Topping off Careers in Police and Fire

Chief Dennis Stapleton in front of a Lacy Lakeview Fire Department logo.

Chief Stapleton in front of a Lacy Lakeview Police car.
Dennis Stapleton has served as a police and fire chief throughout his career.

During most of his career, Dennis Stapleton has worn two hats -- as a Police Chief and as a Fire Chief. Last August, he added another one to cap off his career: as Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at McLennan Community College in Waco.

“My Dad and uncle were firefighters, but I wanted to be a police officer,” said Stapleton. “When I had the opportunity to do both, I grabbed at it. Our departments have twice as much training, so we were able to give above standard services to the community. Our role in our communities is servant leadership. The citizens are our customers. When the officers have more training and roles to play, they in turn provide above standard service to the community.”

Stapleton is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at McLennan Community College.
Stapleton is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at McLennan Community College.
After 29 years in public safety in Woodway and Lacy Lakeview, along with experience training police officers, firefighters and citizen academies, Stapleton decided to pursue a second career in teaching.
That’s what students want,” Stapleton said. “Anyone can teach from the book, but if you can put it into real life, that’s what students really want. I feel that it is important to use daily current events and the crimes, emergencies, and handling of “people” problems to enhance learning.”

Stapleton began his career after high school by joining the U.S. Army, where he “got his foot in the door” by serving as a Military Police Officer and met his wife of 33 years. After getting out of the military, he was hired by McLennan County Sheriff’s Office to work in the jail.

When he became a certified peace officer, Stapleton joined Woodway’s Public Safety Department, one of only a handful of agencies in the state that provide both police and fire service. During his 14-year career in the master planned community near Lake Waco, he worked as a patrol officer, a detective and a patrol lieutenant, as well as the Fire Marshal. He helped the city form its first SWAT team, introduced a computer assisted dispatch system to the department and added new fire trucks to the community.

Stapleton was appointed Police Chief in Lacy Lakeview in 1999.
Stapleton was appointed Police Chief in Lacy Lakeview in 1999.
In 1999, Stapleton was tapped by Lacy Lakeview to wear the dual hats of Police Chief and Fire Chief. He inherited two departments in crisis and, over the next 14 years, he brought in new leaders to shape the each department and grants to pay for much-needed resources.

“I brought in key people and sold them on my dream and vision,” said Stapleton. “I brought them in and let it happen. I got their buy-in and ownership and helped them develop as leaders. We went from being the department that nobody called for service to being the community that led other agencies in the county. I was fortunate to have a good and supportive city council and a community that worked with us in both departments. I really enjoyed working in Lacy Lakeview. It is a great small town with loads of good people.”

During his tenure in Lacy Lakeview, Stapleton introduced a new VHF radio system that allowed direct communications between police and the volunteer fire department and wrote new policies on the operations of both departments. He also expanded outreach to the community through programs like National Night Out, which is attended by 1,000 residents annually, and a Safe Trick or Treat program with the fire department, which distributes $1,500 worth of donated candy to the community every year. The city also added Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), a community program for citizens who want to help but may not want to be a volunteer firefighter. The program has been a success and is only one of two in the county.

Stapleton also wrote and received grants to buy new fire trucks and equipment; to equip police cars with cameras, radios and computers; to add four officers through the COPS grant program; and to build a new radio tower jointly with the city of Waco.

Stapleton is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
Stapleton is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
Stapleton credits his leadership style to the FBI Academy and the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas (LEMIT). He said the FBI Academy had the biggest influence on his career as it was the first time he was away from his family for an extended period, and it provided extensive training and ongoing mentorship from top public safety leaders across the country. In fact, he still gets together annually with five of his fellow classmates, which include a Commandant of the State Police in North Dakota and other upper management personnel nationwide.

At LEMIT, he honed his leadership skills and expanded law enforcement contacts that are available to help him with any challenges he encounters on the job. In addition to attending seven chief training programs every two years as required by law, Stapleton graduated from the Leadership Command College (LCC) in 1999 and served as the organization’s alumni president. As an assistant professor at McLennan and as an instructor with the College’s Police Academy, he continues to use lessons that he learned at LEMIT and in the Master of Criminal Justice Leadership and Management weekend program at Sam Houston State University.

Stapleton earned a Master in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management at SHSU.
Stapleton earned a Master in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management at SHSU.
“I am using all the textbooks and materials and everything that I learned from LCC and the Master’s Program on a daily basis,” said Stapleton. “I continue to teach TCLEOSE classes for police officers, such as human trafficking, basic and advanced instructor, and the new supervisor’s course. I promote to others the importance of education and advanced training if you desire to succeed and have something, that you enjoy, to do after retirement. So many of my peers have retired and really do not enjoy life afterwards. Many remain in the positions and do not retire because they do not have a plan. I recognized the need for a plan from my training at LCC. So, late in my career, I went back to school with the plan to retire someday and teach. I am happy with the outcome of my plan and enjoyed my years as a Texas peace officer and a Chief. ”

Stapleton meets with colleagues from the FBI National Academy class annually.Stapleton meets with colleagues from the FBI National Academy class annually. Stapleton offered some recommend- ations on how to begin the journey into public safety, including going to school and completing an education, preferably in a quality program like SHSU. He also suggested taking advantage of training programs, such as the FBI National Academy or LCC at SHSU.

“I think our role for our communities is to always strive to become a better leader and to develop future leaders,” Stapleton said. “Leadership is an awesome responsibility. To be an effective leader you must have followers and an agreed (from the followers) vision. I have been truly blessed with having many opportunities, and several good mentors in my career. “

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