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Thompson Takes Over Helm at Marine Police

July 28, 2011

By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

After Steve Thompson accepted the job as Director of the Alabama Marine Police Division recently, it became apparent almost immediately that he plans to be a “hands-on” administrator in terms of showing support for his officers and personnel in the field.

Thompson, a 31-year law enforcement veteran, is in the process of visiting each of the four districts to meet each of the 57 officers and other field personnel.

“I’ve been making my rounds,” said Thompson, who spent much of his career in the Montgomery Police Department. “The men and women in Marine Police work hard. They have a calling. It’s a tough job to be a Marine Police Officer. They’re out there in the elements, whether it’s cold or heat. They’re on the water day in and day out, whether it’s in the Gulf of Mexico or the Alabama River. It takes a dedicated person to do that. I’m really impressed with the quality and professionalism I’ve seen so far.

“As Director, it’s my goal to get out in the field and meet the men and women of Marine Police. I plan to get out and ride in the boats with them and talk to them. I want to give them what they need to do their jobs and improve morale and make our Division more efficient and effective.”

When he hops onboard with the officers, Thompson said he plans to express how much the officers are appreciated.

“Sometimes when you get up in the rural lakes and rivers, the officers really don’t see supervisors that often,” he said. “So I think it will make a statement for the Director to make arrangements to drive up and hop in the boat with the officer and ride with them for a couple of hours and let them know I appreciate the job they do.”

As one of the five divisions in the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Police is responsible for the routine safety patrol of Alabama’s waterways. It also oversees the registration of all pleasure boats, licensing of boat operators, boat and marine accessory theft, as well as a statewide boating education program. Marine Police assists other governmental agencies in enforcement activities that relate to homeland security, maritime and waterway smuggling, drug interdiction, and other serious crimes. The Division also oversees more than 1,600 hazard and control markers and zones on Alabama’s waterways. 

“You don’t often find the experience and knowledge that Steve Thompson brings to Marine Police,” said Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. “Steve has proven through the years that his leadership skills have served him well in the supervision of large enforcement departments and developing a rapport with the local community groups, as well as state and national organizations. Those skills will make Steve a valuable asset to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.”

Thompson said his four-year career in the Marine Corps established the guiding principles in his life, and he used his older brother, Danny, as a role model.

“You’ve heard the saying, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine,’” said Thompson, who grew up boating and fishing on Lake Jordan and Lake Martin. “It’s affected me my whole career in terms of self-discipline. I’ve taken care of my people, leading by example. That’s from those four years in the Marine Corps.

“When I joined the Montgomery Police Department in 1980, I followed basically in my big brother’s footsteps. After I got out of the Marine Corps, he told me, ‘Hey, I’ve got your application (to the Montgomery Police Department).’ I just walked in the door from overseas, the Far East, and I filled out the application.”

Thompson said there wasn’t any hesitation when Danny handed him the application, though.

“I had always wanted to be a police officer,” said Steve, an avid hunter, recreational shooter and occasional fisherman. “When I was about 12 years old and my brother became a police officer, I would hear stories and things they did. I was fascinated. I’ve always wanted to get into law enforcement.”

During his first stint at the Montgomery PD, Thompson was a member of the SWAT team for 12 years. He started out as a sniper and eventually was promoted to team leader. He graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., in 1994.

In 2003, Thompson retired from the City of Montgomery as Deputy Chief of Police with the rank of lieutenant colonel and took a job as Chief Deputy in Boone, N.C.

Thompson was soon in for a shock when he realized the vast difference between life in Boone, in the Appalachian Mountains, and Montgomery, nestled on a bend in the Alabama River.

“For a guy from south Alabama, that was an eye-opener,” he said. “It’s beautiful in the summertime, but I had no idea it snowed that much and got that cold in the South. The first week I was there, I was getting gas at a local station. It started snowing so hard I couldn’t see the road 10 yards in front of me. At night, it got down to seven degrees below zero. I was thinking, ‘What in the world have I done?’”

Despite his relatively short stint of four years in Boone, he is proud of the changes he was able to institute while he was there. For a variety of reasons, Thompson decided to head back to Alabama, where then Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright reinstated Thompson as Deputy Chief, a position he held until his retirement in March of this year.

“I had a good tour there,” said Thompson, a certified firearms instructor and Distinguished Expert Marksman. “I started a lot of things up there – a K-9 unit, a SWAT team. I started a highway interdiction unit and was able to start a seized drug fund account that paid for equipment that really upgraded the department. It went from Mayberry to the 21st century, literally.

“I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. But it’s not about me. It’s about the mission and my command and what they do for the citizens of the state. I plan to make Marine Police the shining star among state enforcement agencies. I will have to say that Marine Police is already one of the most well-trained staffs in Alabama. They go through the police academy and are constantly training on the boat-handling skills, life-saving techniques and enforcement techniques. They constantly hone their skills. And I have such an efficient administrative staff that it freed me up to do some of the things I wanted to do; the main thing is to get out and spend some time with the field staff.”

Although his assessment is still underway, Thompson said the Division’s equipment is in relatively good shape despite the current economic constraints.

“Our shop guys, the mechanics, are doing a good job of preventive maintenance for the fleet and outfitting the boats,” he said. “These shop guys are the guys behind the scenes, but believe you me, they do an outstanding job. These guys need to be recognized. They do an outstanding job.”

Despite all the distractions the modern world may produce, Thompson wants to ensure the Division never loses focus on its main purpose.

“Our No. 1 goal is to protect lives and property,” he said. “What’s different from other enforcement agencies is Marine Police mainly does it on the waterways. Each district has its own specific operations. You have different environmental conditions on the Gulf Coast compared to the rivers in the north half of the state. But our mission is the same – protect lives and property.”

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