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Who is Stephen Mylett? Police chief from Washington a finalist to lead Akron police

Akron Beacon Journal logo Akron Beacon Journal 6/14/2021 Sean McDonnell, Akron Beacon Journal
a man wearing a suit and tie: Stephen Mylett, Bellevue police chief and finalist for the police chief position in Akron. © Bellevue Police Department Stephen Mylett, Bellevue police chief and finalist for the police chief position in Akron.

Policing is in Stephen Mylett’s DNA.  

Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, he’s the youngest of seven sons of a New York City police officer. He comes from a long line of police officers, with brothers, uncles and cousins in law enforcement. He grew up listening in as his dad and uncles talked policing. 

Mylett said his family instilled values in him from a young age that he still carries today.  

When Mylett became an officer in Texas, his dad reminded him of a sign that hung at New York City’s police academy. The sign above the door said “At your service.”  

“This is a service profession, and we put the needs of others before our own,” Mylett said.  

Mylett, 56, is one of four finalists trying to become Akron’s new police chief. If hired, it’ll be the third time he’s been hired as a police chief as an outside candidate.  

He’s currently the chief in Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle that he’s worked in since 2015. Before that, Mylett was a police chief in Southlake, Texas, and an assistant chief of police in Corpus Christi, Texas, a city of over 300,000. He's been a police officer since 1989.

Mylett said he’s always found Akron to be an exceptional place and is impressed by how engaged the community is. But he said the city is also facing some major challenges. With his 30-plus years of experience, and the community's help, he said he believes the challenges can be tackled.  

“It seems like the city, community and Akron Police Department are all on the same page,” Mylett said. “We need to work together to end the violence.”  

In a survey conducted by the city of Akron, more than half of respondents said they felt less safe than before. The city had 56 homicides in 2020, and has had 24 so far this year.  

Mylett said it's not unlike the issues Corpus Christi was facing in the mid- to late 2000s. Violence there, he said, centered around gang activity and the drug trade, and both drive-by shootings and homicides were steadily increasing.  

He said an outside chief, Troy Riggs, came in and engaged community stakeholders around the problem. Mylett said he was privileged to be part of those efforts, directing the chief's reorganization project. The department created multiple groups to reexamine all of the operations in the department. 

Mylett said the city saw a significant drop in violence over the first 12 months.  

By the time he left Corpus Christi, Mylett had become the assistant chief of police over the operations bureau. He oversaw about 400 employees, which included the patrol division, many investigatory divisions and specialized units.  

He said he took those experiences to Southlake and Bellevue, which were more suburban, but not without their own issues.  

Mylett said he doesn’t know all the things that led to the violence in Akron, but that it will take a community effort to tackle those issues. He said he has a track record of bringing groups together to handle complex issues with complex solutions.  

He said combating the violence will take more than community policing.  

“Community policing isn't enough,” he said. “It’s got to be community governance. That means the entire city needs to incorporate the philosophy of community engagement and community involvement. Because we work for them, and everyone needs to have a voice.”  

Building bridges in Bellevue

When Mylett was interviewing for the police chief job in Bellevue, he gave the city manager an odd promise. He said if he was successful, they’d see an increase in reported crimes. 

Over a third of Bellevue’s residents are Asian American. Mylett’s point wasn’t that crime would get worse, but that if they built bridges and increased trust in diverse communities, residents would be more willing to report crimes to police.  

“That is a good thing, because nobody in our community should be suffering in silence,” Mylett said.  

Mylett said he worked to increase trust in communities and to try to make Bellevue’s police department look more like its residents.   

He created seven advisory councils that would advise the department on issues of race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. The department used those councils to build more engagement in those communities and recruit in areas with more diverse populations, he said.  

Mylett was also one of many chiefs to say publicly that officers wouldn't be asking residents for their immigration status and wouldn't use police resources to apprehend immigrants in the U.S. illegally. The comments came soon after President Donald Trump's election in 2016. 

“What’s important here is that the Bellevue Police Department is committed to serving and protecting all residents,” Mylett told the Seattle Times in 2016. “We don’t want someone who is the victim of a crime to have any fears about talking to the police because of their immigration status. I do not and will not allow that to happen."

Mylett said they hired a full-time recruiter, but also made it each officer's job to try to recruit people from the community. He said he dispelled the notion that increasing diversity meant lowering standards, and he worked to foster an accepting culture. 

He said many newer members of Bellevue’s department chose it because they “knew that they would be treated fairly, with respect, and their voice would be heard and valued.” 

