MORRIS – As Alicia Steffes recently reflected on her path to becoming Morris’ first woman police chief, as well as the past year’s triumphs and tribulations, she recalled a period in her life when she wasn’t sure she had what it took to be a cop.
Back in high school, she said, she knew she wanted to be a police officer but was scared.
“To be honest, I don’t fit the stereotypical officer — I’m not naturally super-assertive, I don’t look very intimidating. I’m certainty not physically intimidating,” Steffes, who was sworn in as chief last month, said in a recent interview.
So, Steffes found other ways to work with law enforcement. She worked with Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center in Joliet. She did crisis intervention with runaway youth, and she worked at a rape crisis center.
She eventually found her way to San Bernardino, California, where she began working at the district attorney’s office as a victim’s rights advocate. As an advocate, she was assigned to the San Bernardino police department and was given the opportunity to ride with officers and get to know them more personally.
“I got to ride along with a female officer who was a lot like me and in talking with her and learning from her, I’m like I can do this job too. She just pointed out that everyone has their niche and the thing that they are best at,” Steffes said. “We may not be the first one through the door or the biggest one in the department, but we all find our niche and our way to handle things.”
Steffes applied to work as a police officer at the San Bernardino police department where she stayed for about a year before returning home to Illinois.
She worked on the Morris police department for 16 years before becoming chief. During that time she advocated for all victims and discovered her niche as a detective.
“The criminal justice system can be so overwhelming, even for police officers and attorneys because there is just so much to know about how the system works. I had the chance to take a family and walk them through the system,” Steffes said.
“There is a saying about how a victim is often victimized once during the crime and then they are victimized a second time when they go through the system,” she said. “That is why advocacy is so important to me, I want to be able to make it as easy as possible for them.”
Steffes said she believes all of her officers are trained properly in advocacy and joined law enforcement to help people, she believes in treating every person with respect.
“They say it takes a woman an average of seven times before they’ll call the police and then they may call and not want to press charges. When I have talked to my officers about it, have them put themselves in a victim’s shoes,” Steffes said.
“There are so many things we don’t understand, this might be the seventh time you have been to this house, but treat that person with respect and give them everything they are willing to take, but treat them with respect so if it happens again, they aren’t afraid to call us,” she said.
As chief, Steffes encourages her officers to find their own niche, so they are able to work more efficiently as a team and “pull focus” to what her officers enjoy and excel at.
Her method proved to be effective last year when an armed gunman ran into R.P. Home Harvest after fleeing police. City police and sheriff’s deputies worked together to pursue the suspect without any injuries.
“That is an example of where you have to assign people to what they are good at. As a supervisor, its easy to want to micromanage, especially having been a detective, I just want to do it myself. You have to let everyone do their job, because I know they are all capable,” Steffes said.
The department’s greatest gift is the community, so the department tries to be as transparent as possible, Steffes said.
“Our Facebook page has helped with some transparency. It is a way for us to get to know people of the community, to help us learn what people want and or where they would like to see us go and hopefully it helps them get to know us too,” Steffes said.