BY FREDA MIKLIN
Looking back on her nine years as chief of police for Cherry Hills Village, Michelle Tovrea told The Villager that she considers her most important accomplishment leaving the department better than when she found it. “We’ve moved forward in many ways,” she shared.
Chief Tovrea told us that becoming a law enforcement officer “was a complete accident.” She was a scholarship athlete (in softball, but she could have also chosen volleyball or basketball) at the University of Nebraska and planned to be a teacher. She took some criminal justice classes along the way that she had found interesting. As she was graduating and questioning whether she really wanted to be a teacher, she came across an ad that said the City of Lakewood was hiring police officers. The starting salary of $20,000 sounded pretty good at the time, so she applied and never looked back. Along the way, in addition to an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, she picked up a masters’ degree in the same field combined with police executive leadership. The chief told us, “I didn’t know I wanted to be a police officer,” but once she started, she found that it was a job in which she could help people and also have fun. She knew she had found her calling. Chief Tovrea remained at the Lakewood Police Department until she was selected as police chief for Cherry Hills Village nine years ago.
With all her experience, we wondered how Chief Tovrea expected policing to be different ten years from now. She said, “I think that technology will have an even larger impact as the years go on–things that we can’t even necessarily imagine right now, including how home security systems might work to protect people.” She continued, “As we’ve seen in the last several years, there have been large strides forward in training police officers. We’ve all come a very long way. All our officers at CHV have Critical Incident Training that includes how to deal with people who have mental health issues and certain disabilities. We are seeing a lot of agencies send out mental health professionals with police officers. Although it’s more of an issue with larger populations, it happens everywhere, including the suburbs. It takes judgment to know how to handle situations when people who obviously need social services commit petty crimes.” Chief Tovrea added, “There is also the factor of how legislatures direct us to handle crime that determines how people are going to be held accountable.”
We asked the chief what is next for her. She said that she is sure she won’t be doing anything that requires her to wear a uniform again, adding, “In my 39 years, I had some fun doing things in Lakewood that were unique to women back in the day, but I got some advice once that all police chiefs have a shelf life. I don’t think that I’m “expired” but sometimes it’s good to let an organization be seen with a different set of eyes. Right now, I want to get away for a while. I’ve worked since I was 15 years old, at least part-time. I want to go in my fancy Winnebago and travel and not have to wake up with an alarm for the first time.” She wants to travel without a schedule and also play a little more golf.
As she says goodbye, Chief Tovrea told us she will be available to her successor “without a doubt” if he or she needs to call on her for any reason, adding, “Cherry Hills Village will always have a place in my heart, as will my officers and the citizens. They’ve all been very supportive of me. I’m not leaving behind any hard feelings. We’ve been able to take care of business.”
Cherry Hills Village has received over 40 applications for the position of police chief and will be interviewing qualified candidates this month. The city council hopes to announce its selection soon.