The first person Steve Hernandez hired after being named police chief in 2019 was chosen as 2020’s Searcy Police Officer of the Year by his peers.

“We were familiar with him from his time at Harding Public Safety, knew that he would be a hard worker and always do the right thing,” Hernandez said about Officer Andrew Davis. “It says a lot about him and his work ethic that his fellow co-workers voted him as the officer of the year.”

Davis, 27, is from California, Md., ending up there because his dad was in the Navy and stationed at Pax River Naval Base. After high school, Davis said he went to a community college and then wound up meeting the woman he would some day marry. His girlfriend at the time, Katie, decided she was going to Harding University to study social work.

“She was like, ‘I’m going to Harding in Arkansas,’ and I was like, ‘What’s Harding and what’s Arkansas?’” Davis said. “So she moved here. She got here a year before I did. She did a year at Harding, then I decided I need to go to a four-year school, so I decided I may as well give it a try.

“I was more after her than I was Harding at first and then I discovered I liked Harding, so I stayed and we dated and eventually got engaged and got married. She graduated and then I graduated.”

Davis said he graduated from Harding in 2017 with a degree in history, but didn’t end up going that way with his career.

“My brother was a sheriff’s deputy in the county we grew up in, so I kind of had an idea,” he said. “The job I wanted to get was something service oriented because my dad, my grandpa, my brother and me, it has always been doing some service to others.”

Davis said he was already in the Arkansas Army National Guard when he graduated from Harding and he really wanted to find a way to serve his community in some form or fashion, but he said he didn’t know where he was being pushed.

“An opportunity arose when Searcy was hiring and that was in January of 2019,” he said. “I put in my application, they called and I started my career as a police officer.”

“People ask us [him and his wife], ‘Why do we stay in Searcy. I always say it’s the community, not only the community I get at my work but it’s the community I get within my neighborhood and the community I get in my church family. I can just walk into a restaurant here and I can talk to the waitress or the owner.”

Becoming officer

Davis trained at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock.

“My first field training manager was [Searcy] Sgt. Todd DeWitt,” Davis said. “Todd was the best. Me and him both had a background from Harding, so he taught me not only how to be a police officer but how to be a police officer who is a Christian, how to bring that aspect into my police work.

“When I came back from the academy, I was placed with Cpl. Corderro Earls. I stayed with DeWitt for a month to a month and a half and then I was with Cord from May until August. Cord taught me how to be a street cop. He was the one who taught me kind of how to find stuff and how to talk to people.”

Davis said that having different trainers that “bring different things to the table” helps officers’ development. “As you grow you kind of figure out, OK this works, that works, and you kind of bring it together and make who you are as a cop.”

He said one of the things he loves about being a police officer is dealing with people.

“I get to interact with my community,” Davis said. “My wife did ride-alongs with me and one of the things she kind of thought was funny is that I would be talking to somebody and I would have a person pulled over and I’d be talking to them and I would literally write them a ticket or not write them a ticket – either way, she said you stay there and talk to them, like I would talk to them and shake their hand and just interact with them.

“I like the opportunity when I come to work, it’s not just these are my work colleagues, this is my family, I can interact with them. That’s one thing I like about this job, you just don’t carry the burdens by yourself. It’s not like I just show up to work and work. You show up to work and you work with people of different diversities, different backgrounds and you just come together as a family. I always grew up around service. If you see things that need to be done, there are people who just have a calling to do it and you just feel drawn to do it and I just can’t see myself doing anything other than that.”

Every day when he wakes up, Davis said he prays for people to come into his life so he can make a difference, “whether it’s a difference for them or somebody else.”

Before the COVID-19, Davis recalled enjoying going into some of the schools to read.

“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “It stinks because of COVID, community outreach is kind of limited and to me that is one of the biggest droughts we face because we lose that community connection. When we got to do the juice box pass-out, we went to Kids Unlimited and that was awesome to go around and just see kids faces when you handed out juice boxes.”

Acting despite fear

He said the more you work in the job and talk to people you realize everyone is scared, but they do something; they know they have to go forward and they kind of know that fear is still there but they still act.

One shots fired call Davis responded to took him down Elm Street and at Elm’s intersection with Crisp Avenue, he came across three individuals the police have dealt with previously.

“I got out and said, ‘Why don’t you all come over here?’” he said. “One guy kind of waited back from the other two, so I thought, ‘That’s kind of weird.’ I had just taken a report and hour or two and he was having signs that he was either intoxicated or high.

“He had his hands in his pockets and I said, ‘Hey, take your hands out, man,’ not authoritative just [in a regular voice]. He wouldn’t. I was worried thinking, ‘Here I am a year in. My brother has been a cop for a while and has never been in a situation like an officer-involved shooting.’ I was scanning up and down and realized this man had some kind of weapon sticking out, like a triangle, out of his pants. In my head I was thinking, ‘That can’t be a rifle, there’s no way somebody can stuff a rifle in their pants.’

“Well, by the grace of God, this guy decided to run instead of fight and it turned out he actually had a rifle in his pants and he had dropped it. That was probably the most scared I’ve ever been because it was one of those moments you see someone ... I literally saw his face and he was making the decision, ‘Do I fight or flight?’ and I have never experienced that in my life.”

On another day, Davis and some other officers were meeting up for breakfast at a restaurant by the White County Courthouse but they got there too early and the restaurant was not open yet.

“I was three months out of being released from my field training,” he said. “I drove out on North Maple and then started coming back toward the restaurant to eat and a car got out in front of me. I got behind the car and we stopped it and pulled them over. I came up to the door. It was raining, so I was like this will be a normal, routine traffic stop.

“So I’m talking to the guy and there was a lady in the passenger seat who we have known to have drugs. She had a search waiver and I really didn’t necessarily care about him. He was real friendly, nice and he wasn’t my worry.”

After another officer showed up, “we get to searching the car,” Davis said. “He [the other officer] is watching them and I am searching the car and came across this cylinder wrapped in duct tape. and I picked it up – and I’m like I have been in Guard for a while and we’ve been through courses on IEDs and stuff – and I said, ‘This looks like a pipe bomb.’ And I said, ‘No way, this is Searcy.’ Where I grew up, that’s common.

“It had a little fuse duct taped on it. I went over to my boss and said, ‘Hey, I’m not entirely sure but I think this is a pipe bomb, and he was like, ‘Yeah, let’s go ahead and put that over there.’ They sent some people out to test it and it was actually a pipe bomb. Long story short, that was probably the craziest thing I have seen. How do you find that in Searcy?”

Plans, reflections

At some point, Davis said he would like to be an investigator.

“As you know, you have to progress and grow,” he said. “I do want to be an investigator but I don’t know at what point in my career I want to do that. I do like what I do now.”

Reflecting on his honor of being named officer of the year, Davis said he and his wife were talking about it and he said, “I just show up, I do my job, I talk to people and I try to be friendly to everybody. That bomb thing happened in the early part of 2019, so I was thinking surely it couldn’t be that.

“I got to work and was called by the chief into his office and he said, ‘A lot of your peers and colleagues thought you were deserving of this award and you’re joining an elite group of officers who have won this award.’”

On a personal note, Davis said he and Katie are expecting their first child in June. “We will find out the gender in two weeks.”

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