Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

New Port Richey police chief to take job with Pasco Sheriff's Office

NEW PORT RICHEY — Mayor Bob Consalvo took the call Tuesday morning.

What interim city manager Susan Dillinger told him, he would later say, won't bode well for his city.

Police Chief James Steffens had just submitted his resignation.

"I didn't say anything," Consalvo said of the phone conversation. "It kind of just caught me off guard."

After less than two years as New Port Richey's police chief, Steffens, 44, decided to take a position at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. He will serve as the chief forensic investigator, supervising all personnel assigned to the Forensics Services Section.

Consalvo hung up the phone and thought about what Steffens' departure would mean for his city.

He was used to Steffens keeping City Council members abreast of major crime investigations and drug stings. A little over a week ago, they had all received an email from Steffens on the scene of a gruesome murder-suicide. At the last council meeting, citizens had lined up to complain that their cars had been broken into.

On top of that, Consalvo had been working with new developers, and, he said, crime rates aren't going to draw people to the city whose official slogan is "Live. Work. Play."

"It's a bad time for him to be going," Consalvo said. "It's a little frustrating losing two chiefs in a row to the sheriff's department. But it shows that we have good personnel."

Across town, at just about the same time, Sheriff Chris Nocco stood with Steffens in front of a bouquet of microphones and joked with news reporters that bringing Steffens into the agency was like getting a first-round draft pick.

Nocco knew Steffens' work.

Six years before retiring in 2009 as a lieutenant with the Clearwater Police Department, Steffens headed that agency's SWAT team. He joined New Port Richey police in May 2011 as a lieutenant. The next month, Nocco made Steffens commander of the Pasco County SWAT team, a "unified team" of New Port Richey officers and sheriff's deputies.

That October, Steffens was promoted to interim chief, and later chief of the police department, replacing Jeffrey Harrington — who also left for a job with the Sheriff's Office.

Under Steffens' watch, the department handled everything from murder investigations to red-light camera citations to extra patrols at the deteriorating Walden Pond Mobile Home Park. The police department also oversees the city's new animal control unit, which launched in October with one trained field officer and a band of volunteers.

Steffens' last day with New Port Richey police will be March 16. He will replace Charlie May, who will retire next month after 25 years with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, including the past seven as chief forensic investigator. Steffens will make $72,244.90 a year.

Nocco told the Tampa Bay Times that he admired Steffens and wanted him to model the Pasco department after the one he led in Clearwater.

Steffens' "tactical background" had given him an eye for what he would be doing as a forensics investigator, examining schools and other public buildings to give SWAT teams a strategic advantage in potentially dangerous scenarios.

Steffens described his new job as having to "think like a bad guy on a whole different level."

He called the new job "the opportunity of a lifetime." He said he may get better sleep in his new role, knowing that he'll no longer responsible for a whole fleet of officers 24 hours a day.

He will still lead the county's SWAT team and noted his family may not notice much of a shift in his jobs.

"They're used to dad disappearing in the middle of the night to take care of a crisis somewhere," he said.

Consalvo said Steffens' resignation would be the topic of Tuesday night's City Council meeting. Council members will have to discuss what they will do in the meantime and how they will pick a new chief.

"Good leadership over at that police department is what we need right now," the mayor said. "It's not something you can do overnight."

Consalvo said he understands Steffens' decision to leave. He said he knows the new position will be a chance for Steffens to grow professionally.

He said he enjoyed having Steffens as a chief, referring to him as "dedicated" and "smart."

Consalvo recalled a story he read in the Times in October, a profile about Steffens and his search to find his birth mother.

"Reading that article about his life and how he was brought up and his compassion for people made me feel a little bit different about him," Consalvo said. "He wasn't just a cop."

Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.

Comments

Bicyclist dead after being hit by car in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — A bicyclist is dead after he was hit by a car just before 10 a.m. Saturday morning, police said.Police were still investigating the crash in the 8700 block of 49th Street N late Saturday morning.Police shut down northbound 49th Street...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Motorcyclist crashes into Subaru while trying to flee Pinellas deputies

CLEARWATER — A 21-year-old fleeing from deputies on a motorcycle crashed into car while speeding away from a cruiser Friday, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Michael Brown, of Clearwater, was recklessly driving his 2016...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Clearwater man in critical condition after medical episode while driving

DUNEDIN — A 60-year-old Clearwater man who likely had a medical episode while driving is now in the hospital with life-threatening injuries after rolling over his car, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. A Largo police off...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Four people linked to Tampa carjacking captured hours later

TAMPA — It took officers just 27 minutes Friday night to capture four people who they said stole a car from its owner.The incident started outside the Ybor Coffee Shop at 5:45 a.m. A group approached the driver as he sat in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. T...
Published: 01/19/18

Florida National Guard soldier killed, five injured in Sebring crash

SEBRING — A soldier with the Florida National Guard was killed and five others were hospitalized after a multi-vehicle crash on Friday, officials said.The crash took place at about 1 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Hammock Road.The soldiers ...
Published: 01/19/18
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cellphones and cellphone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wednes...
Published: 01/19/18
Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

When former Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Halladay died in a plane crash in November, he had amphetamines, morphine and the sleep aid zolpidem in his system, according to an autopsy report. Halladay, 40, died from blunt force trauma with drownin...
Published: 01/19/18
Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

PALM HARBOR — The former president of a local youth football league is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the group and using it in part to buy a mobile home.According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, deputies on Tuesday arrested L...
Published: 01/19/18
Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

FORT LAUDERDALE — Rapper Kodak Black has been ordered held without bail in Florida on seven felony charges that include child neglect and drug possession.The Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested the 20-year-old rapper, whose real name is Dieuson Octave,...
Published: 01/19/18
DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-through for Taco Bell

DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-through for Taco Bell

SPRING HILL — A 38-year-old Tampa man was arrested Wednesday on a charge of driving under the influence involving drugs or alcohol after deputies said he mistook a Bank of America drive-through for a Taco Bell.The branch manager of the Mariner Boulev...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18