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South Valley Journal

Steve DeBry to retire after more than 40 years in law enforcement

May 30, 2022 05:01PM ● By Peri Kinder

By Peri Kinder | [email protected]

After serving in law enforcement for more than 40 years, Salt Lake County Councilmember and Millcreek City Chief of Police Steve DeBry will hang up his badge later this year. His career path was started by his father who became a Salt Lake County Deputy Sheriff when DeBry was 6 years old.

“I remember my father came and spoke to my first-grade class,” he said. “I remember looking at him in his uniform, and I was just so proud of him. It made me so happy that he was helping people and that he was respected.”

DeBry grew up on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, graduating from Cyprus High School before attending the University of Utah. His plan was to become a history teacher and coach, but when he worked as a court bailiff for Judge Reginald W. Garff Jr., he turned back toward law enforcement.

His career path changed again when he met Lorraine Lyman, who wasn’t excited to marry a police officer. He tried different jobs but nothing felt right. In March 1982, DeBry became a deputy, working for Salt Lake County Sheriff N.D. Pete Hayward. Lorraine worked part-time as a hairdresser and DeBry worked several jobs as they raised their three children.

“She stuck with me through thick and thin for almost 43 years and that’s very difficult because with police officers there’s a high divorce rate,” he said.

At the time, mental health wasn’t addressed with law enforcement officers. DeBry said it was difficult to come home from a tragic event without letting it affect their marriage. From the start, they established good communication, learning to compromise and listen.

“I tried to be open, honest and sincere with her,” he said. “There were times when I wanted to talk about something and she would listen. Most of the time, she knew when I didn’t want to talk, and she didn’t push the issue.”

DeBry advanced through different units, serving on the first SWAT team in Utah, and working in schools with the Sheriff Assisting Youth program. He was one of the first detectives assigned to the Metro Gang Unit in 1990 and worked as an internal affairs investigator when Salt Lake County Sheriff Aaron Kennard promoted him to sergeant.

Later, he oversaw the detective unit and COP officers in Millcreek, Cottonwood Heights, Brighton and Holladay, eventually serving as chief of police in Holladay.

He’s been in Millcreek for five years and said a lot has changed in policing since 1982. There’s now an attitude from the public that’s proven deadly to some officers. Almost 150 police officers have been killed in Utah, since records have been kept.

“I think the respect and admiration has decreased. Back when I started, people would give you a lot more trust and respect. Walls have gone up. It’s more of an us versus them feeling. I never felt that way myself and I’ve done everything I can to break down barriers and talk to people and get to know people…if you don’t have trust you can’t have a relationship.”

He emphasizes the need to re-fund the police, get officers trained and paid well, hire the best people and support “the thin blue line that keeps everyone safe.”

When he talks about the lives saved and the lives lost, he still gets emotional. The best change he’s seen over his career has been the approach to mental health.

“Now we have help. Now we have mental health resources so our officers can be taken care of with what they’re dealing with,” he said. “I’m still dealing with stuff 41 years later. I can talk about it and things flood into my mind, the good stuff you did, the little kids that you find, the people you help along the way, and the tragedies you have to deal with.”

DeBry has served three terms on the Salt Lake County Council in the southwestern District 5 and is running for a fourth term this year.

“I love my career. I would have done it over again. I think it’s the most honorable and fulfilling job anyone can have,” he said. “My legacy is that I hope I did some good and I hope I helped a lot of people along life’s journey.”