NEWPORT | Jeff Clark still finds it a little hard to believe that he has had the privilege of serving as police chief for the town where he was raised.

The late Charles “Ruff” Tomlinson served as Newport’s police chief for 30 years and he is who Clark knew as “Chief” as he was growing up.

It took a while for Clark to get used to carrying the title after Tomlinson retired.

“People would be passing by and say ‘Hey, Chief’ and I’d keep walking because I didn’t think they meant me,” Clark said with a grin as he talked about his law enforcement career from his office at the Newport Police Department.

Clark, who has served as Newport’s police chief for 15 years and has more than 34 years of public safety service under his belt, retires at the end of this month.

It has been a career path filled with opportunities to do what he has loved.

Clark attended Wayne Community College after graduating high school with the thought of going into firefighting or forestry work. He already had time in as a volunteer firefighter with Newport Fire Department.

Then he got an offer in 1987 from former Carteret County Sheriff Ralph Thomas Jr. to work in the communications office, dispatching calls to law enforcement and fire responders.

“I was just 19 and looking back I see what an amazing opportunity that was,” Clark said. “I thought this is what I want to do.”

But it wasn’t firefighting; it was a law enforcement career that was his calling.

“For me, law enforcement was so intriguing,” he said. “It seemed like on the fire side you had to sit and wait for something to happen and with law enforcement you could get out and make things happen.”

Clark went on to graduate from Basic Law Enforcement Training at Carteret Community College in 1990 and began working for the City of Havelock as a public safety officer.

Then another opportunity arose.

“I really enjoyed by time in Havelock but it was a chance to come back to Carteret County and work in the county where I was born and raised,” Clark said.

He returned to work at the Carteret County Sheriff’s Office, where he had been a dispatcher, and stayed for 10 years, working as a patrol officer and taking on many roles, including patrol officer, scuba diver and school resource officer, and advancing up the ranks.

Clark said serving as a school resource officer proved to be one of his most rewarding duties and saw the difference they could make in the lives of area youth.

“I was very fortunate to be able to work as a school resource officer,” he said. “It was a chance to work for the safety and security of the school and also make a difference in the community and in the lives of the children.”

While working with the sheriff’s office he was assigned as school resource officer for Broad Creek Middle School and Croatan High School.

He joined the Newport Police Department in 2001 as sergeant serving as the first school resource officer at Newport Middle School when it opened.

For Clark it was a chance to serve in his hometown, where his father had served as a reserve officer as well as member of the town council.

Two years later, in 2003, he was promoted to chief.

Clark said he was happy at the sheriff’s office when he was approached by Tomlinson about coming to the Newport Police Department and his plans to retire soon.

Clark was settling into leadership roles at the sheriff’s office but a position as chief wasn’t one he had considered yet.

“I wasn’t thinking that far in my career yet,” he said.

But Tomlinson and the late Mayor Derryl Garner had offered him another opportunity that he couldn’t pass up and he remains humbled by the confidence they had in him.

“I will be forever grateful for the opportunity those two men gave me 15 years ago, to be able to serve my community as a law enforcement officer at the highest level,” Clark wrote in a letter announcing his retirement.

With his final day as chief approaching, Clark looks around his office and realizes he still has some final tasks to complete.

“I need to finish packing,” he jokes.

A number of awards and commendations still hang on the wall.

He’s served on numerous local and state committees and been recognized by many organizations. One of the highlights, he said, was being selected in 2009 as the North Carolina Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by the American Legion.

Clark is proud of the accomplishments but shies away from talking about personal recognition. He’s most proud of the accomplishments of the department and its staff and volunteers.

Clark said their work as a team, along with the support of the town, has allowed them to move the department forward and serve the community with professionalism and at the highest level possible.

The Town of Newport has been recognized by SafeWise as one of the 50 safest towns in North Carolina for the past three years and the department was the first agency in Carteret County to create both a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Volunteers in Police Service, with both volunteer groups having received national recognition.

They have also embraced the use of technology to modernize the department, from the use of social media for many applications and being the first local agency to install mobile computers in all of their patrol vehicles to enhance the visibility of officers in the community.

And as he prepares for retirement, Clark does so knowing the department is in good hands because of the professionalism and capability of the staff at Newport Police Department.

“I am confident the department is in excellent condition, and we have command staff who are trained, ready and very capable to lead this agency to even higher level in the future,” Clark wrote in the retirements.

Clark said working in his home county has been a great experience and as police chief he sees a great collaboration between all the law enforcement agencies in the county.

Many of them have come up through the ranks together and worked together within the local law enforcement community, building bonds and collaboration.

“I think the relationship between all the agencies is as strong as it has ever been,” Clark said. “I think that is because we’ve established relationships of decades of working together.”

What’s his next opportunity?

He’s thinking it’s time to get in a little fishing.

“I’ve had an amazing time but you get to a point where it is time to experience something else,” Clark said.

Clark said he has been blessed to have the support of so many people throughout his career and he’ll be forever grateful for that first opportunity he was given as a teen to dispatch the calls that he would later spend a career answering.

“It has been a great ride,” he said.

Reporter Jannette Pippin can be reached at 910-382-2557 or