LEESBURG — Newly appointed Leesburg police Chief Rob Hicks said he is all about community, and his first changes to the department will be in the area of relations with the residents the department serves.
Hicks, 43, pledged to reach out to the various communities in town.
"I want to make sure this police department is everybody's police department," Hicks said. "Law enforcement is not something you do to the community, but something you do for the community and with the community."
The new chief, who has about 25 years on the job, will be supervising the 100 employees — 72 sworn officers, plus civilian staffers and part-timers — who protect Leesburg's 21,000 residents.
"I am excited for the challenge, absolutely," said Hicks. "And I look forward to everything that comes with it. It's going to be challenging and rewarding. I'm hoping I can effect positive change within the community."
Hicks came up through the ranks of the Leesburg department after spending his first three years in Lady Lake. He has been a patrol officer, senior police officer, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. In addition, he was the SWAT team commander, and he oversaw vice and narcotics, canine units and traffic.
"You're invested in the things you do, no matter what rank you are," he said. "Each promotion gives the opportunity to take on new challenges."
City Manager Al Minner, who has been on the job for eight months, chose Hicks for the position recently vacated by former chief Bill Chrisman, who retired after running the agency since April 1989.
"We're extremely excited to have Rob on board as our police chief. He's a high-energy guy who has a lot of ideas for the department and our community," Minner said. "He is well respected in our department and our community. We're starting to build a new team here for Leesburg, and I think it's going to be fruitful."
Hicks said law enforcement wasn't his first choice of careers. He wanted to be a veterinarian until he got into high school and athletics. Afterward, he enlisted in the Army, where his brother was serving.
"I always knew I would be in a profession where I could help someone or something," he said.
Hicks, a military police officer who served in combat, was stationed in Central America, Europe and Southwest Asia from 1988 to 1991.
"I was fortunate — or unfortunate — enough to see the world," he said. "It was interesting. I got to be part of a lot of history. I was in Germany when the [Berlin] wall fell during unification week. I got to experience east Germany when it was communist held and free."
Hicks said he was deployed with the 3rd Armored Division to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait from about August 1990 to July 1991 during Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the first Gulf war.
"Seeing all the things that we saw there — a lot of tragic stuff and a lot of positive stuff as well. It helped mold who I was. It helped me grow up fast, to see what was important in life, to see what was important to me," Hicks said.
Hicks belongs to Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, and he said he supports service men and women who are back from Iraq and Afghanistan and adjusting to civilian life.
"It's important to relate with those folks in some way," he said. "I'm glad I have that experience to help relate to those folks coming back."
When Hicks, born Fort Lauderdale and raised in south Florida, got out the military, he worked various jobs while trying to get into the police academy in Broward County. Then, he heard about the Lake Tech police academy from a cousin who was in the area. He graduated from the academy in 1994.
At graduation, Lady Lake police Chief Mike Ross presented Hicks with his badge.
"I was sworn in at graduation," he said.
Hicks started at the Leesburg department in 1997 and continued with his education. He earned his associate's degree in criminal justice from Lake-Sumter Community College in 1999. Two years later, he got a bachelor's degree in organizational management from Warner University in Lake Wales, and his master's degree in business administration and public administration came from Columbia Southern University in 2007.
In 2006, he earned his certification from the police executive leadership program at the University of Louisville and became a certified public manager in 2012 through a program at Florida State University. He's working on his second master's degree, which he initially thought would be in management but may change to criminal justice.
"I'm a lifelong learner and lifelong student," he said. "I will always be in some endeavor."
Hicks' wife of 18 years, Stephanie, was in the midst of earning her master's degree when she was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago. The family, including Abigail, 13, Allyson, 11, and Jackson, 7, as well as the community, rallied around her. She went through chemotherapy and had what the family hopes is her final surgery at the end of August.
"Through all of that she was still a mom of three kids, a full-time college student in a master's program and interning as well," he said.