Secretary is 'anchor' of police press office Florence Steffen, 66, is a 22-year employee

December 26, 1996|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The phones are jangling; the fax won't go through to the Washington television stations; the Baltimore stations want an interview with the police spokesman, who will be gone in an hour; other reporters continue to pore over incident reports.

"Oh, it's been a terrible day," groans Florence Steffen as she rushes to the fax machine to try once again to get through to the Washington stations, then to the telephone that's ringing again.

But days like this don't really bother Steffen, who has been secretary to the Anne Arundel County police public information office for nearly 22 years. It's just another day of keeping the office running smoothly.

"She's really the anchor of the office," said Sgt. Jeff Kelly, a Police Department spokesman, noting that the work she does helps officers in most units.

From the time her day starts at 6 a.m., everything waits on Steffen. When she walks into police headquarters in Millersville, newspapers are at the door, press releases are on the fax machine and incident reports are waiting in another office for her to retrieve and sort.

Some reports need to be copied, some need to go to police in other units or to the state's attorney's office, and some need to be held from the press -- a job she's been known to do diligently.

"She sometimes guards the information with the ferociousness of a pit bull," said Randy Bell, a former police spokesman. "If she thinks something is going out that's not supposed to be, she's not afraid to say why."

But her job doesn't end there. She has news articles to clip, telephones to answer, crime statistics to record, accident reports to track down for reporters; and incident reports to get back from them, sort into crisscrossed stacks, stuff into interoffice envelopes, and deliver throughout the headquarters building.

Sometimes her duties included early-morning calls to slow-starting reporters.

"There's nothing like rolling over, realizing you're late, and hearing Florence's gravelly voice," said Kris Antonelli, a Sun reporter who covered Anne Arundel police.

All that is done before 11 a.m., when she breaks for a lunch of fruit, yogurt and a cigarette.

But not today. Today she has to find backup fax numbers for the Washington television stations because news of a robbery and abduction in Ferndale early Friday has broken, and police reporters are scrambling for interviews. And the Washington stations haven't heard the news yet.

"OK, I got 11, seven and nine," Steffen says to herself with a sigh, standing next to the busy fax machine. "UPN 20, who gets that?"

Steffen, 66 and mother of three, grew up in a mostly German community in West Baltimore, near a section of Franklintown Road once known as Butcher's Row. She graduated from Western High School in 1948, never missing a day in 12 years.

She joined the department in August 1975. Robert A. Beck, now chief, was a captain and about 300 officers patrolled the county. Then, along with being secretary, she kept the department's official records.

Since then, the department has nearly doubled in size and six police chiefs and 13 public information officers have come and gone, but Steffen has remained a constant in the office.

She still has yellowed sheets of paper with a neatly drawn grid, detailing the number of homicides, robberies, rapes and burglaries in the county in 1975. In a file cabinet in another room, Steffen keeps records of horrendous homicides from long ago. Files of fatal accidents from police Teletype also date back to the mid-1970s.

"This is stuff I kept on my own," Steffen said. "When people ask me something, I like to have something to refer to. I try to keep as much as I can to help people that need it. You'd be surprised how many people call and say, 'Do you remember so and so?' They're always picking your brains."

Among the things public information officers appreciate most about her is her reliability. Steffen has racked up more than 1,800 hours of unused sick leave and a month of vacation time because she rarely misses a day. And she gets the job done, they say.

On that hectic Friday, Steffen spent four hours getting a news release to the Washington television stations.

Not a problem for the old pro.

"I guess when I feel obligated to something, I just carry it out," Steffen said. "I'm just used to meeting obligations."

Pub Date: 12/25/96

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