Thursday, January 18, 2018
Public safety

No clear successor as New Port Richey police chief leaves

NEW PORT RICHEY — It was a strange last day on the job for outgoing New Port Richey Police Chief James Steffens.

From an office he described as cleaned out "down to the studs," he didn't reflect on his time with the city or his upcoming endeavor as chief forensic investigator for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

Instead, Steffens expressed concern that he has no knowledge of who would take the reins at the Police Department and has had no contact from City Hall seeking his thoughts on a transition.

"I've not been asked anything in any way," he said.

Steffens said he announced his resignation to City Council nearly a month in advance of his departure to the Sheriff's Office to aid the city with a smooth transition.

With no news of a successor Wednesday, Steffens said he named his second in command, Lt. Arthur Madden, as acting chief. Steffens will officially remain on the city payroll until Saturday, but is using accrued leave today and Friday, he said.

Interim City Manager Susan Dillinger may keep Madden in charge until the council selects a full-time chief, or she can appoint a different interim chief. Several people have applied for the post, including former sheriff candidate Kim Bogart, whom Dillinger previously told the Times was qualified for the job.

At a city workshop Tuesday evening, Dillinger told the Times that Madden would be acting chief until logistics could be completed to bring in an interim chief, a person she declined to name.

In a March 9 email to Dillinger, Steffens expressed concern that no efforts had been made to contact him regarding a transition or who would be taking over for him. That lack of information, he wrote, caused "considerable concern/anxiety within the Police Department as to what is going on with this process and I don't have adequate answers for the PD personnel."

"We all have indeed had a busy past three weeks but I have not been asked by you to assist to this point," Steffens wrote. "I understand the need for unbiased control on who is actually selected but I did expect that I would be able to bring the selected interim or full-time appointee up to speed on what we are currently working on and the makeup of the department."

Among the issues occupying Steffens and Dillinger these past few weeks: the controversy over the city's volunteer-run animal protection unit, which is overseen by the Police Department. Steffens raised concerns about the program's operations in several emails to Dillinger, who is now looking at moving the animal control unit to another department.

Noting that Steffens announced his resignation a month ago, City Council member Bill Phillips said he would have expected an interim chief to be in place by now.

"I have not heard anything about what's going on there," he said at the work session Wednesday. "I know that within the Police Department we have excellent personnel who can handle operations for the time being."

Steffens agreed with that assessment, calling Madden a "true asset" to the Police Department.

Madden, 37, a former U.S. Marine and 10-year veteran of the department, had been serving as operations and administrative commander, and is formerly an assistant team leader of the Pasco County Unified SWAT Team, according to Steffens.

"He's very solid," said Steffens, who will continue to lead the Unified SWAT Team among his duties at the Sheriff's Office. "This Police Department is filled with professionals and these excellent officers will continue to do their duty. They deserve to know what the plan is, they deserve that respect."

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