Officer of the Year says job is ‘a calling’

By Tammy Keith Originally Published March 3, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 1, 2013 at 12:46 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Conway Police Officer of the Year Gordon Ball, 38, joined the department in 1999 as a patrol officer and was quickly given additional duties. He is the crime analyst/intelligence officer, a gang specialist and a member of the SWAT team.

Officer of the Year Gordon Ball is at least a triple threat for the Conway Police Department.

Wearing a dress shirt, tie, slacks, his badge and a gun on his belt, Ball sits behind a computer and analyzes the latest crime statistics to give fellow officers information on things such as hot spots for crime in the city or current trends.

He also gathers all the intelligence for the department, from who’s out on parole to the nation’s latest terrorist acts.

This Greenbrier resident by way of New Jersey is a certified gang specialist, and he keeps his finger on the pulse of that activity.

And, should there be a situation that calls for the Special Weapons and Tactics team, Ball suits up and heads out.

Make that a quadruple threat.

“I always wanted to be a cop. I wanted to drive fast and barrel through the door,” he said.

There is only a trace of the New Jersey accent that Ball, 38, had when his parents moved him and his three brothers to Greenbrier in 1991 when he was 17 — during his senior year of high school.

“It was actually pretty funny because I was the entertainment piece, so to speak, coming from New Jersey,” he said.

His Arkansas high school friends had a preconceived notion of what that state was like, he said.

“People would tell me, ‘This is trees; this is grass,” he said.

The area was familiar to him, though, because he’d been visiting his mother’s relatives in Greenbrier and Faulkner County for years.

He attended the University of Central Arkansas for two years, but he’d wanted to be a police officer for as long as he could remember.

Ball even dreamed about joining the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

He remembers watching a news segment about the siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and his mother said, “You want to do that?”

“I said, ‘Yeah, I want to be the guy on the roof of the building,’” he said.

Ball joined the Conway Police Department in October 1999 as a patrol officer.

Within a year, he was assigned to the SWAT team, which comprises police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

“It’s a brotherhood, and you have to put the team first,” Ball said. “You’re there for your fellow officers and the citizens.

“I would never term myself as an adrenaline junkie, but I love SWAT. I feel it’s my job to put myself in harm’s way and go out there and protect others.”

It doesn’t always turn out the way he wants.

“The worst day of my life at SWAT was the Kacie Woody incident,” he said. “I hope that’s [the worst] it ever gets.”

The 13-year-old rural Faulkner County girl, the daughter of a Greenbrier police officer, was abducted in 2002 by a 47-year-old man in California whom she’d met online. The man told her he was a teenager.

Ball was assigned to the Pine Street Substation at the time. He and other officers were winding down at the end of a shift that cold night.

They were talking about getting together to go Christmas shopping when the “shots fired” call came in.

Ball and other SWAT team officers went to the Conway storage facility where the suspect was holding Kacie.

“It started snowing on us when we were stacked up outside waiting in vain for an answer to come from the individual inside,” he said.

The man killed Kacie and himself.

Ball said he’s never afraid when he puts on a SWAT-team uniform, but he has a different perspective now that he and his wife, Melissa, have a daughter, Alexis, 3.

“It didn’t hit me what was at stake till the birth of my daughter,” he said.

Officers are on the job 24/7, he said, and if a call comes when he’s in the middle of a family birthday party, he has to leave.

“SWAT, as tiring as it can be, as stressful as it can be — it’s in my blood,” he said.

When he is at home, he tries to decompress by enjoying his family or watching “mindless” television — he stopped watching Cops when he became one.

His additional duties after becoming a police officer keep him behind a computer most of the time, but that doesn’t mean his job is boring.

Ball said he became the department’s “gang guy” seven or eight years ago.

He was sent to Chicago to be certified as a gang specialist.

No, Conway doesn’t have the gang problems of a big city.

“It’s a good thing and a bad thing to be Conway,” he said.

“We don’t have the problems like some cities, like Chicago has, but the smallness makes people think it’s not going to happen here; it’s not that big,” he said. “It is a very serious issue.”

Ball said he constantly informs himself about gangs because they change.

His reputation landed him on the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Little Rock.

“It’s something I was very honored to be asked to be part of,” he said.

Ball said he can’t discuss specifics about his role on the task force.

“I work with a lot of different agencies, and we share information across the board to make sure the homeland and Conway infrastructure are safe,” he said.

When the department needed someone to be in charge of the intelligence function, “they said, ‘We think you could do that, too,’” Ball said, and he agreed. He already had taken on crime analysis.

Now he’s full time in that combined position in the Criminal Investigation Division.

In addition to being named Officer of the Year in December, Ball received two other awards last year, a Service Before Self Award from the Conway Rotary Club and the Above and Beyond Award at a community banquet honoring law-enforcement officers.

“He probably does more work than anybody in the department,” said Maj. Laura Taylor, Ball’s division manager. “He’s very good at his job.

“He wears a lot of hats, and he does it well. We’re very proud of him.”

Ball said the honors made him feel appreciated and re-energized him.

“It’s very hard to be the guy who sits in the office behind the computer all day in a job of Alpha dogs,” he said.

Fellow officers like to joke with him about being a secretary, or ask him if he even needs to carry a gun.

He said that once in a while, he has allowed doubt to creep in and asked himself, “Is what I do even worth it?”

“God answered back and said, ‘I’ll tell you,’” he said, referring to the honors.

“I don’t stand much on ceremony; I don’t stand much on awards and ribbons. Keeping people safe is essentially my mission,” Ball said. “The way I feel about it is, I don’t need a reward. Keeping people safe and doing my job and knowing I did a good job are reward enough.

“It’s a calling. I think that’s why God put me on this earth is to help people. I know that sentiment is mirrored by everybody here at the Police Department. I can think of no more honorable job to do than public service.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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