Using his life experiences and effective leadership skills, Windermere Police Chief David Ogden transformed the town’s agency from a department stigmatized by a corrupt history to one of the state's top-ranking law enforcement agencies.
Windermere Police Chief David Ogden knew what he was walking into when he applied for the position at a police department that made headlines due to a corruption scandal courtesy of a previous chief.
But with 30 years of law enforcement experience working with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office since he was 19 and gradually rising through the ranks to eventually make captain, he also knew how to fix it.
Despite being in terrible shape just a few years ago, Windermere’s police department has changed for the better since Ogden arrived. It now consistently ranks at the top for law-enforcement agencies their size across the state – a fact Mayor Gary Bruhn expresses with pride. He thought Ogden was a good fit for the position because he knew the area, the town and the history of the department.
“He knew what the challenges were, and he told us exactly what we had to do and what he was going to do to bring back credibility, back respect to this department,” Bruhn said. “And in just a few short years, he’s done that.”
A LESSON IN PATIENCE
Ogden, who is a transplant from a small farm town in New York called Goshen, moved to Florida with his family when he was 10. He attended Pine Hills Christian Academy, a private school now known as Central Florida Christian, and paid for the tuition by working as the janitor. He married young and soon found himself applying for a job at OCSO at 18, where he was first placed to work in the corrections department.
He then attended the police academy and became a patrol officer. He worked for several departments during his career at OCSO, including traffic and undercover narcotics, and spent 14 years working on the SWAT team. With a shiny new degree in hand in criminal justice, he soon became in charge of a whole district office, overseeing Sector 3, which includes most of West Orange County.
He now resides in Winter Garden with his wife of eight years and has two surviving adult children. He also had a 4-year-old son named Kaleb who died in 2012 from Sandhoff’s Disease, a rare, inherited neurological disease that slowly destroys neurons in the brain and spinal cord.
“We took care of him as best we could for those four years, but it was a difficult struggle,” Ogden calmly confessed in a soft voice.
The police chief’s office is filled with memorabilia of his career at OCSO and in SWAT, as well as photos of his family and deceased son. He speaks of his lost son fondly and believes the experience taught him patience when he applies to his everyday life and law-enforcement career.
“For me, as a law-enforcement officer, I think I’ve always had a lot of patience,” he said. “But those years have given me a lot more because I’ve realized you never know what somebody’s going through in their life. They could be having a bad day, or a bad month or a bad three or four years. From the day we were given the diagnosis – our son was about 18-19 months old – we were told he was going to die.”
REBUILDING THE AGENCY
The extra patience Ogden developed through his trials perhaps gave him the patience he knew he’d need in his new role at the Windermere Police Department. Noticing a complete lack of leadership at the agency, he provided a written statement of his goals and expectations.
“He received a police department that, quite frankly, had to be rebuilt from the ground up,” Bruhn explained of the Ogden’s daunting task when first hired. “Policies, procedures were outdated and in some cases nonexistent. ... We had to establish a viable chain of command of people who were knowledgeable and respected.”
To further advance the agency’s transformation, Ogden set forth a 90-day plan that included having everyone reapply for their positions. Officers he found unfit to continue working for the department were let go and new officers were hired. The end result was a clean slate and coworkers he could fully trust to enforce the law with honor, integrity and a humble sense of service – the agency’s own mantra.
“When I retired from the sheriff’s office, Ogden offered me a job,” said Mark Destefano, who was hired seven months ago. “I was excited to come to work for him again because it had been three years since he had left. He’s the kind of a person you want to work for.”
The hope for the role the new staff would serve in fixing the department was not in vain. Sgt. Jason Bonk, who has worked for the agency for eight years, has been through its ups and downs and witnessed firsthand the difference a solid leadership has made for the both the town and the department.
“Well, I just think that the agency today has regained its positive image of being a professional agency,” said Bonk. “Before, with the whole administration and everything that happened ... we really had a black eye and a bad name, so we needed somebody who had a good reputation in the area to clean the agency up. And we’ve been able to rebuild that and have a good reputation now with the sheriff’s office and other local agencies … when before they didn’t really want anything to do with us.”
The stigma surrounding the agency has since dissipated, but Ogden’s next goal for the agency is to get a more secure building for the police agency. Currently, the building lacks certain needed security measures and a proper evidence room. It is currently located in a building that once hosted a school and was retrofitted in the 1970s to fit the department’s needs.
“One of the things I admire about the chief is that not only does he live up to the same standards that he expects of his officers, but he also made sure that the people we have in our employment are people that are worthy and exemplified those virtues,” Bruhn concluded. “I’m very proud of where we are today especially when you see where we were just a few years ago.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].