Chief Vander Veen exemplified spirit of community

by Steven Felschundneff |
Last Thursday, Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen announced she will retire from the department on November 10.

At the chief’s recommendation, the city plans to promote from within the department, provided the Claremont City Council approves the hire, according to City Manager Adam Pirrie. The city intends to announce the name of the new chief just before Chief Vander Veen’s last day.

On Tuesday Chief Vander Veen told the COURIER that when she became chief in 2016 her intention was to stay on the job for five years, and that day has arrived.

“I have learned that life can be short through the early death of my mother and my wife, who both died in their 50s. I am in my 50s. I have worked hard for 28 years in a high-stress job and I want to be able to enjoy life while I can,” Chief Vander Veen said.

“I mostly intend to spend time with my friends and family, and travel and get back to taking care of my own health,” she went on to say.
“In her many years with the Department, Chief Vander Veen has proven a dedication to the Claremont community and a commitment to ensuring the safety of all Claremont residents, students, businesses, and visitors. She exemplifies the spirit of community-based policing and has made it her mission to promote a culture of inclusion and respect in the department,” Public Information Officer Bevin Handel said in a statement.

A Claremont resident for many years, she intends to remain part of the community, including launching a private investigation business and, most likely, taking on some volunteer work. She also has five years’ worth of tasks and repairs that need to be done around her home, something which she enjoys doing.

“From what I hear, my friends are also developing their own to-do lists for me so I might just become the local handywoman,” Chief Vander Veen said.
The chief grew up in Chino where her family was in the dairy business. She received an associate’s degree in psychology and a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Siena Heights University in Michigan, where she was an All American soccer player.

Chief Vander Veen began her career in Claremont in 1993 as a reserve officer but was soon hired full time. She worked as a “beat” officer for seven years, during which time she got to know the community and the job. In 2000, she was promoted to corporal and assigned to the detective bureau, and three years later promoted again to sergeant.

These years with the police department were among the most rewarding for Chief Vander Veen because she enjoyed solving crimes and helping victims receive some closure, particularly during the time she was a detective.

“I don’t think I was ever meant to be at a desk, I like to be outside and hustling,” she said.

Chief Vander Veen continued to work her way through the ranks serving as a lieutenant for seven years, including five years supervising the detective bureau and two as a watch commander. During this time she gained experience in managing the budget as well as program and policy management.

On November 28, 2016, Vander Veen was sworn in as Claremont’s police chief following the retirement of Paul Cooper.

“Under her leadership for the past five years, the Claremont Police Department has continued to be a respected example of modern policing in Los Angeles County. Her engagement with the community led to the establishment of innovative and compassionate programs and policies for mental health and homeless response calls,” Handel said in a statement.

Chief Vander Veen was honored as officer of the year twice, four times as the police department’s supervisor of the year, and received the city employee of the year award in 2013. She also received the department’s award of excellence three times, along with the police commission distinguished service medal. In 2019, Chief Vander Veen was awarded the 41st Assembly District’s “woman of distinction” by Assemblyman Chris Holden.

“I am incredibly proud and honored to have served the City of Claremont for 28 years, starting off as a reserve police officer in 1993 and ending my career as police chief. The integrity, teamwork, and professionalism of our police department has been rewarding and inspirational,” Vander Veen said.

“I would like to express my most sincere thanks to Chief Vander Veen for her years of outstanding service to the community. I have had the pleasure of working with Shelly for over 18 years, and I can honestly say she is one of the most well-respected, hardworking, and caring individuals that I have had the pleasure to work with,” City Manager Pirrie said.

Chief Vander Veen said while her entire tenure leading the department was filled with both professional and personal challenges, the biggest test came during the pandemic.

“We are constantly changing protocols we are learning about COVID coupled with strong differences in attitudes and beliefs both within the police department and the community, [which] makes it difficult to keep the team bonded and together moving forward,” she said. “There have been a lot of challenges resulting from COVID, both what you would see on a public level, and behind the scenes.”

The city imposed a hiring freeze due to budgetary uncertainty from the impacts of the COVID era which impacted special assignments and ultimately morale at the department. However, in the last few months, Chief Vander Veen has begun to hire more officers and to rebuild the department and get it back on track.

Looking back, she said she definitely enjoyed being a part of the police department team, a group of people she describes as exemplifying dedication to service to this community. She also treasures the people and the relationships built over her nearly three decades on the job.

Throughout her career Chief Vander Veen never sought to be the first female in a position, or even to be regarded as a female officer. She endeavored to be the best police officer regardless of gender, so it is not surprising that she was a bit hesitant to respond to a question about being the first woman to lead the Claremont Police Department.

However, the realization that her job as chief could in fact impact others came during her promotion ceremony, which was the same week as Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the presidential election.

“Several mothers came up to me with their daughters in tow and they told me that in light of Hillary not becoming the first female president, how much they looked up to me and how much their daughters looked up to me as well,” Chief Vander Veen said. “And that is actually when it really hit me — that as police chief I am showing the girls in our community that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve. And I think that is the most meaningful thing to me.”


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