In his office Steve Davis, Lakewood Police’s public information officer for the past almost 15 years, has a photo of himself facing a sea of reporters, cameras, and microphones. The photo was taken …
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In his office Steve Davis, Lakewood Police’s public information officer for the past almost 15 years, has a photo of himself facing a sea of reporters, cameras, and microphones.
The photo was taken during one of the more than a hundred press conferences he held, as public information officer with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, in the immediate aftermath of the attack at Columbine High School in 1999.
“In the first two days after the massacre, I did about 135 on-camera interviews. I remember at one point there was about 175 satellite trucks in the area, and there were anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 media people working,” he remembered. “I keep this photo for whenever I’m feeling really busy or overwhelmed. No matter what I’m dealing with now, it’s nothing compared to that.”
And now, after decades of working in law enforcement, Davis, 63, is hanging up his spurs. His last day with Lakewood Police will be Feb. 2.
When asked about Davis, who left the Jeffco Sheriff’s office in 2000 and joined Lakewood’s police department as public information officer in 2002, coworkers and colleagues all use the same words — calm, honest, and steady.
“His work always reflected his values, and the media knew they could trust and depend on him to tell the truth and provide them information as quickly as he could while his agencies knew he would represent them well,” said Stacie Oulton, Lakewood’s public information officer.
Karlyn Tilley, Golden’s communications manager, has worked with Davis as a reporter, a fellow public information manager, and member of Emergency Services Public Information Officers of Colorado (ESPIOC), an organization for other information officers, of which Davis is the president.
“For me, Steve has been both a friend and a mentor,” Tilley said. “He’s so even-keeled, and such a great friend. We’ve both helped each other through personal and professional challenges.”
Davis has been a resident of the west metro area since he moved to the Applewood area with his parents in 1962. He graduated from Golden High School, and went on to join the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office in the 1970s, mostly to appease a friend.
“He kept telling me to apply for the sheriffs, and I applied, thinking they wouldn’t accept me and I could get him to stop pushing me,” Davis said. “I was hired in 1979, and for my first years, I was a motorcycle patrol officer.”
In late 1997, the sheriffs were looking for a public information officer, and though he didn’t have much in the way of experience, Davis decided to go for the job.
“I began my duties in January of 1998, and by March, I was thinking, what have I done?” Davis remembered. “I thought it would be a much easier job, but I realized that being a public information officer means being on call 24-7. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing — you have to stop and handle situations when they arise.”
Thanks to on the job experience and training, Davis started feeling more confident in his work. But no amount of preparation could prepare him, or the country, for April 20, 1999. He doesn’t say a lot about the event, in retrospect, except that he’d never dealt with that many media people before.
But he does have a whole file of lessons he learned from the event, that he shares with colleagues and other organizations in times of need.
“During the Columbine situation, Steve handled himself as a true professional,” Tilley said. “These kinds of awful events have become more common, and now PIOs have preparation training, but at the time, Steve didn’t have any of that. He laid the groundwork for a lot of us to follow.”
Davis didn’t leave his post with the sheriffs until after Columbine’s first anniversary and the release of the final investigate report. From there, he spent about two-and-a-half years at Além International Management Company to help with the Olympic Torch Relay from Athens, Greece, for the 2002 Olympics. He served as the liaison between Além and the different jurisdictions in 46 states the torch was traveling through.
“After all that work, I returned to Colorado looking for a job, and Lakewood’s police department reached out to me. At first I wasn’t that quick to take up this kind of work again after Columbine,” Davis said. “I started in 2003 thinking it would be a job for just three to five years, but it turned into a lot more.”
Lakewood’s current police chief, Dan McCasky, first met Davis when he was part of a team sent to help investigate the Columbine attack, and got to know him when he started with the department.
“The thing Steve brings to this job is credibility and transparency,” McCasky said. “Where you see a lot of agencies get in trouble is when their communities feel like they’re hiding something. And while there’s always going to be mistakes, Steve has built a reputation for always sharing everything he can.”
In a time when law enforcement agencies are facing more scrutiny that ever, Davis said open lines of communication is vitally important.
“Even if it is difficult or embarrassing to do so, I’ve always believed you need to be as transparent as possible,” he said. “I really hope whoever comes after me will continue that philosophy and relationship with the community and media.”
The department will begin searching for Davis’ replacement soon, and Davis will help them in finding a candidate who is a good fit.
“We were spoiled by working with him for so long.,” McCasky said. “It’s going to be extremely difficult to find someone to fill Steve’s shoes, and someone who makes it look as easy as he does.”
As for what comes next, Davis and his wife recently bought an RV, so they want to do some traveling. And of course, as any one who knows Davis would expect, he’s also eager to lower his golf handicap.
“I want to thank our community and citizens of Lakewood for being so gracious over the years,” he said. “This is a city that truly cares about its future and the future of people who live here.”
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