Rapid City, SD
The Chief of the Rapid City Police Department will be retiring at the end of the month after more than 30 years of police work in western South Dakota.
Steve Allender has been Chief of Police in Rapid City for seven years. He was in charge of the department in August of 2011 when a shootout in North Rapid killed two officers and their assailant and left a third officer seriously wounded.
It's a place where memories live, along with an abiding sense of loss.
Steve Allender looks into a painful past whenever he stops at the corner in a North Rapid neighborhood where three of his officers were gunned down.
"When I come out here and stand here on the site, really all I see is images," Allender said. "You know, I see the bullet hole that is still in the brick over there and I visualize the things I saw that day that are kind of burned in my mind."
It's burned in the mind of the community, too. And it's something that Allender admits played into his decision to retire, at 52, from the chief's position he took on seven years ago.
"Well, I guess I'd be lying if I said it didn't have some impact on my decision to retire now," Allender said.
It was a freak explosion of violence during what appeared to be the routine stop of four subjects on the afternoon of Aug, 2, 2011.
Officers Ryan McCandless and Nick Armstrong died after 22-year-old Daniel Tiger suddenly pulled a gun and opened fire at close range. Officer Tim Doyle was serious wounded but survived returned to the force. Tiger sustained lethal wounds and died later at Rapid City Regional Hospital.
In those difficult days and weeks after the shooting, Allender would have an especially important role in the department and in the community.
"Well, you know that first day was a blur. I have so much of that month that I don't remember and probably will never remember, because I was tired and they were long days and they were very emotional days," Allender said.
Tim Doyle says Allender's support to him and his family helped his recovery and return to work. Now the school liaison officer Rapid City Central, Doyle says Allender was the perfect leader at a terrible time.
"He stepped up and he just had a way, I think, of knowing what everyone needed to hear," Doyle said. "I mean, He had to consider the police department, the community, you know, everything all at once. And he was, for a period of time, kind of the face of the city."
That meant dealing with a potentially explosive race issue. Tiger was Native American, in a town with a history of tense relationships between the police and some Native people. Allender defused things with measured statements and an outreach to Tiger's family.
"So I met with the parents and told them that I was sorry that their son had died and that he had been involved in this whole thing," Allender said. "And I just wanted to let them know that it wasn't their fault."
Allender's approach was crucial, says Native American newspaper publisher Tim Giago, who has spoken out in the past on concerns about racism in Rapid City law enforcement.
"You know, I was really amazed that what could have turned into something ugly, he handled it in such a way that the whole community, including the Indian community, really came together on it," Giago said. "I think they saw that what happened was wrong. And Chief Allender handled it in such a way that he brought people together rather than causing division. And I respect him for that."
Allender appreciates that respect, and hints that he might end up back in public-service work in retirement. The two previous Rapid City police chiefs, Tom Hennies and Craig Tieszen, both served in the state Legislature after retirement. And Allender admits to an interest in politics.
But whatever he does, he'll take that awful August day and its impacts along with him.
"In hindsight, looking back, something happened to me around that time. Either as a result of the incident or the aftermath, that kind of has changed, changed something in me," Allender said. "And that change led, I think to a slightly shorter career."
And maybe to more public service, this time without a gun.
Eye on KELOLAND