I had the pleasure to talk with Chief Ricky Middleton on Tuesday, May 24 as he winds down his 41-year tour of service in the Village. The Chief is scheduled to retire on June 1, 2022.
Chief Middleton’s story is truly the epitome of the American Dream. His first job with the POA was bussing tables and washing dishes at the DeSoto Club. Starting at the bottom, with hard work, dedication, and perseverance he worked his way up to not only one of the top positions in the Village but also the very top of his department.
Chief Middleton was born in Hot Springs and raised locally. When he first got married, he thought about leaving the area and going to Oklahoma to start a career in the oil field business. To prepare for this career change, Middleton began attending the Tulsa School of Welding. He planned to be a pipeline welder. “About that time, the oil industry took a nosedive.”
Because of this, Middleton decided to stay in Arkansas and go back to work for the POA in February of 1980. Not afraid of hard work, initially Middleton worked for the Construction Department. He installed water, sewer, and electrical. Starting out as a laborer, he also knew how to operate all of the equipment. “I did that for five years,” stated Chief Middleton.
Middleton also worked for Cooper Engineering as a surveyor for six months on Lake Balboa to help determine the lake shoreline levels.
During this same time period, he served as a volunteer fireman with Jessieville. Wanting to improve his skills, he took an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class. Eventually, HSVPD Lieutenant Hank Moore asked Middleton to come to work as a dispatcher for the police department.
Middleton thought the opportunity sounded good. He was raising a family and wanted a steady paycheck. “As a kid, I never said, ‘I wanted to be a police officer.’ I just wanted a steady job where I could take care of my family.”
With a steady job in mind, Middleton responded affirmatively to Lt. Moore, “Well, if it’s five days a week, guaranteed pay (because working construction you lose a lot of time due to weather)…”
Moore responded, “Absolutely, I promise you that you will not be short a paycheck from this day forward.”
Cedar Mountain Ambulance served the Village at that time. “One of the most memorable things was the way we operated then.” The Chief’s current office located on Calella served as the dispatch office. Emergency calls were recorded on a cassette recorder. “We’d answer the phone and the dispatcher would alert the firemen and they would operate the ambulance. There was also an emergency phone line at the gate. While they were out answering emergency calls, the gate personnel took over answering the emergency calls until the nearest police officer could come in to cover dispatch. Also, one of the off-duty firemen would come in and help man the police station until they returned from the hospital.”
At that time, there were volunteer EMTs that pitched in when needed. “Those were pretty memorable times, back then,” enthused Ricky. “We made it work.”
After dispatching for two years, Middleton decided he wanted to get out of the office. He attended the Police Academy and became a patrolman for the Village.
“Thirty-five years later, here I am. I have been chief for seven years now.” Middleton was a ranking officer/supervisor for most of his police career.
The Chief said his most memorable experiences serving the Village were helping individuals with dementia and Alzheimers. This is the most challenging and most rewarding task. “I found a fellow one night who walked out in the middle of an ice storm. It was sleeting and snowing and I found him huddled up against a rock. He was several hundred feet from his house – lost, trying to get home. If I had not found him, he would not have made it.” Working as an EMT was also very memorable.
The Chief said that what he enjoyed most about his law enforcement career was the people. “I have met a lot of people and made a lot of friends here, over the years.” Middleton also enjoys making presentations, talking to new folks, and explaining the role of the Village police.
When asked about the fate of the ‘Coffee With the Chief’ meetings, Middleton said he does not know what is planned. “I mentioned to Kelly [General Manager Hale] that I hope they continue – the CPAA [Citizens Police Academy Association] classes and the ‘Coffee with the Chief’. Our residents here need the information. That’s my baby. I gave birth to that and I hope they continue it and continue to bring good information in because our residents do need the information. They need to get it direct from the source. Those two programs are probably the programs that I am most proud of. Gary Adams actually started the Citizens Academy but was only there for one night. I took it over and made it what it is today.”
Middleton said he will probably continue to be active in the Citizen’s Police Academy Association if the program continues. As far as the classes go, “I don’t know. That will be up to the new administration, whether they want me involved. I would be glad to come back as a guest speaker. That would be great, but we’ll have to see how they want to run the program. I don’t want to get in their way. It’s time for them to take over now and do what they do. I’m still going to be around the Village.” Middleton said he is a member of the Rotary Club and plans to continue and may even become more active.
When asked what advice Chief Middleton has for individuals interested in becoming law enforcement officers, he said, “Make sure that is what you want to do. It is a calling. Truly, you are not going to get rich at it. The [LEO] wages in Arkansas are still the lowest in the United States. You have to really have the will to serve and you serve all people. You treat all people as though they are your grandma and grandpa, your mom and dad. It’s very difficult, especially for young folks, to understand that the community we have here is very unique and it’s totally different police work here than in a large city. It can be very difficult. It can be very rewarding, if you have that heart to serve. It’s not like “COPS” on tv, where it takes hours to get a thirty-minute segment. That is nonsense. But you really have to be able to get out and help folks and be a problem solver.”
After retirement, the Chief plans to enjoy life. “Forty-one years. The first thing I am going to do is catch up on some of the things around my house that I had to let go because I am constantly working and on call. I love my garden. I have fruit trees, blueberries, blackberries.” He said he will be installing sprinkler systems in his garden and working on his house. Chief Middleton says he will also be spending more time with his parents and doing some work for them.
Middleton says he has many friends in the Village and has many talents and skills. His skills include welding, carpentry, and mechanics and he will be helping other folks when he is caught up on his own work. “I’m going to be around,” stated Middleton.
“Then if I have spare time, I am going to try to start fishing again. My boat needs some attention. My grandson is six this year so it’s time to introduce him to shooting sports.” Middleton is also expecting a new grandson, due in July. This is a miracle baby, conceived after eleven years.
Chief Middleton said, “I just appreciate the opportunity to work here for forty-one years. It’s really been good. I was able to raise two kids, put them through college and get to a point where I could retire. It’s time to see what the next chapter of my life is going to be. I have high hopes.”
Chief Middleton has left his mark on this Village and will never be forgotten. We hope to see him around as he continues to exercise his generous spirit and servant’s heart.