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Atherton's new police chief likes 'customer service' focus

Stephen D. McCulley says he thought when he retired as police chief of the towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend in the state of Washington less than a year ago he was ready to take it easy. When his wife, Lynn, pointed out the posting of a police chief job in Atherton, though, he was intrigued enough to check it out.

One of the things that intrigued him, he said in a recent interview, was that the job description included an emphasis on customer service. "That's what I did for 10 years in Snoqualmie and North Bend," he said.

He did his research, speaking with City Manager George Rodericks, City Clerk Theresa Della Santa and several members of the town's crime prevention task force about the job and the town. Chief McCulley and his wife flew to the Bay Area, and "I actually went out and walked the neighborhoods," he said, hearing "nothing but good comments about the police department."

"I kind of realized I still wanted to work," he said. "I'm 55, I don't mind saying that. I think I still have a lot left to offer."

Chief McCulley was one of 30 applicants for the job. He was chosen by City Manager Rodericks after being interviewed by four community panels, a peer panel, plus the city manager, Mayor Mike Lempres and Vice Mayor Cary Wiest.

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On Wednesday, May 17, Chief McCulley is scheduled to take his oath of office at the Atherton City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the town's council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road. He was sworn in on May 3.

The chief said he is looking forward to working with Joe Wade, who was the acting police chief in Atherton for more than a year and had also applied for the chief's job. Commander Wade has returned to his former job as second-in-command.

"We had a great conversation," Chief McCulley said, adding that he understands the position Commander Wade is in. "I've been in his position two different times," he said, being an acting chief and competing for the permanent job against someone who ended up as his boss.

However, he said, he is a fan of succession planning. "I think chiefs do have a shelf life," he said, adding that he plans to stay in Atherton for at least five years, but thinks he'd like to have Commander Wade be Atherton's next police chief.

Chief McCulley said he is also looking forward to working with local media. He served as the public information officer for the Washington State Patrol. "We need you as much as you need us," he said. "I think great things can be done" by working with the press, he said.

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His view is to "never be afraid to apologize, say we made mistakes," he said.

Chief McCulley said one thing the department and town will be looking at is whether it needs a new policy about when officers should turn on the body cameras they all now have.

The topic was raised after a Menlo Park resident who became lost on the Sharon Hills Golf Course and ended up in an Atherton backyard claimed he was mistreated by four Atherton police officers. None of the officers turned on their cameras during their interaction with the man, which lasted at least 30 minutes.

One problem Chief McCulley may not have to immediately deal with is staffing. Atherton's department, which has at times found it hard to retain officers, will be fully staffed after hiring a sergeant and three officers, who are going through background checks.

What he will have to do, however, is figure out how to retain the officers, he said. "They need to know what type of community they're coming into, the type of policing they'll be doing," he said.

Atherton "might be too quiet for an officer, might be boring," he said. "You want to provide as much training as you can ... to keep them interested and keep them here."

However, he said, working in Atherton has its advantages. "Police work is dangerous," he said. "This is probably about as safe as you can get."

Officers also have time to do "good policing," he said, something he enjoyed when he moved from the Washington State Patrol to a smaller community.

Noting that his unofficial motto is, "No call too small," he said that an officer who responds to even the most minor call quickly and acts in a professional manner, will make a lasting impression on the caller. "They're going to remember that for a long time," he said.

Chief McCulley said he also plans on occasionally taking out a patrol car. "I like to get out in the car, pull people over," he said, although he knows his limitations. "I'm also smart enough to know I'm not as fast as I used to be."

He'd like to give the public a chance to regularly interact with officers, perhaps by holding events in Holbrook-Palmer Park similar to the "Coffee and Doughnuts with a Cop" events they had in Snoqualmie.

The chief said he doesn't yet have a priority for the department. "I don't have one yet," he said. "I'm not afraid to say that."

"I need to watch, observe, listen," he said. He plans to do ride-alongs with officers and sit with dispatchers as well as talk with residents.

Living on the Peninsula will be a major change for the chief, who says he has lived and worked in the same 60-mile radius for his entire life.

He grew up in Monroe, a blue-collar logging community about 45 minutes away from North Bend, where he lived most of his adult life. His father was an educator and an administrator and his mother worked in the school office.

Snoqualmie is an old logging town with about 12,000 residents, with both a historic downtown and a master-planned community of 3,500 homes called "The Ridge," he said. "They had a high demand for police service and customer service," he said.

North Bend, where Chief McCulley had lived for many years, has about 7,000 residents. The town asked Chief McCulley and the Snoqualmie Police Department to take over providing their policing soon after he become police chief. Once they took over, he said, he received two calls from people his officers had pulled over complimenting the officers and saying "they liked to see the police working," he said.

Policing in two communities meant he reported to two mayors and two city councils. "I said I had 18 bosses," he said. "I learned a lot from it."

He's also looking forward to Northern California weather. While he grew up with the rain and cold, this last winter was the worst on record since the 1960s, he said. "It gets a little old," he said.

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Atherton's new police chief likes 'customer service' focus

by Barbara Wood / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, May 25, 2017, 7:37 am

Stephen D. McCulley says he thought when he retired as police chief of the towns of Snoqualmie and North Bend in the state of Washington less than a year ago he was ready to take it easy. When his wife, Lynn, pointed out the posting of a police chief job in Atherton, though, he was intrigued enough to check it out.

One of the things that intrigued him, he said in a recent interview, was that the job description included an emphasis on customer service. "That's what I did for 10 years in Snoqualmie and North Bend," he said.

