The highest authority position in the Department of Safety for the City of Denver is held by an African American woman. More importantly, it is held by a person who brings a wealth of perspectives necessary to support the safety needs of a thriving urban city. Executive Director Stephanie O'Malley and her deputies provide oversight, leadership and guidance to the department’s individual chiefs and directors. They guide policy decisions, assist in long-term goal development, require accountability, and improve public safety service delivery throughout the department’s entire spectrum of services. Listening is key to the department’s continual improvement, according to O’Malley, who has served in advancing positions with the city prior to her current position, including as deputy chief of staff to Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and as the first elected Denver county clerk and recorder. It is not as easy as it sounds to listen, particularly when waves of communities take passionate dinner conversations about their mistrust of law enforcement public at town hall meetings. In the aftermath of tragic events involving law enforcement and the announcement of monumental decisions that may not satisfy families and communities that feel they have been wronged, it is easy for some top officials to retreat behind press statements, controlled press conferences or substitute representatives at community events. That is not O’Malley’s style. She showed up time and time again to meetings to listen and to answer questions to clarify decisions and processes. The former district attorney who did trial work for four years in Jefferson County had “no discomfort” and “no reservations to go and be out there and listen to those voices.” Her presence at public events ultimately informs her on how to make better policy decisions more so than if she were simply sitting in her office waiting for the information to filter in. She hears the residents’ voices directly. It can, though, be disheartening to hear what some of the people share, including one mother who said that she was teaching her child not to trust the police. At the same time, it is a measurement of where things stand. “This is not a place we want the community to be. We want there to be trust,” said O’Malley, whose office is responsible for issuing fair and unbiased discipline decisions on behalf of the fire, police and sheriff departments. “When you have strain, things can go sour or enhance mistrust.” Those public meetings are opportunities for the public and city officials to comb through misunderstanding and determine what everyone can do together to make things better for everybody. And who would know better how to do this than someone who was raised going regularly to community and political events with her parents, former Denver mayor, Wellington Webb and former State Rep. Wilma J. Webb. There is a great chance that if you are raised in such an environment, it will impact you and how you approach the world. The way it impacted O’Malley is that early on she realized that she wanted to proactively make a difference in the world. She initially had thoughts of being an attorney in grade school. She also “watched a lot of attorneys before me uplifting the community,” including Dan Muse, King Trimble, Norm Early and Raymond Dean Jones. “Critically absent were women with the same acumen and desire,” said the Denver native, who received her law degree from the University Of Denver Sturm College Of Law and a Bachelor of Business Administration with honors from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She went on to make a difference in her native city. As deputy chief of staff to Mayor Hancock, she served as an executive advisor to the mayor and on his behalf engaged in a host of matters of public concern including direct engagement with Denver’s police, fire, and sheriff’s departments, direct engagement with the Office of the Independent Monitor, collective bargaining, M/WBE considerations, arts and culture, homelessness, business operations and community engagement. As clerk and recorder, she was solely responsible for oversight of all fiscal, operational, and policy driven responsibilities concerning Denver County elections, recordings, foreclosures and city clerk functions. Also in this capacity, she managed a multimillion dollar budget, a host of full time and temporary city employees. She created and successfully implemented “Denver Votes,” the city’s current successful election platform that eliminated long lines and voting challenges for voters. O’Malley has served the city of Denver as the director of the Department of Excise and Licenses as an appointee of former Mayor John Hicklenlooper. Through all of her experiences she learned to “stand tall” and state her case in front of friend and foe. She also said she knows how to make adjustments when she needs to take something into consideration. Her message to women is to be true to yourself and how you can contribute in a great way. She says that it is important to know that where you are today is preparing you for tomorrow, so “don’t take it [today] for granted.”
O’Malley currently serves several boards, including the Denver Urban Redevelopment Authority Board, the Zion Baptist Church Trustee Board, the Steering Committee for Forest Street Compassionate Care Center, and the advisory committee for the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST). She has previously served as a founding board member of DSST, the Denver Public School Citizens Bond Committee, and the Colorado Election Reform Commission.