In his resume, Mylett said the department increased diversity hiring by 6% during his tenure.  

When attacks against Asian Americans started to rise in the Pacific Northwest, he said, police already had laid down a foundation on engagement. In April 2020, the department held a town hall to address racism that was stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak.  

“When we reached out to the Asian community, we weren’t strangers,” Mylett said. “We were trusted allies.”  

More and more, residents of Bellevue are demanding to know more about their police department, Mylett said.  

He said as things open up post-COVID-19, Bellevue police are focusing on educating the community to show them what police do and to answer questions community members had.

Mylett said part of community policing is transparency and inviting in community members. And part of transparency is being able to admit to problems.  

“One of the things that is our responsibility is when we do something that is wrong, we need to acknowledge it, and we need to own it and we need to fix it,” Mylett said. “And when we do something and the community has questions, we need to answer those questions as quickly and as completely as possible. We work for the community. We’re their servants.” 

Creating change in a new department

Mylett, as well as the other three finalists, will have the challenge of effecting change as a newcomer to the department. None of the four finalists are from the Akron Police Department.  

If picked, it will be the third time Mylett was hired as an outside chief.  

A 2016 Seattle Times article, titled “Bellevue police chief makes strides in rebuilding troubled department,” described Mylett as “gaining a reputation for acting decisively in instances of alleged misconduct.” 

More: Seattle Times: Bellevue police chief makes strides in rebuilding troubled department

At the time, a deputy chief in the department was being demoted and another deputy chief had “abruptly retired” after he was accused of using emergency lights to get through traffic while off-duty.  

Mylett said in Bellevue the “core of the agency was solid” and that the department had a high level of confidence from the community. But in one-on-one interviews with department members, the same themes kept surfacing.  

He said the issues were similar to what other departments faced, and almost always, they weren’t employee issues. There were system issues. Mylett said if you want a different result, you have to create a different system.  

“We basically lifted the hood of our vehicle, made some minor modifications to the engine, to where it was running more smoothly and efficiently,” Mylett said. “And now it is producing a different result.” 

After three or four years, he said those changes were leading to much better results.  

Mylett said if hired he’s going to take a listen-first approach. He said no chief will understand the department until they arrive. When he was hired in Bellevue, he did one-on-one interviews with all the department’s employees.  

In the wake of George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, Mylett said, policing will have to continue to evolve and to meet the community where they are. 

“Somewhere along the line, we lost, as a profession, the trust and confidence of communities across the nation,” Mylett said.  

He said based on recent survey results, it sounds like Akron police have the trust and confidence of the residents. In a community survey released Tuesday two-thirds of respondents described their experience with the department as either good or excellent. Fewer than 7% rated their experience with the city's police officers as poor. 

“That's a great thing, but we need to continue to earn that trust,” Mylett said. “The thing that we cannot do is disengage. We need to listen to the community, we need to evolve as a profession, and I would argue we’ve been evolving since [the profession began].”  

Mylett said changes will come from listening, both to the people the department serves and to the officers serving the community. In his six years in Bellevue, he said, they’ve made a lot of changes, and about 90% of those ideas came from employees in the department.  

An example, he said, is a community crisis assistance team that would pair plainclothes officers with mental health professionals to respond to calls. Mylett said that idea and model came from one of his officers. Many other ideas came from community members and the advisory councils Mylett created. 

“I think it's the wise chief that recognizes that he or she doesn't have all the answers, but you find the people that are smarter than you, brighter than you, and you engage them,” Mylett said.  

Replay Video

Mylett’s best day on the job 

When asked about his best day on the job, both of Mylett’s answers focused on relationships. 

As an officer, he said, his best days were working with schools in Corpus Christi in the 1990s. This was before school resource officers were commonplace. 

The reason those days were the best, he said, was because he built relationships with students from various schools, and he saved many of them from abusive situations.  

“I was able to successfully remove over 20 students who had been physically, sexually or emotionally abused at home,” Mylett said.  

He said that time period came to mind because one of the biggest reasons he got into this profession was to protect kids. 

As a chief, he said, he’s most proud of relationships he’s built with communities that had either a strained or no relationship at all with the police department.  

“I'm not sure that we've always had trust in every community,” Mylett said. “You need to build the trust, and you build that trust by doing what you say you're going to do. By treating people fairly, with dignity, respect and humanity, no matter who the person is.”  

Reach reporter Sean McDonnell at 330-996-3186 or smcdonnell@thebeaconjournal.com.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Who is Stephen Mylett? Police chief from Washington a finalist to lead Akron police

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