A conversation with "OC"

March 29, 2013

Marci Braden from the office of United States Representative Randy Neugebauer presented Sweetwater Police Officer Robert Clark with a United States flag flown over the United States Capitol. Photos by Melissa Winslow

While sitting in a padded office chair, a contrast from his cowboy-inspired attire, Robert Clark recollected a recent celebration dinner he had with his wife in Fort Worth.
She sensed his apprehension and when questioned, Clark said he was just waiting for the shoe to drop--everything leading up to that particular moment had gone so well.
But like most wives, she had some valuable advice to offer her husband. He was in the right place and at the right time of life, so she told him not to worry, but to have faith.
Most people in town know Clark as "OC," a longtime member of the Sweetwater Police Department (SPD) and teacher of the former, local DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. But on Monday morning, Clark will embark on a new chapter in life and join Snyder ISD (Independent School District) as a school resource officer.

Clark looked back to his start in law enforcement, a journey spanning 26 years, 7 months and 25 days. In 1984, he started by serving as a non-paid reserve in 1984 with the Nolan County Sheriff's Office.
But when the Sweetwater Police Department began hiring reserve officers about a year later, he switched to the SPD while also working a full-time job.
A short time after, a full-time position was available at the SPD. Clark took the test, did well, and was then offered the job.
Although he officially retired on March 16, his last day of work was on March 11. He led patrol that night, recalling the intense emotion of telling his co-workers goodbye.
During his employment, Clark obtained many certifications which required training. He became a certified crime prevention officer and sex offender registrar, both of which included a week of education.
Two weeks of education were required for Clark to become a DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) instructor of core curriculum for elementary age students, while an additional week of training was required to be a middle school DARE instructor. Also, he is a certified police instructor and a certified intoxylizer operator.
All officers are trained in communications, Clark added, while associated training is required in order to carry various weapons. They must qualify to carry firearms for each weapon--whether on or off-duty, as well.
The state requirements are annual, but the SPD required the qualification four times a year. And though the state required 40 hours of continuing education over two years, the SPD's requirements were 80 hours per year.
Even in the midst of certifications and education, Clark served as an interim sergeant for 17 months (he called it his favorite time on the force).
While being in charge of other officers, he said he came to realize how valuable an asset they were--"they were on the front lines doing their job". He also understood the importance of administrative work and the vitality of every aspect of the force, as he recalled how blessed he was to work for and with such great people.

Change is inevitable in any work setting, but if he had to pick one particular aspect, Clark said that officer equipment saw drastic changes during his tenure.
Upon his arrival in the mid-'80s, the police department had seven cars, five flashlights and five portable radios--all of which have now increased in quantity. In the past, all of the equipment had to be left for the next on-duty officer to use, and shotguns had to be checked in and out like library books.
The addition of portable radios and radio frequencies have also assisted. Each police department can now use their own frequency and even switch to talk with other agencies.
And because of the past shortage of cars, officers would pick up the next person on duty. Either way, he recalled, an officer could be waiting (sometimes nearly an hour) for the driver to leave a scene or the passenger to get ready for duty.
Now, the fleet system has been implemented with more cars that have camera systems in each vehicle. He says the cameras have been great for law enforcement as the video shows how the exact events unfold in different situations.
And along with the in-car computers, officers are now safer with the new equipment, especially as they have to keep up with offenders and criminals continually obtaining better equipment and weapons.
So while clothing, timing and length of shifts, and people, policies and procedures have been modified, the equipment updates made a difference, said Clark. Over time, he noted, people have come to learn that the appropriate equipment is a priority that is necessary for police officers.

"No one wants someone my age," Clark recalled thinking when preparing for the next chapter of his life.
Regardless, he still applied for the job at Snyder ISD, although his expectations were less than favorable to get the job. But his attitude changed after asking the opinion of a friend, who said that age didn't determine a person's worth or value.
Instead, his experience and knowledge would allow him to teach and assist other officers. The belief that his friend had in him convinced Clark to embrace the opportunity.
And throughout the interview, Clark stated, age was never even considered. He said that they came to realize, unknowingly, that everything his friend said was true.
"I might not be field material," he admitted, "but I can train other officers."
Additionally, this new job combines two of Clark's passions: law enforcement and working with kids. He said that if God hadn't called him to be a cop, he would have become a teacher.

Looking back, many memories from work surface in Clark's mind. He can recall high-profile cases, various pursuits and the stress of each situation.
He's also witnessed lives being saved and officers deal with different circumstances. But, the most memorable aspect of his 26 years come from seeing people he has interacted with succeed.
With a smile on his face, he remembered watching people flourish out of a poor situation, make something positive out of their lives and become good people.
Clark saw many people--who would have been considered "lost causes" by others--become big players in life, either personally or professionally. No matter if their importance is found from their family, community or within, he calls them VIPs [Very Important Persons].
And in Sweetwater, he acknowledges, "There are lots of VIPs that no one knows about."

So before he sets sail to Snyder, Clark offered many thanks. First and foremost, he thanked God for all of the opportunities and blessings he's been given.
During his time with the SPD, he said that while he was kept safe and only sustained minor injuries, there were times that he should have died. But he realized that in all of those instances, God brought him through.
Clark is also thankful for his bosses and fellow workers, especially during those times when he admits that he wasn't an easy person to put up with.
Furthermore, he is appreciative to the "great city" of Sweetwater and the townspeople. Clark pointed out that after the shootings in Newtown, CT and Aurora, CO, people became aware of the police department's various security measures.
On top of that, he said that people continued to back him. He might not have been correct in his perspective, but Clark knew that people understood what his message was.
And the people took action in their support of Clark. He was once voted Sweetwater's Outstanding Citizen and the DARE Officer of the Year. If there's anything that Clark wants the community to know, it's that he was fully aware and appreciated their support of him.

Sweetwater will always be home, Clark added. When he gets to the point of retirement, this community will be where he resides.
It's the town where his 85-year-old mother lives and where his brother and nephew work in local law enforcement. It helps, too, that Sweetwater is close to where his three children live.
His oldest son is only a few hours away, in which he and Clark's other son have become involved in some form of law enforcement. In addition, his daughter is a teacher.
While he takes pride in his family and the success he's had, Clark knows the Source of everything that's been given to him: God. And until He is ready for him, Clark knows that God will keep him on this earth to impact others, like in an instance that took place in August 1 of last year.
Clark was given an opportunity to reach out to others when a police officer in Big Lake was killed. As a chaplain to a group of police officers, he was requested to go and minister to the family.
However, the slain officer was also the DARE instructor, so Clark trekked back and forth to Big Lake to teach the program for the next 15 weeks. Now, he plans to undergo training so that he can become a licensed chaplain.
But with or without any particular title, Clark will always be a blessing to others, whether intentionally or not. Sweetwater already knows it, but soon enough Snyder ISD will come to realize that Clark, in his own way, tends to make a positive impact on the people he meets.

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