Sunset Hills aldermen tap new police chief to succeed LaGrand

City’s police chief selected from total of 52 applicants

Stephen Dodge

Stephen Dodge

By Gloria Lloyd

With Sunset Hills Police Chief William LaGrand retiring after nearly three decades, city officials’ choice for his successor is a decorated veteran from the city of St. Louis.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Stephen Dodge will take over as chief starting Feb. 27. He is a 22-year veteran of the city department, a current watch commander and, from 2013 to 2016, commander of the SWAT team.

LaGrand’s retirement party is set for 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Community Center, but he will continue to work up until Dodge starts. LaGrand has served as chief for 26 years.

Dodge told the Call that he is excited to get to the city and meet its police officers and residents.

“It’s a great opportunity, it’s a very vibrant area obviously, a lot of good mix of businesses and residential, it’s a very nice area and I’m really excited to be the chief,” Dodge said.

Although he has spent his entire career in the city of St. Louis, Dodge, 47, said he hopes to spend the rest of it in Sunset Hills.

“A lot of things are happening in Sunset Hills, a lot of good new businesses, and I know it’s growing,” he said. “I think that an important part of my job is to get out there and talk to residents, businesses and schools so they know they have a chief that they know and they can trust.”

The incoming chief lives in St. Louis County with his wife, Amy, and two young children. He will be paid $98,000.

The Sunset Hills Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to hire Dodge after interviewing four finalists Jan. 23.

The vote was 7-0, with Ward 3 Alderman Keith Kostial absent.

“We are so, so happy,” Mayor Pat Fribis said. “I feel sorry that we’re taking him away from the St. Louis Police Department, but I don’t feel guilty.”

The search was narrowed down to the final four from 52 applicants by a committee composed of City Administrator Eric Sterman and three aldermen: Ward 4 Alderman Thompson Price, Police Advisory Board Chairman Steve Bersche of Ward 2 and board President Richard Gau of Ward 1.

“We were very blessed that we had so many wonderful, qualified people that showed an interest in our community, which we were very honored to see,” Fribis said. “It says a lot for our city.”

All four finalists shared the city’s outlook on the importance of community policing and the idea that “we don’t want to be known as a ticketing community, and that a warning is sometimes more educational and more beneficial than an actual ticket,” Fribis said.

Dodge was named Officer of the Year for his district during his six years as a patrol officer.

He had already received a business degree from the University of Kansas, but “he wanted to understand both sides of the law, not only the enforcement but the law,” Fribis said.

So while still serving as a police officer, Dodge earned a law degree attending night school at St. Louis University.

“Everyone asks me why I’m still a policeman, but it’s what I love to do,” Dodge said. “I love serving the community, and being in law enforcement is something I just love doing.”

Serving as a police chief has always been one of Dodge’s goals, and he likes the idea of leading other officers and helping them better serve the community.

He looks forward to taking a tour of the department with LaGrand and meeting the officers.

Although his SWAT experience is not directly transferrable to a city like Sunset Hills, he said the interaction SWAT team members have with businesses will be important experience to relate to Sunset Hills’ thriving business community.

The last few years have been some of the most eventful in the department’s history, as former Mayor Mark Furrer looked into outsourcing police services and asked LaGrand to work night shifts. In response, aldermen passed a resolution that any vote to dissolve the department would have to go to a public vote by aldermen.

But things have returned to normal since Fribis took office as mayor, and that drama seems to be part of the department’s past, not its future.

“I hope it’s the most boring 20 years of my career,” Dodge said. “If it’s very boring, then I’ve done my job.”