Wheat Ridge Police Chief Dan Brennan retires after 42 years in service

Reflects on changing times for law enforcement

By Caitlin Danborn
Special to Colorado Community Media.
Posted 7/29/19

After more than four decades in law enforcement, Wheat Ridge Police Department's Chief Dan Brennan says he is looking forward to retirement.  The career lawman stepped down on July 19. Raised as a …

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Wheat Ridge Police Chief Dan Brennan retires after 42 years in service

Reflects on changing times for law enforcement

Brennan, third from the left, poses with other members of the Lakewood Police Department, which he calls "pretty far out" in terms of its nontraditional uniforms and insistence of having new police agents have college degrees.
Brennan, third from the left, poses with other members of the Lakewood Police Department, which he calls "pretty far out" in terms of its nontraditional uniforms and insistence of having new police agents have college degrees.
Courtesy photo
Posted

After more than four decades in law enforcement, Wheat Ridge Police Department's Chief Dan Brennan says he is looking forward to retirement. 

The career lawman stepped down on July 19.

Raised as a military brat, Brennan attended three kindergartens in one year and three high schools in four years before graduating high school in South Carolina. Still, he's always called his mother’s hometown of Salida, Colorado home. Brennan graduated from Metro
State University in Denver, but wasn't settled on a career.

It wasn’t until he went on a police ride-along that “the blue bug bit me” and he decided to make a career out of law enforcement.

Brennan was hired by the Lakewood police department in 1977. The department had implemented many of the recommendations from the Presidential Commission on Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement, including non-traditional uniforms and college degrees for police officers. 

“They were still wearing the blazers,” recalls Brennan. The blazers worn by the Lakewood Police Department garnered national attention, appearing in an August 1970 New
York Times article titled “Blazers and Slacks: New Police
Image.” The Times called the Lakewood police department “probably the most radical in the country.” 

“They were a very progressive police department. In the early '70s, it was just a really far out idea,” says Brennan. It was unusual for police officers to have college degrees, although he did.

After he was hired in Lakewood, Brennan bounced around in multiple different areas of law enforcement before landing the police chief job in Wheat Ridge in 2004. Among his variety of earlier posts were a variety of operational and administrative assignments, as a
field officer, crime scene investigator, Special Tactics And Response (later called SWAT) team member, patrol, theft team sergeant, juvenile team, and overseeing a special enforcement team which focused on youths and gangs in the mid-nineties.

Brennan was later promoted to lieutenant and oversaw planning and analysis, including the national accreditation of the Lakewood police department. He spent a year with the Colorado Department of Public Safety’s division of criminal justice, where he lead statewide
training on community issues that police departments across Colorado were facing.

“It just really broadened my perspective on community policing and the challenges of policing,” he said

Community-based policing

When Brennan arrived in Wheat Ridge, the department had just undergone an organizational assessment that identified 14 areas that consultants thought should be worked on.

“The department didn’t have a true sense of purpose. The mission statement they had was a page and a half long,” says Brennan.

Along with other department employees, Brennan quickly developed a new mission statement: Exceptional people providing exceptional service. They also created a set of values, with integrity at the core.

“That has been our mantra for the last 14 and a half years,” he said. “We recognize that providing law enforcement services is not a police department thing; it’s a community thing. We need law-abiding citizens to help us in that.”

Brennan started up a crime prevention unit, something the department had been previously lacking.

“We’ve really tried to be focused on using crime prevention as a way to address crime, quality of life, and traffic issues.”

Brennan and his staff started a community policing approach that he refers to as TLC: traffic, life quality, crime.

Part of Brennan’s approach to community-based policing was to give the community as many opportunities to address their concerns as possible. The department hosts quarterly community forums, started a citizens advisory group and pushes out information to the community via newsletters and social media.

“Community members sometimes view issues from a different perspective than we do.”

Community views on police

Over those 40 years, it’s inevitable that Brennan has seen change.

“What the community expects from law enforcement agencies has really changed,” says Brennan.

There have been a lot of drivers to that, he says, citing homelessness, drug addiction, and mental health as areas that he sees people increasingly turning to their law enforcement agencies for help.

“We’ve sort of become that point of the spear in addressing pretty significant societal issues. On all of those, we’re working collaboratively with a number of law enforcement agencies, other city and county departments, the state on more regional approaches. Wheat
Ridge isn’t going to solve the homelessness problem. Neither is Denver. This is a state or a national issue.”

“The community looks at police departments differently. They want to know that officers are well trained, that they’re respectful, that they are fair and transparent.”

“I think what I am most proud of with this agency is that so many of the men and women that work in this department have bought into this philosophy of community policing.”

Brennan says he’ll miss his daily interactions with fellow officers and his professional staff the most. He says he’s been humbled in the last few weeks with his retirement and the recognition he has received, including the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police
Charles K. “Pat” Steele Award for his commitment to professionalism and ethics within the law enforcement field. 

Lakewood Police Chief Dan McCasky says that Brennan’s retirement will leave big shoes to fill in Colorado law enforcement. 

McCasky, who started working in Lakewood in 1986, says Brennan took him under his wing when they started working together Lakewood. 

“A lot of what we’ve accomplished is because of Dan’s perseverance and his dedication and professionalism. We have a great relationship between law enforcement agencies in Jefferson County and I really just attribute that to Dan and his ability to bring people
together,” said McCasky.

He added that Brennan has been a "really dynamic leader" in regionalization and collaboration among law enforcement agencies in Jefferson County.

During his retirement, Brennan said he to spend more time with his wife, children, and grandchildren, travel, and continue to volunteer with the Wheat Ridge Rotary Club where he serves as the president.

Brennan says he wants to “find ways to continue to serve.”

“I didn’t get into the job to get awards. I got into the job for the service. I view myself as a police chief trying to do the right thing every day for the right reasons.”

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