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story.lead_photo.caption Eric Webb, the Searcy chief of police, will retire Nov. 24 after a 30-year career in law enforcement — all with the Searcy Police Department. He started as a patrolman in 1988 and has worked in every facet of the department. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

Eric Webb knew early on what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Webb, 54, will retire as the Searcy chief of police next month, concluding a 30-year career in law enforcement — all with the Searcy Police Department.

“From the time that I was in the first grade on, I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to be a policeman,” Webb said. “Anyone who would ask me, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ — I would tell them, without question, that I wanted to be a policeman. Being a policeman is the only thing that has truly been on my mind to do until I was about 14 or so.”

At that time, Webb, who graduated from Searcy High School in 1983, got into music.

“I discovered music,” he said. “I went to church and was in a church singing group. I felt I needed to be a church music director.”

After graduating from Searcy, Webb attended Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. He also led music at a church in Malvern while attending college.

“I did not finish. … I got married and came back home instead of finishing school,” Webb said. “I went to work for the Searcy Police Department in July 1988.”

During his 30 years at Searcy, Webb has worked in practically every division.

“The only place I’ve worked in law enforcement was here, and I’ve worked in every aspect, every department and every assignment that can be one at the police department,” Webb said. “I started out in patrol. I went into the criminal-investigation division, and I worked there for three years. I worked narcotics for one year. I came back to patrol as a field training officer. So I trained officers for several years.”

Webb was promoted to corporal in 2000 and helped with a shift. He was promoted to sergeant in 2004 and commanded a shift.

“In 2007, I was promoted to lieutenant, and I look over command of the patrol division and support-service division,” Webb said.

Webb was promoted to captain in February 2015.

Following the resignation of former police chief Jeremy Clark, who was being investigated by federal agents, Webb was asked by Searcy Mayor David Morris to be the interim chief. Webb was hired as the chief in June 2015.

“When I first started my career, I would joke with then chief, J.R. Thomas,” Webb said. “I used to tell him, ‘Keep my seat warm because I will be there one day.’

“As time progressed, being the chief never really truly was on my radar other than as a joke with him.”

Webb said his only aspiration was to be a policeman.

“The unfortunate thing is that we all get older. … As we get older, our body says, ‘Hey, you can’t do certain things anymore,’” he said. “Being a patrolman is a younger-man’s game with being physically fit and physically active. Recovering from things is a lot faster than for a middle-aged man. As I got older, I decided it was time to progress in my career, so I started taking steps toward promotion.”

Webb said he got into administration in 2007.

“At that point, I didn’t think I’d be the chief, or did I plan on it,” he said. “As it turned out, the way it worked, when the mayor asked me if I wanted to be interim chief, I didn’t even think about it. I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ Under the circumstances, I thought I was qualified to lead, so I did. Then when he asked me if I was going to put in for the full-time position, I told him that I would.

“I filled out an application, and he hired me. … I was pretty pleased.”

Morris said he is appreciative of Webb’s service to the city of Searcy.

“He’s worked his entire law enforcement career dedicated to the people of the city of Searcy,” Morris said. “For that, our community is most appreciative and indebted to him. He’s worked his way up through the ranks.

“I hate to see him go but wish him the best.”

As Searcy police chief, Webb runs a department with slots for 51 certified officers, 12 auxiliary officers and 19 civil employees. He said he was sort of naive when it came to the chief’s duties when he took over in the interim in 2015.

“As I learned, I totally had the wrong idea about what a chief would be,” Webb said. “There is a whole lot more work involved than I thought. There is day-to-day operations that involve every issue and every problem within every division, or every facet of the job or department that comes and ends in my office.

“It’s constant decision-making on what is going to be the next step. It’s also keeping up with a multimillion-dollar budget and making sure the officers have the equipment they need to do the job.”

Webb said there are meetings with the mayor and other department heads in the city to coordinate actions.

“For instance, when we have bad weather, we have to make sure we have a great working relationship between the officers and the street department,” he said. “So there is a lot of planning and meetings along those lines. Plus, we have Unity Health. We need to make sure contingency plans are in place in case something goes south.”

Webb said he has learned to delegate duties to others.

“I learned to let a few things go and let other people take care of business and just report back to me,” he said. “The final decisions are mine.”

Webb, whose last day as chief will be Nov. 24, said he had planned on retiring after 28 years but has made it to 30.

“I had just taken the chief’s position,” he said. “I felt like I needed to stay for the department because it’s my home. These are my friends and my family. I wanted to stay and be as helpful as long as I could, but 30 years is a very long time.

“Law enforcement is changing. Officers are changing. Technology is changing. It was time for an older guy to get out of the way and let some new fresh ideas come in.”

Morris said an interim chief will be named at the Searcy City Council meeting Nov. 13.

Webb said he’s going to take some time off before starting anything new.

“I have some options for a couple of jobs that I’ve been talking to people about that have nothing to do with government or law enforcement,” he said.

Webb said he never thought about getting out of law enforcement or working in another department besides Searcy, but he did have aspirations to finish his college degree.

“In the early 1990s, I thought it would be a good idea to finish my degree,” he said. “But as I started looking back and going through and visiting my old campus and looking around, I decided that working in Searcy was it. I’ve never truly thought about doing anything else. I certainly never thought about doing it anyplace but here.

“I love my community. It’s been very good to me. My church home, [Fellowship Bible Church], is here. I love that.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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