Young police chief long on experience

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published February 10, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 8, 2013 at 10:48 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Jeremy Clark is the new police chief in Searcy. The 33-year-old had been the chief deputy at the White County Sheriff’s Office. He may seem young, but he’s got a resume to back up his new title.

Front & Center -Jeremy Clark

Jeremy Clark talks about moving from the Sheriff's Department to being the Chief of Police at the Searcy Police Department. (By Rusty Hubbard)
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— Jeremy Clark starts a new job Monday. And for a 33-year-old, it’s a pretty big title.

After boxing up years of accumulated badges, ID cards, Yankee memorabilia and drawings from his son, Clark will move from his office as chief deputy at the White County Sheriff’s Office to his new spot as Searcy police chief.

But Clark has never been one to let age get in the way. He may be young, but he’s got a resume to back up his new title.

“Sending my goodbye email would be a lot harder if I wasn’t just going across town,” Clark said. “I’m saying goodbye to some of the same people I said goodbye to when I first left the Searcy Police Department seven years ago.”

Clark has worked in law enforcement since he was just 19, holding down jobs that included jail supervisor, patrol officer and detective before eventually landing the spot of chief deputy for White County in 2006.

“Growing up, I never thought I’d be an officer,” Clark said.

Clark was born in Searcy to Diane Jackson, a teacher, and Patrick Clark, a boilermaker.

“I was born during a wild blizzard in 1979,” Clark said. “My parents lived in Bradford, and I was 2 1/2 weeks late. They had to follow a snowplow to get to the hospital in Searcy.”

Clark’s middle name, Shane, came from the title of his father’s favorite Western. It’s little coincidence that Clark now names Lonesome Dove as his favorite film.

In Bradford, Clark attended Trinity Christian School and Bradford High School, where he graduated in 1997.

“I played baseball and basketball and was on the Bradford High School Student Council, … your typical small-school stuff,” Clark said.

But becoming a police officer never once crossed his mind. Instead, Clark was focused on becoming a coach.

“My mother had coached volleyball, and my hero growing up was my basketball coach,” Clark said.

After graduation, he headed for Central Baptist College on a scholarship. But the distance left him homesick, and Clark quickly found himself at Arkansas State University-Beebe, majoring in kinesiology and minoring in history.

Clark still had dreams of coaching when a job stint in Searcy put him on the track to law enforcement.

“I was working in the critical-care unit at the White County Medical Center, observing heart monitors,” Clark said. “I started to meet a lot of people in law enforcement when they’d be working security.”

One of the men was Ricky Shourd, now White County’s sheriff, who at the time worked for the Searcy Police Department.

“Ricky put in a good word for me, and I went to work at the jail,” Clark said.

He was only 19 when he started working at the White County Jail.

When Clark turned 21, he was itching to get into patrol work. He quickly applied to departments in Searcy, Stuttgart, Jacksonville and North Little Rock. When the Stuttgart Police Department offered him a job the same day as his interview, he took it right away.

“I worked there for 18 months,” Clark said. “I was young and energetic. I didn’t have a family at the time, so I could put all my time into police work.”

Clark graduated from the police academy in 2000 and stayed in Stuttgart until June 2001, when the Searcy Police Department hired him as a patrol officer. At 23, Clark moved up to a detective position.

“I fell in love with investigative work,” Clark said. “I remember one lieutenant telling me that every crime scene you walk into tells a story.”

For Clark, investigations were like putting together pieces of a puzzle. Every officer on his team had a particular skill, and Clark soon stood out when it came to interviewing.

“It’s probably because I’m a people person and friendly,” Clark said. “People open up to me.”

While he describes the work he did as an investigator — and later as a member of the drug task force — as fun, it didn’t always come easy.

“The hardest part has always been dealing with death scenes,” Clark said. “Every dead child I’ve ever seen, I’ll take that to my grave. It doesn’t get easier, and it shouldn’t get easier.”

In his years of working in law enforcement, Clark took only one sidestep from his career path. He took a job doing fraud investigation at a bank in Little Rock.

“I left narcotics, which was some of the most fun work I’d been doing, to sit at a desk in this huge building,” Clark said. “I didn’t get to interact with people, and that was really hard on me.”

At the time Clark was working in Little Rock, his old mentor Ricky Shourd was running for White County sheriff. Clark had always intended to come back to Searcy to work for Shourd, so when the newly elected sheriff asked him in November 2006 to come on board as chief deputy, Clark didn’t hesitate.

“Ricky is just a good, good man and good to work for,” Clark said. “He’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever been around.”

The transition into chief deputy was not easy for Clark in the beginning. At just 27, Clark said, it was a controversial decision for Shourd to have picked him.

“The last thing I wanted to do was fall on my face and embarrass the sheriff,” Clark said.

Although Clark said everyone in the sheriff’s office was respectful and helpful, he understood why they would worry about his inexperience.

“I’m not dumb; I know how I’d feel if I’d been them,” Clark said.

It took a lot of long days and long nights to get adjusted to the role that involved not only working with the community but helping provide direction and guidance to other deputies.

During that time, Clark admits that his family life suffered. As he continued to adjust to his role, Clark realized he needed a shift in focus.

“In my life, I’m proudest of the fact that in the last three years I’ve re-prioritized my life,” Clark said. “I’m a single father, and that’s not easy. For many years, I was pouring all of my energy into the job. I had to step back and say, ‘My son needs a dad full time.’”

Clark now counts his lunch hour as the most important part of his day. Every weekday, Clark waits until 3 p.m. to take his lunch so he can pick up his son, Brady, 7, from school.

“I love what I do, and I take it very seriously, but you have to balance,” Clark said. “I’ve been proud that I’ve transitioned my life to family first. That’s sadly a hard thing in law enforcement.”

Since Brady is an only child, Clark tries his best to be both dad and friend, playing hide-and-seek in the back yard as much as possible.

“If I’m not sitting in this office, I’m off doing whatever Brady wants.”

With a more-than-full-time job and his son with him five days a week, Clark has little spare time. But he’s found time to work with the Optimist Club in Searcy and the Special Olympics — both programs dear to his heart for their work with children.

If the start of his new job as police chief is anything like the start of his last job, Clark expects a hectic first few days.

“I’m sure it’ll be crazy,” Clark said. “I’m looking forward, in a way, to coming back home to the Searcy Police Department.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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