ROGERS – Police officers crowded the council chambers in City Hall on Friday to welcome their new leader, hands extended, badges on display, as Mayor Steve Womack introduced retired Springfield, Mo., police officer Stephen Hamilton as Rogers’ new police chief.
Womack said Hamilton, who will replace the retiring Chief Steve Helms, is “ideally suited for our situation. “Womack said the two chiefs would work together to break in Hamilton.
“It is my intention to provide a leftseat, right-seat ride with Steve Helms at the helm,” Womack said.
No date has been set for Hamilton, who was in Rogers house-hunting with his wife, to begin work, nor is there a timetable for Helms to turn over the reins of the department, though it must happen before Jan. 23, Helms’ retirement date.
City Councilman Greg Hines, who is also a Benton County Sheriff’s Office deputy, said the chance to have both men at the helm will have untold benefits for the Police Department.
“You couldn’t have a more ideal opportunity,” Hines said. “You don’t find that opportunity very often. It doesn’t happen.”
Hamilton, who rose through the ranks of the Springfield Police Department to become a major, retired June 2 from that department. He said only a specific situation would have lured him from what he called a happy retirement.
“It had to be the perfect fit,” Hamilton said.
He cited a good departmental reputation, a progressive city and support for the law-enforcement community among the factors he required to consider a position. His probes of area police officers showed that to be the case in Rogers, he said.
“To a person, they say (Rogers has ) good people, and that’s the foundation for a good department,” Hamilton said.
Helms, who sat quietly by the windows as his successor spoke, said he trusted Hamilton with his officers, calling the new chief a professional and a “great guy.”
“He understands the work,” Helms said of Hamilton. “I’m happy that it’s him. He’ll bring some new ideas, and new ideas are good.”
Hamilton’s experience – he was in a leadership position over every division within his former department – parallels the Rogers department’s current needs, especially when it comes to the city’s emerging gang population, but he said the city is already doing many necessary things to discourage gang activity. Hamilton said that while every growing city will have some gang presence, he marveled at the lack of graffiti, praising – although not by name at this point – Code Enforcement Director James Willett’s efforts to erase or cover the graffiti quickly after it is reported.
Prior to Womack’s announcement, there had been much speculation that he would chose a chief from military ranks, but Hamilton has no military experience. Womack said the new chief has many of the same qualities he has seen in the men he has known in military uniform.
“He would’ve been a good soldier,” Womack said. “He’s got all the attributes of a military officer.”
Rather than advertising the open position, Womack said he chose a “quiet networking approach. “A candidate old enough to be qualified, Womack said, would likely have ties to the community in which he or she lives, and he wanted to select someone currently living close enough to Rogers that the strain of moving would not be as great.
Womack said he had heard from people who wanted him to promote a chief from within, but without elaborating, he said the situation within the department made that impossible.
“I just felt, at this time, the circumstances required me to hire from outside,” Womack said.
The department, especially within the last year, has seen a number of disciplinary actions taken against ranking officers. Womack said he and Hamilton “see eye to eye “regarding discipline of those in positions of command. He also implied that the new chief is more fierce than his slight frame would suggest.
Hamilton did not directly address his plans for disciplinary actions, but his answer indicated a strict tone that he intended to set for the officers.
“If polices are clearly written, … if you violate those policies, it’s a willful act,” Hamilton said. “We are police officers. Our reputation is what we live and die by in the community.”
Helms announced his retirement Oct. 9, choosing the January date because his eligibility in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan ends at that time. Helms said he could continue to work but chose to retire as he would no longer be funding his retirement benefits.
Womack said the city will honor Helms with a ceremony to commemorate his service.