NEW PORT RICHEY — The "interim" tag has officially been dropped from Police Chief James Steffens' title.
Steffens, who has been serving as acting chief since the Oct. 17 departure of Jeffrey Harrington, was permanently appointed to the job Tuesday evening. Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa, a childhood friend of Steffens, swore in the new chief during the City Council meeting.
City Manager John Schneiger said Steffens, 43, has shown excellent leadership and communication skills since taking over as interim chief.
"Thus far his performance has been exemplary," said Schneiger, who was so impressed he didn't bother advertising the position for outside applicants. "I'm extremely comfortable in making this appointment."
Dozens of family members, friends and law enforcement colleagues came to City Hall for the ceremony and greeted the new chief outside chambers afterward.
"I'm honored for the opportunity," Steffens said. "I have always dreamed of being a law enforcement officer even as a child. It's all I really ever wanted to be."
Siracusa, who has been friends with Steffens since they were in the sixth-grade, agreed that law enforcement has always been on his friend's mind as they grew up in Clearwater.
"Once when we were home visiting from college, there was someone burglarizing a neighbor's house and we chased him, but it was James who caught the guy," Siracusa said. "So it's always been there."
It has been a rapid rise to the top of the New Port Richey Police Department for Steffens, who was hired in May as a lieutenant on Harrington's command staff. He brought two decades of law enforcement experience to the table.
Steffens retired in 2009 as a lieutenant with the Clearwater Police Department, where he worked his way up the ranks from patrol to detective, and eventually supervisory roles over SWAT and police dog units.
This fall, Steffens unexpectedly found himself tapped as interim chief in New Port Richey when Harrington announced his move to major of patrol operations for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
Now it's official that Steffens is the top cop in the city, overseeing 40 sworn officers, 25 civilian employees and several specialized units, including marine patrol, two police dog officers and 10 officers who are part of the joint SWAT team with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
"I'm definitely feeling challenged," Steffens said. "I don't plan on getting much sleep."