: What issues have you learned about from meeting with officers?

A: Since I haven’t completed all the individual meetings, I am going to wait to share that information.

Q: What challenges do you feel the department is facing and how do you plan to address them?

A: It wouldn’t be fair to those officers and employees whom I have not had the chance to interview to discuss what challenges they feel the department is facing at this time. Until all the interviews are done, I will reserve my answer.

Q: What ideas do you have to address recruitment issues?

A: That’s part of what I am looking for in my one-on-one meetings with officers, getting their ideas for recruiting. I ask them, “If you were the chief, what would you do?”
But I think people need to understand recruitment is a nationwide issue, not just isolated to the Clovis Police Department. In Northglenn we were down about 10 officers.
A lot of folks just don’t want to do this type of work.
I think what really needs to happen is some kind of marketing (campaign) for recruiting. And if we can make it a worthwhile agency, that’s going to keep (officers) here but there will always be officers that leave for (higher pay and other opportunities).
Since I’ve been here we’ve already brought on three so now we’re only down six or seven.

Q: What strengths have you identified in the department and how do you plan to maximize or continue them?

A: The strength of the department is the people who work there. This is a dedicated group of individuals who come to work every day ready to serve the public. Their mission is simple: To work as a team, developing partnerships with the community to make Clovis a safer place to live, work and play in. They understand the importance of their role and responsibility and they take great pride in that.
From the dispatchers who answer the phones and dispatch the officers, to the officers who respond first to start the initial investigation, to the detectives who follow-up the investigation and assist in the filing of criminal charges, to the records officers who maintain all the police reports and answer questions at the front desk and all the others who provide support to each other. The strength of the department? It is the people.

Q: Most of your career has been spent doing police work in Colorado so there are bound to be some differences in police culture and philosophy in addition to statutes and other things. Talk about some of these differences and your thoughts on them.

A: The culture and philosophy of police work here in New Mexico isn’t really any different than that of Colorado. I mentioned earlier our mission of working as a team with the community to make Clovis safer. I believe that is the mission of most police agencies throughout the country, or something to that affect.
The only real difference I have noticed so far is in how the state of New Mexico licenses police officers to practice police work. In Colorado, we were not allowed to put officers on the street without first sending them to the police academy. This really hampered our ability to seek out qualified applicants willing to come to work as a police officer. When the academies only put out 50 to 75 students each training session and there were 22 Denver metro agencies vying for these students to fill the vacancies, this made the job market for police very competitive and at times very cut-throat.
The standards here in New Mexico are much more stringent as to physical fitness than Colorado. I see that as being an obstacle to overcome, because there are some potential applicants out there that can probably do the job, but they just miss meeting the standard of running a mile and a half by a few seconds, disqualifying them all together.

Q: Your first couple weeks were busy: the department was working a homicide investigation, there was an issue involving an officer charged in a crime, there were calls where (the Special Response Team) was initiated and more. How were those first couple of weeks for you as the new chief and did they give you any insight into the department?

A: Having all these things happening within my first four weeks was a bit exciting for me, but this is what I have prepared myself for to be the chief of police for Clovis. I was able to see several facets of the department in action with real situations. What I saw is when there was a crisis facing us everyone initiated the appropriate action to turn chaos into calm.
I have mentioned earlier the strength of the department is the people who work there. Their dedication to getting the job done was very evident in these situations you have described in the question you have asked.

Q: You have talked about the department having a strong relationship with the community, what ideas do you have to work toward fostering that?
A: I mention the partnership with the community with every opportunity I get, as it is that important to me.
The department (revived) a program last year called the Citizen’s Police Academy. This is a 12-week program directed to the public to learn about the inner workings of the department. This will now include a four-hour ride-along program with the officers, so the citizens can get a real feel for what the officers face each day.
In Colorado, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the citizen’s academy there. The neat dynamic was after the citizens participated in the program, we developed an alumni group. This group continued to work with the department as volunteers in a variety of different ways. They conducted a monthly meeting where the police department continued to provide some sort of training related to a topic the citizens chose. This kept up the interaction between the community and the police department. When I left Colorado, the Northglenn Alumni Association was nearly 95 people strong with all of them volunteering to assist the department in some way.
I look forward to developing our partnership with the community and I will say you will see more to come later.

Q: It’s been said you are a sports fan and use a lot of sports analogies. Using a sports analogy, how would you describe where the department is, where it’s going and what it will take to get there?

A: A sports fan I am. Let’s see, using a sports analogy to describe the police department. Well, I will compare the department to that of a football team. If you can imagine the patrol officers as the offense, the detective section as the defense and the special teams consisting of the dispatchers, records clerks, administrative staff and custodian, you will see that each has a unique, but essential part in the game I will call “making Clovis safer.”
It takes our supervisors as assistant coaches and each of these teams to do their part and implement the game plan to make the overall goal work. Should anyone of the teams falter, the potential for us to win at making Clovis safer fails.
Where do I see the team? We are working hard at being successful and meeting our game plan. These people are dedicated professional at their jobs and they know what needs to be done to be successful. As with any team there is always room for improvement. Such as in developing our supervisors to be better assistant coaches to help coach and mentor the officers with how to make themselves better. My job as the head coach is to ensure we have the resources needed to play the game and to ensure each team works together with the game plan to meet our overall goal of making Clovis safer.

Q: Where do you see the department in one year under your leadership? Five years?

A: In the first year, it is my intention to take the information I have learned from the interviews with the employees and develop some processes and programs to help us be a more effective and efficient department.
In five years, I would expect to see some of these programs in full swing should the resources provide. It is my intention to implement a career development program for the employees so they can receive the training and experience they need to move up into leadership roles as the department continues to grow.

Q: How do you like living in Clovis?
A: I must say I have thoroughly enjoyed myself so far. My wife Peggy is set to join me as we have just sold our house in Denver. I am fortunate that Peggy has spent 20 years as a police officer before retiring and is now working as a massage therapist for the past nine years. Her arrival here to join me will make my move complete.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise most people.
A: Well, I think most people find it surprising that although I have lived in Colorado all my life and with the fact I am sports fanatic, I never learned the sport of snow skiing. I just could not bring myself to strapping two small boards to my feet, travel down a hill at high speed and wait for a tree to stop me.

— The majority of this interview was conducted via Email.