During 18 years in police work, Gastonia Police Sgt. Chad Hawkins has seen it all.
Hes been slugged, shot at and threatened with an ax. Hes been involved in crime prevention, community policing and special events coordination.
Although Hawkins, 38, has worn many hats over the years in the Cramerton, Lowell and Gastonia police departments, hes never been chief until now. On Monday, he takes over the top law enforcement position in Cherryville, a small Gaston County town still reeling from a recent scandal in the Police Department and City Hall.
While some might view the chiefs job in terms of challenges and issues, Hawkins has another take.
I see it as an opportunity, he said. The Cherryville Police Department has really good officers there now. I want to go in, work with them and build the organization back and restore some of the public trust.
Three Cherryville officers and a Gaston County sheriffs deputy were among six men accused last fall of conspiring to provide protection to trucks carrying stolen goods and cash. All pleaded guilty.
The police chief and a captain were suspended. The chief later retired.
In January, the former Cherryville finance director and former city customer service representative and utility supervisor were charged with embezzling. Both pleaded guilty.
Hawkins is convinced most Cherryville residents still believe in the 14-member Police Department.
For those who dont, I look forward to regaining their trust, Hawkins said. I want to run the department openly and honestly. Im all about transparency. I believe wholeheartedly we work for the people, and they have a right to know whats going on.
For more than 11 years, Hawkins has been a member of the Lowell City Council, but he resigned last Monday. In Cherryville, hell report to newly hired city manager Ben Blackburn, former manager in Lowell.
According to Blackburn, about two dozen people from throughout the Southeast applied for the police chiefs job. Hawkins was among the top three finalists.
Blackburn knew Hawkins when he worked in the Lowell Police Department.
Cherryville is getting an experienced officer with excellent supervisory experience, Blackburn said. Chad is innovative in ways of policing but also retains the traditional police values. His peers and superiors speak very highly of him.
Gastonia City Manager Ed Munn called Hawkins a great police officer.
When I think of Chad, I think of his boundless energy, his commitment to law enforcement and his experience, Munn said. Were happy for him.
Retired Cramerton Police Chief David Young described Hawkins as blatantly honest.
He probably has a sense of how a small-town police department ought to be managed, Young said. Officers need to be highly visible on the streets. And the police chief needs to be the same way a presence in the community. I think Chad will do that.
After FBI agents descended on the town last fall, Sgt. Cam Jenks was named Cherryvilles interim police chief. Hawkins feels Jenks has done an outstanding job and has promoted him to captain.
Meanwhile, Hawkins said hell conduct a needs assessment of the department to determine what direction we need to head in. I want a fresh start and new ideas.
Training and education will be important, and ethics also has to be a big part, he said. Accountability, accountability, accountability. Everyone in the organization and the city has to hold each other accountable.
Describing himself as a people person, Hawkins said that as chief, Ill definitely be a presence in the community. Ill be heavily involved.
He expects the same of his officers.
A Gastonia native, Hawkins grew up in McAdenville. Early on, he dreamed of a career in public service. As a sixth-grader, he wrote a class paper about wanting to be a police officer.
Inspired by his favorite TV shows Rescue 911 and CHiPs, Hawkins joined the McAdenville Volunteer Fire Department at age 16. By then, he was working at McAdenville-based Pharr Yarns, like most of the other volunteers.
When an alarm went off around town, firefighters had permission from mill bosses to leave their jobs and answer the call.
When Hawkins moved to nearby Cramerton, he joined the towns volunteer fire department and later was promoted to lieutenant. With his sights on a law enforcement career, Hawkins rode in patrol cars with Cramerton officers to gain experience before entering rookie school.
They were training me, Hawkins said. I was learning the streets, procedures and radio.
Hawkins, who is married and has two children, graduated from Basic Law Enforcement Training at Gaston College in 1994. He served as a reserve officer with Cramerton before joining the city of Lowell Police Department in 1995.
In 1998, Hawkins joined the Gastonia Police Department as a patrol officer.
I was exposed to almost every kind of situation, he said. It was a lot of experience, quickly. It was definitely a change of pace in Gastonia, and I loved it.
Since then, hes traveled many career paths. Hawkins has served as a D.A.R.E. program officer, crime prevention officer, field training officer, police training officer coordinator, patrol sergeant, community coordinator sergeant, mobile command team sergeant and traffic enforcement sergeant, among others. At Gaston College, hes lead driving instructor.
Hawkins earned a bachelors degree in criminal justice from Gardner-Webb University and is a candidate for a masters of justice administration degree from Methodist University in Fayetteville.
Dual roles as a police officer and City Council member have allowed me to see both sides of the spectrum, Hawkins said. I understand how government works and can explain why we do what we do.
Monday morning, he starts another journey.
When he heard about the Cherryville arrests last fall, I was very disappointed, Hawkins said. I felt it was a betrayal of our brothers in uniform, a major letdown. But the actions of a few dont define Cherryville.
Hawkins commended officers who stayed on after the scandal and held their heads up, not an easy thing to do.
They had to bear the brunt of what their peers did, he said. They were beat up pretty good.
Hes looking for a new beginning.
Cherryvilles a wonderful place, Hawkins said. I want the Police Department to be on the map as being a solid organization.
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