Two armed-robbery suspects tried to evade police in a crowded parking lot. Doug Abraham rammed the vehicle to immobilize it and one of the suspects jumped out with a gun. Abraham fired on him, missing, and followed him on foot into a department store. The driver continued in the vehicle, pursued by other officers. Abraham was alone, the radio wasn’t working and he couldn’t get backup.
Apprehending the suspect without injury earned Abraham the Distinguished Service Cross for Heroism from the Aurora Police Department in 1980. Now, as retiring Chief of Police for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Abraham is thankful that most police officers will never have to face a life-or-death decision like he has.
An alumnus working in the community
He says that while the role of police officers was once to catch the bad guys and solve crimes, now the trend is toward preventative measures and community relationships. Abraham is recognized among his peers as being particularly gifted in these areas. As an alumnus of the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs (SPA), he cites the master’s program, as well as his early work in the Aurora PD, for preparing him for what would become the emphasis of his career.
While a division chief in Aurora PD, Abraham was in the first cohort of SPA’s master’s program in executive leadership in policing and criminal justice, taking classes with practitioners from all levels of government. Abraham is still friends with half his CU Denver classmates, including Mike Phibbs, current Chief of Police of the Auraria Campus Police Department.
“I became friends with Doug Abraham almost 15 years ago while in graduate school, and he has been a great friend and mentor ever since,” Phibbs said. “I don’t think my transition to campus law enforcement would have been nearly as successful without his help and guidance.”
Relationships make policing successful
At CU Anschutz, Abraham and his 29 full-time law-enforcement officers make many traffic stops, but write few tickets. It’s an approach that’s indicative of Abraham’s take on police work in general. Give out warnings for first offenders, change behavior, develop a relationship with the community, and let folks know the police are also on campus to help them find solutions to their concerns.
“For the young pups coming into a career in police work, don’t ever lose the comfort you have with talking with people,” Abraham said.
After nearly three decades of working with communities in Aurora, including 12 and half years at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, Abraham has learned that city neighborhoods are harder to influence than a university campus. A neighborhood is a small slice of a city’s population, he said, and it’s often characterized by a transient residents who have their own interests and ways of problem solving. On a densely-populated university campus such as CU Anschutz Medical Campus, meanwhile, most of the roughly 55,000 daily visitors are the same and they typically have a vested interest in the success of the campus.
He likens the differences to owning vs. renting a car.
“If you rent a car and it has a shimmy in the front end, you return it to the rental company, get a new one, and go about your business. If the car you own has the same shimmy, you fix it, because that’s the car you have to drive tomorrow and the next day,” Abraham said.
The Aurora PD was one of the first police forces nationally to adopt a policy of community policing, where an officer’s performance was qualitatively rated based on problem-solving skills rather than his or her arrest record. The practice promoted relationship-building in the community, which is exactly what made Abraham such a perfect fit for his leadership position at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. “For the young pups coming into a career in police work, don’t ever lose the comfort you have with talking with people,” he said. “Open up opportunities to interact, because that’s when you find out what’s happening on campus. Relationships make policing successful.”
Life in retirement
As for his retirement, Abraham has many plans. He and his wife just bought a country home and are working to remodel it. “I’ve got two grandkids that I would love to spend more time with,” he said. “It’s a tough career on families, and my wife has toughed it out for 42 years. I’ve got three daughters and we’re all doing great, so I’m very fortunate to have a family that is very supportive.
“I’m looking forward to a new normal,” the chief said.