During 18 years in police work, Gastonia Police Sgt. Chad Hawkins has seen it all.
He's been slugged, shot at and threatened with an ax. He's 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, he's 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 chief's 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 sheriff's 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 don't, I look forward to regaining their trust," Hawkins said. "I want to run the department openly and honestly. I'm all about transparency. I believe wholeheartedly we work for the people, and they have a right to know what's going on."
For more than 11 years, Hawkins has been a member of the Lowell City Council, but he resigned last Monday. In Cherryville, he'll 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 chief's 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. "We're 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 Cherryville's interim police chief. Hawkins feels Jenks has done an outstanding job and has promoted him to captain.
Meanwhile, Hawkins said he'll 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, "I'll definitely be a presence in the community. I'll 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.