Friday, March 24, 2017

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville police: Hail to the chief!

Leader staff writer

“After the first round of interviews, I knew this was our guy,” said Mayor Gary Fletcher, adding, “Do we have to interview anyone else?”

The answer to that was yes as the selection committee narrowed down the original 31 applicants to 11, then four, two and then one.

That one was the guy the mayor had keyed in on at the beginning, Geoffrey Herweg, 53, the deputy chief of the Lovington, N.M., police department.

Fletcher introduced Herweg, who goes by Jeff, to about 50 members of the police and fire department, city officials and others at a 3:30 p.m. Friday gathering at the public safety building.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with two great police chiefs,” said the mayor, “Gary Sipes and Kenny Boyd, and now I feel that Jeff (Herweg) will take us to that next level.”

Herweg will replace Boyd in about three weeks. Boyd, who has been with the department for 29 years and the last three as chief, announced his retirement earlier this year.

When Herweg was asked why he put his hat in the ring for the Jacksonville job, he said it just felt right, and after spending the past four days in town, he said it was the right place for him.

“It’s a military town and I come from a military family. It is a small town (although nearly double the size of Lovington) and it’s a very welcoming community. That means more to me than anything,” he said.

He added that Jacksonville “just feels comfortable to him.”

Recently Herweg made the finalist lists for chief positions in Columbus, Miss., and Shreveport, La.

He has more than 30 years of law-enforcement and military experience and has been the deputy chief of Lovington since January 2015. He joined the Lovington force in 2012.

He has led high-profile private-security operations, domestically and internationally. Herweg served as a rapid-response commander at Victory Base Complex, Bagdad, Iraq, helping provide private security for about 68,000 military and civilian personnel.

He also served as shift supervisor for the U.S. Embassy emergency response team in Afghanistan.

He has worked as an adjunct instructor at the New Mexico Police Academy, served as a public information office and use-of-force instructor and has had a helicopter pilot’s license since 2007.

“No, we are not going to buy the police department a helicopter,” quipped the mayor at Friday’s conference.

In police command school recently Herweg had to write a paper on his leadership philosophy. “At one time there were just three kinds, now there’s 13.” He calls his leadership style “proactive positivism.”

At the conference he told the police in attendance to “breathe that no immediate big changes were coming. I’ve got to get to know everyone’s name first,” he quipped. “And just because something working in Lovington or the other places I’ve been doesn’t mean it’ll be instituted here. If it’s already working here there’s no reason to change it.”

Herweg said he was also going to be much more than just the police chief. “I’m involved with three commissions and boards in Lovington and plan to do the same here,” but he quickly added, “However, I’m not going to run for school board.”

The chief-to-be said he had an open-door policy and to feel free to come by and discuss things with him. “But I can’t fit all 80 of you in the room at one time,” Herwig said.

In an interview at The Leader before his introduction as the new chief, Herweg said even though he was born in Chicago and is a die-hard Cubs fan, he considers Oklahoma home.

“My dad was in the Army at Fort Sill and met my mom there. I served eight years in the Texas Army National Guard, starting out enlisted and ending up a second lieutenant.”

Herweg decided on law enforcement after tackling a shoplifter and blowing out his knee in the process.

“I was working at a grocery store in Lawton, Oklahoma, when I saw someone shoplift a number of items and run out of the store and I took off after him and just as he dived to tackle him the store detective yelled, ‘Police, freeze’ and the guy went down immediately.”

Herweg went sailing over him and his knee immediately swelled up. “After surgery, I went on a ride-along and was hooked,” he said.

Herweg started his career with the Apache and Durant, Okla., police departments, before moving to Denison, Texas, Eunice, N.M., and Taylor, Texas.

He has also worked as a marina officer at Lake Pleasant, Ariz., and a nuclear security officer in Tonopah, Ariz.

He has a master’s degree in public administration and said that he may pursue a doctorate.

Herweg and his wife, Jeannette, have six children between them.

“They are all out of the home either working or in college,” the chief said.