Chief Champions Change

Darrel Stephens to receive Alumni Spotlight Award

Charged with writing a paper about what he might like to do for a living, Darrel Stephens discovered his future career in policing while in a 9th grade Civics class. That paper led him to a robust career, a presidential advisory position and a chance to truly make a difference in the world of law enforcement.

“Research for the paper helped me understand that policing was a challenging and exciting profession that allowed you to make an important contribution to your community,” he said.

Over many years since that day, his contributions to communities across the nation have been many and varied. Stephens’ distinguished career and his dedication to innovate and improve the conditions of his profession led to his selection as the 2016 recipient of the Alumni Spotlight Award by the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

In 1968, Stephens officially began his career in law enforcement as an officer with the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department. Stephens maintained his job with the department while pursuing his education at UMKC. In 1975, Stephens graduated with a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice.

Throughout his career, Stephens moved up through the ranks of the police force and landed his first job as chief of police in Largo, Florida in 1979. He also served as the chief of police in St. Petersburg, Florida; Newport News, Virginia; and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina.

The responsibilities of a police chief are varied, he says. But perhaps one of the most important and most difficult tasks is managing and initiating change. Stephens says that police chiefs see themselves as agents of change, and he is no exception.

Policing methods are significant, because the process affects so many people and officers tend to find themselves in tense situations where they must react swiftly. Stephens was an early advocate of community-oriented and problem-oriented policing. This method engages the community and aims to address underlying circumstances to deter criminal activity before it happens. In 1984, while he was serving as chief of police in Newport News, his department became the first in the country to adopt this policing strategy.

“I spent most of my career as an advocate for an approach to policing that engaged the community in problem-solving partnerships to address fear, crime and the myriad of other things the police are called on to do,” he said.

Stephens is also credited with collaborating with the Police Executive Research Forum to develop the SARA problem-solving model, which has been adopted by police departments around the world. The SARA model contains the following steps: Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment and is used by officers to evaluate scenarios and determine the best ways to contain or handle an issue.

Educating the leaders of tomorrow is another important driver for Stephens. After serving as chief of police in several cities over a 20-year period, he decided to leave the force and teach at the Johns Hopkins Public Safety and Leadership program.

“Teaching at Johns Hopkins allowed me to stay engaged in policing while sharing my knowledge and experience with graduate students in the program,” he said.

In 2010, Stephens was approached by the Major Cities Chiefs Association and asked to serve as their executive director. In this role, Stephens has continued to advocate for problem-oriented policing through the Police Executive Leadership Institute, an eight-month program designed to educate high-level police executives who desire to be big-city police chiefs.

In 2015, Stephens served as a technical advisor on the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. This group was created by President Barack Obama in December 2014 and is part of the Administration’s efforts to strengthen community policing and trust among law enforcement and the populations they serve. Stephens was nominated for this role by Obama and was confirmed by the Senate.

“I have seen more than 20 people that worked for me while chief who have become police chiefs themselves, and advanced both policing ideas and the importance of integrity,” Stephens said. “I have also mentored chiefs and aspiring chiefs over the past 25 years who have made important contributions to their communities.”

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Stephens and other outstanding alumni at the 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 21 at Swinney Recreation Center. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted nearly 600 attendees and garnered more than $141,000 in student scholarships.

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 21, 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information on the 2016 Alumni Awards recipients.
Nominations are now open for the Class of 2017 Alumni Awardees. Click here to nominate fellow alumni who are deserving of the campus’ highest recognition for alumni achievement. Nominations close March 7.

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