He did his research, speaking with City Manager George Rodericks, City Clerk Theresa Della Santa and several members of the town's crime prevention task force about the job and the town. Chief McCulley and his wife flew to the Bay Area, and "I actually went out and walked the neighborhoods," he said, hearing "nothing but good comments about the police department."

"I kind of realized I still wanted to work," he said. "I'm 55, I don't mind saying that. I think I still have a lot left to offer."

Chief McCulley was one of 30 applicants for the job. He was chosen by City Manager Rodericks after being interviewed by four community panels, a peer panel, plus the city manager, Mayor Mike Lempres and Vice Mayor Cary Wiest.

On Wednesday, May 17, Chief McCulley is scheduled to take his oath of office at the Atherton City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the town's council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road. He was sworn in on May 3.

The chief said he is looking forward to working with Joe Wade, who was the acting police chief in Atherton for more than a year and had also applied for the chief's job. Commander Wade has returned to his former job as second-in-command.

"We had a great conversation," Chief McCulley said, adding that he understands the position Commander Wade is in. "I've been in his position two different times," he said, being an acting chief and competing for the permanent job against someone who ended up as his boss.

However, he said, he is a fan of succession planning. "I think chiefs do have a shelf life," he said, adding that he plans to stay in Atherton for at least five years, but thinks he'd like to have Commander Wade be Atherton's next police chief.

Chief McCulley said he is also looking forward to working with local media. He served as the public information officer for the Washington State Patrol. "We need you as much as you need us," he said. "I think great things can be done" by working with the press, he said.

His view is to "never be afraid to apologize, say we made mistakes," he said.

Chief McCulley said one thing the department and town will be looking at is whether it needs a new policy about when officers should turn on the body cameras they all now have.

The topic was raised after a Menlo Park resident who became lost on the Sharon Hills Golf Course and ended up in an Atherton backyard claimed he was mistreated by four Atherton police officers. None of the officers turned on their cameras during their interaction with the man, which lasted at least 30 minutes.

One problem Chief McCulley may not have to immediately deal with is staffing. Atherton's department, which has at times found it hard to retain officers, will be fully staffed after hiring a sergeant and three officers, who are going through background checks.

What he will have to do, however, is figure out how to retain the officers, he said. "They need to know what type of community they're coming into, the type of policing they'll be doing," he said.

Atherton "might be too quiet for an officer, might be boring," he said. "You want to provide as much training as you can ... to keep them interested and keep them here."

However, he said, working in Atherton has its advantages. "Police work is dangerous," he said. "This is probably about as safe as you can get."

Officers also have time to do "good policing," he said, something he enjoyed when he moved from the Washington State Patrol to a smaller community.

Noting that his unofficial motto is, "No call too small," he said that an officer who responds to even the most minor call quickly and acts in a professional manner, will make a lasting impression on the caller. "They're going to remember that for a long time," he said.

Chief McCulley said he also plans on occasionally taking out a patrol car. "I like to get out in the car, pull people over," he said, although he knows his limitations. "I'm also smart enough to know I'm not as fast as I used to be."

He'd like to give the public a chance to regularly interact with officers, perhaps by holding events in Holbrook-Palmer Park similar to the "Coffee and Doughnuts with a Cop" events they had in Snoqualmie.

The chief said he doesn't yet have a priority for the department. "I don't have one yet," he said. "I'm not afraid to say that."

"I need to watch, observe, listen," he said. He plans to do ride-alongs with officers and sit with dispatchers as well as talk with residents.

Living on the Peninsula will be a major change for the chief, who says he has lived and worked in the same 60-mile radius for his entire life.

He grew up in Monroe, a blue-collar logging community about 45 minutes away from North Bend, where he lived most of his adult life. His father was an educator and an administrator and his mother worked in the school office.

Snoqualmie is an old logging town with about 12,000 residents, with both a historic downtown and a master-planned community of 3,500 homes called "The Ridge," he said. "They had a high demand for police service and customer service," he said.

North Bend, where Chief McCulley had lived for many years, has about 7,000 residents. The town asked Chief McCulley and the Snoqualmie Police Department to take over providing their policing soon after he become police chief. Once they took over, he said, he received two calls from people his officers had pulled over complimenting the officers and saying "they liked to see the police working," he said.

Policing in two communities meant he reported to two mayors and two city councils. "I said I had 18 bosses," he said. "I learned a lot from it."

He's also looking forward to Northern California weather. While he grew up with the rain and cold, this last winter was the worst on record since the 1960s, he said. "It gets a little old," he said.

Comments

MEMBERONE
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 25, 2017 at 9:10 am
MEMBERONE, Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 25, 2017 at 9:10 am

Welcome Chief McCulley -
Your situation will be interesting to follow.
From North Bend to the Peninsula...
I wish you the best, but I believe your tenure will be only 1 year before you're tired of the vast differences in culture, political climate, traffic, cost of living, pace, etc.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 25, 2017 at 12:49 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on May 25, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Chief - Welcome, we are glad to have you and we hope that you have a long, productive and happy stay in our Town.


Roberto
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on May 26, 2017 at 10:24 am
Roberto, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on May 26, 2017 at 10:24 am

@MEMBERONE - For those old enough to remember - that is a Eeyore comment.
Chief - welcome - you have many great residents and employees. Atherton stands out as a community with certainly one of the zip codes that Forbes points out...but the people that live in Atherton still get dressed the same way as anyone else and still need basic services and certainly the enhanced services. I am certain you will enjoy your tenure.


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