SH police commander retiring after 27 years

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

“Steeeeve!” is a sound that’s been heard frequently around Sweet Home Police Department over the years, usually any time something wasn’t working quite right with the agency’s computer systems.

That sound won’t echo down the halls any longer following Commander Steve Young’s retirement Friday. His official end date will be the end of July, but he’s using a month of vacation time rather than cashing it out.

“From my first day here, Steve has been an excellent mentor and has always been able to offer a unique perspective whenever I’ve asked him for advice, from my first day as a patrolman up until the day he left,” Police Chief Bob Burford said. “I’m going to miss Steve’s advice when problems arise and also miss his calm, unruffled approach to frustrating issues.”

Young has worked for SHPD just shy of 27 years. He started Aug. 11, 1980 as a patrol officer, a position he held for three years until he had brain surgery to correct a medical condition. It left him partially paralyzed, and though the paralysis has disappeared, he’s still affected by the aftereffects of the operation.

“The doctors made it very clear I’d never be able to be a patrol officer again,” Young said. “I’d never be able to work the road again.”

After eight months on disability, he had an opportunity to go back to work, taking over the department’s youth diversion program, which was started by Sgt. Bill Jordan.

Jordan had worked with Chief Ed Savage to get the program up and running, Young said. They set up a diversion program to keep from flooding the Juvenile Department. Two years later, Jordan took a position with the Juvenile Department, and Young was selected to run the program.

Young ran the program for two years, he said. The position essentially involved counseling youths who were in trouble. When he took over the program, he thought the department needed to beef up the program.

Young developed a restitution component, he said. If a youth caused property damage, Young set up a system in which the youth would make payments or perform community service for the crime victim. Often, youths in the program committed offenses that caused no financial damage, so he would assign them community service assisting the handicapped and shut-ins.

When grant funding for the program was pulled, Sweet Home lost a good program, he said.

Before the program started, the recidivism rate among Sweet Home youth was 46 percent, Young said. By the end of the third year, it was well below 10 percent.

When the program ended, Chief Gary David put Young to work as the community services officer. In that position, Young handled the Neighborhood Watch program, talked to businesses about security and taught members of the community ways to be more effective helping police.

“It’s a partnership between the community and police,” Young said. The job was “a lot of public relations stuff, which was a lot of fun because everything was positive.”

He spent two years in that position, but his next role at the department was defined by his previous role.

While he was working the youth diversion program, he used his personal computer to keep records from the program.

“Gary David came in, and I started talking to him, and I said, it’d be really efficient if we got our department computerized,” Young said. There were those who didn’t think it was necessary, but David put Young to work on it.

Due to their simplicity, he chose Apple MacIntosh computers to get the officers started, Young said, while IBM-compatible DOS computers were used in some functions.

Eventually Microsoft Windows came out, looking and working more like a Mac, and the department switched to the Windows platform, Young said.

At about that time, he was hired as the department’s support services sergeant. Burford was hired as patrol sergeant.

In his new position, Young supervised dispatch, the jail, evidence and community services. He also was responsible for dealing with the department’s computers.

That was a challenging time, he said. “It was something new.”

The database software allowed too much variation in the information inputted, Young said. Typos and multiple spellings for the same name were common. Middle names might have been spelled out, left as an initial or left out of an entry, creating multiple database entries and a headache. Addresses for Main Street had many permutations, such as “Hwy. 20” or “Highway 20.”

Compiling annual statistics was a lot of work, and the system would crash or lock up frequently, Young said. The department learned that Microsoft Access was a good database program for a single computer but not for networks.

In those days, he was often called in at 2 a.m., he said, and even on vacation, he spent “half” of his time at the department.

The department’s network has occasional problems now, Young said, “but it’s so much better than it used to be.”

He finds his biggest sense of accomplishment in the department’s computerization, one of the earliest in the area to do so, and in the youth diversion program.

“When I came to work here in 1980, we had 17 officers,” he said. The population was right around 5,000. The call load was about 5,500 per year.

Now the department operates with 15 officers, with a population approaching 9,000 and a call load above 9,000, he said.

The computers have made the department more efficient, he said. Anyone can pull up a report or information with ease. No longer does anyone need to hunt down an unreadable hand-written incident report.

“It’s so much better now,” Young said. “So that’s, yes, a great sense of accomplishment.”

He also is proud of “how we were able to reduce the recidivism rate of juveniles,” he said. He was able to help kids and actually have some kind of effect on them.

Being deskbound, he hasn’t been involved in the “fun kind of stuff” the younger officers might like, he said. “I’m behind the scenes. My job, to me, is making the officers look good and work well.”

As he retires, “I’m all excited about leaving, but it’s an emotional thing,” he said. He remembers how excited his own father was about retiring, but how he eventually missed working.

His father was a scientist, a rather important position, in California. After his retirement, “he felt he wasn’t contributing to society, and that really bothered him.”

So Young wants to stay connected to the community and department, he said. He is looking forward to working on turning his 3 1/2 acres into a park and spending time with his children.

He said he’ll remain on call if the department needs something, especially during the transition period.

“The community pays for you to do a job,” Young said. “I always wanted to make sure I was giving what I was getting paid for. It’s always been really important to support the community and city the way they’ve supported me.”

Young came to Sweet Home from California when his parents decided to retire here. He spent four years in law enforcement in San Diego, two as a police officer and two as a county marshal. Afterward, he went to work in construction until moving to Sweet Home to build his parents’ retirement home.

“When I drove into Sweet Home, I had a very strong feeling that said, ‘You’re home.’ My first thought driving down Main Street, ‘It’s American Graffiti,’ and I loved it.”

Young, 62, is married to Beth Young. They have two children, Camille, 13, and Parke, 12. He has two grown children, Eric and Rhonda, and seven grandchildren. He is an active member of the Sweet Home Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He enjoys woodworking.

“Sweet Home has always been my home,” he said, and this job made it possible for him to keep it his home, a place to raise his family.

“I guess I can never repay them (the city and community) for that,” he said. “But I’m on call.”

The public is invited to drop by SHPD, in the training room off the lobby, between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. on July 12 to wish Young well and enjoy a piece of cake.