More than two dozen people—roughly half fully uniformed police officers—stood in line, chatting with one another; some discussed work, others the triumphs of their children’s sports team or an upcoming school project. Roughly once every minute or so, the queue would move a spot forward as someone joined the more than 100 already in their seats. Standing amidst it all: fellow officers, firefighters, elected officials, family members and friends, was one member of the Oro Valley Police Department (OVPD), the man they had all come to see and congratulate: Larry Stevens.
The heartfelt celebration at the Oro Valley Community and Recreation Center’s Overlook restaurant on Friday, Feb. 24, marked the ceremonial end to Stevens’ 32-year career with the department, having first donned the uniform on Dec. 30, 1984. Since then the longtime deputy chief, who retired at the end of last month as the department’s interim police chief, collaborated with hundreds, if not thousands of officers and other first responders throughout Arizona—evident by just how many agencies were represented at the farewell lunch.
Many who spoke at the event—fellow law enforcement officers, elected officials and other first responders—referred to Stevens as an institutional figure within Oro Valley, a town founded only 43 years ago. Stevens, however, first stepped foot in the Tucson region as A 19 year old, visiting his then recently retired father. Making the trip in January of 1977 from Buffalo, New York, Stevens said it took only a week and a half to realize he would rather live in the southwest.
Four years later he became a Tucsonan, settling down near Limberlost Road and Mountain Avenue. He first found employment with an armored transport service, though would soon begin wear the badge for the first time working for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department (PCSD) in the Oracle/San Manuel area.
Stevens said he was first introduced to law enforcement, and befriended officers, while working security at his father’s car dealership in Hamburg, New York and later grew to appreciate the career as a viable option in his own life while working for a tow company regularly working with police. He said his interest was initially sparked by “having something new to do every day,” though he said a stronger connection he made was the law enforcement community’s service to the community with the same sense of duty and commitment he learned from his father.
By 1984, Stevens said he was on the lookout for other employment opportunities as an officer. He’d recently purchased a home to the south of Oro Valley, so a job with the OVPD just seemed like the right fit. When Stevens took his oath under then-chief Werner Wolff more than three decades ago, the town was just beginning to experience the exponential growth which would last for more than a decade. In those days, Oro Valley was home to fewer than 5,000 residents and Stevens recalled with a laugh being hired on as part of the department’s expansion efforts at the time, which included hiring two new officers to bring the total to a dozen.
“Larry really set the stage for the department during a period of growth,” said OVPD Chief Daniel Sharp, who joined on with OVPD in 2000, when Steven’s was a lieutenant. “As an officer I think he set the standard for providing service that people have come to expect. As a sergeant he continued on with that and as a lieutenant, it was at that stage that he set
in stone providing a service both to the community and the officers.”
Sharp becoming a member of the OVPD was not the first time the two men crossed paths. They originally met early on in Stevens’ career, still in the 1980s, when Sharp was a sergeant with the Tucson Police Department working DUI and Stevens was a DUI officer in Oro Valley. A few years later, they would work with one another again, when Sharp was the training director of the state’s police academy, and Stevens served as a firearms trainer.
“I’ve always been impressed with his professionalism, his attention to detail,” he added. “He was one of our go-to firearms instructors while at the academy and could always be depended on. I’ve always had a lot of respect for his work ethic.”
Sharp labeled Stevens a man of precise action and unshakable ethic, though the latter told Tucson Local Media he did not always plan to spend his career in Oro Valley. Initially, he said that his intent was to work in the town for a couple of years before pursuing greater career opportunities within a metropolitan department like TPD. Six months on the job, and Stevens said one thought had remained at the forefront of his mind, “Why would I go anyplace else?”
With his heart stolen by Oro Valley’s “natural beauty and small town allure,” Stevens said he then turned his focus to finding more effective and influential ways to better improve his community, all while maintaining the same level of service and commitment he said has always been at the core of the department’s mission. With those goals in mind, Stevens said the logical way to affect more change within the community would be to work his way up the chain of command, and so his professional journey began.
That drive for the greater good left an impression on people Stevens met, as evidenced by the overwhelming turnout and well wishes at his retirement luncheon.
“I am so proud of what Larry stands for and what he’s accomplished, and we are so proud to have worked alongside the Oro Valley Police Department,” said Golder Ranch Fire District Chief Randy Karrer, who presented Stevens with a plaque honoring his dedication to the community. “On behalf of 194 firefighters and the men and women of the Golder Ranch Fire District, we want to say thank you for your service and please don’t forget us, my friend.”
The gesture was repeated by several other organizations, including the sheriff’s department and members of the OVPD Investigations unit, the former bestowing upon Stevens the Public Service Achievement Medal for “exemplary performance of assigned duties over the course of a career,” as presented by PCSD bureau chief Karl Woolridge, as well as an “outstanding degree of dedication and devotion above and beyond the professional standards.”
Thinking back on his years working within Oro Valley, Stevens said there are countless moments he considered to be “highlights,” though he did mentio n working with several other individuals in the 1990s to develop the tactical team, as well as going on to later commanding the SWAT team. Though he may have retired from OVPD as the interim chief, that is not the first time in his career Stevens occupied the top spot in a department: he also pointed out the time he spent in 2005 as interim chief for the Sahuarita Police Department.
“I really enjoyed that, and I tell you, I really used every skill I gained from working here in those six months,” Stevens said. “I was impressed when I got there, though, because they had the same caliber of leadership potential as we did, and those people while I was down there, really stepped up and took that agency forward.”
Though he enjoyed his time working south of the city, Stevens said he never once in his career thought of filling out an application for any other agency, or any other career field. Looking at the future of the department, Stevens said he issued his farewell with mixed emotions.
“It is really hard to describe how it feels, because it is so strange to leave right now,” Stevens said. “On the one hand I am very relieved because the town is probably in the best position it’s been in over the 32 years that I have been here. You have a council that is working together so well, and not that they agree on everything but they are working together, and I am really happy to see that—I think that it sets the town up to do a lot more positive things in the future.
“I’ve spent, frankly the last many years simply defending the police department’s actions and answering the same questions over and over again, and I don’t have to do that anymore. The other nice thing is that I think that the people who fill in behind me won’t have to deal with that, either. I think that people finally realize the type of service they are getting from the Oro Valley Police Department, and that it’s going to continue that way.”
With his career having come to a must deserved end Stevens said he plans to travel some, though his main focus will be shifting over to fulltime grandpa duty to his two grandchildren.