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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2018 1 week ago

Winter Garden welcomes new police chief

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Steve Graham recently took over the department after former Chief George Brennan retired in June.
by: Danielle Hendrix Black Tie Editor

There’s a new chief at the helm of the Winter Garden Police Department.

City commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 23 to promote Steve Graham to Winter Garden’s chief of police. He initially came aboard as deputy chief in January 2017.

From 2004 until this summer, former Chief George Brennan had the leading role. He announced his retirement earlier this year and worked his last day in office June 29.

“I had met (Brennan) before and he did wonderful things here,” Graham said. “He brought in a lot of technology and brought this place a long way. ... I didn’t expect the opportunity (to become chief) to come as quick as it did, and it’s not automatic that I’d get the top position — because the city does have the option to advertise and make it competitive — but I guess they saw enough in me that they were willing to give me a shot at the top seat.”

Graham, 61, has 40 years of experience in law enforcement. It was something he knew he wanted to pursue after taking a few elective college classes. At the time, the agency he went to work for wouldn’t hire until age 21. Graham took the test on his 21st birthday. 

Born in Gainesville, Graham was raised in South Florida and began his college education at the University of Florida before moving back home and completing his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University. He began working in law enforcement in 1978 in Boynton Beach while simultaneously working on his degree.

New Winter Garden Police Chief Steve Graham is ready to oversee his department and serve the city.

“I was anxious to get into law enforcement,” he said. “It took me quite a while, because that was before the internet and online classes, so I had to trade away my shifts so I could go to class. ... A prior chief I worked for in Boyn- ton encouraged me to finish college with my master’s degree from Lynn University. He also encouraged me to get more education, so I went to the command officer school at Broward Community College (and finished) a 10-week commander’s course. I also had the chance to go to the FBI Academy in Quantico.

“After I got the education, I focused on possibly being the leader of an agency and worked my way up to assistant chief and retired from that agency,” he said. “I had a chance to do a lot of fun things like working with K9s, being on SWAT team and a SWAT team commander, and working on the tactical unit and undercover narcotics briefly. I got to do and experience a lot throughout my career.”

In 2005, he moved to Central Florida to take the job as chief of police in Clermont, where he stayed until resigning in 2011 to work for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. In January 2019, he will have two years under his belt here in Winter Garden.

“(Brennan’s) last day was June 29, so I’ve been running the department since the last (commission) meeting when they confirmed the appointment,” Graham said. “He’s done more with this agency than most agencies this size are capable of doing. He initiated many programs. There’s more outreach in the community from this agency than a lot of others our size.”

Moving forward, Graham is preparing the agency to begin assigning roles for school resource officers to help Orange County Public Schools in carrying out new legislation requiring that each school have one school resource officer. He also is excited to help his staff develop to its fullest potential as the department and city expand.

“It’s been a great experience getting to know the staff at this police department, and I may be biased, but I think we’re second to none with talent and expertise on board,” he said.“They go the extra mile to make sure every case is investigated fully. We do have a lot of talented individuals here, and the depth of experience is pretty deep here. We have a wealth of experience on board, and sometimes that’s hard to put a quantitative measure on. ... I admire the staff that’s here, and the chance to come into a leadership role here is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Danielle Hendrix is the Black Tie Editor for all three of Observer Media Group's print publications in Orange County. She is a 2015 graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism with a minor in world comparative studies. ...

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