The Public Servant

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From Old Police Stories latest book, “Stories of Pensacola’s Finest.” Available on Amazon.

Pensacola, Florida, August 1, 1999, 9:04 PM

       “All units, please respond to 8498 Baisden Rd. We have had several calls about gunshots fired.” Officer Kenneth Willis knew immediately that the call was on his beat, so he pushed harder on the accelerator. “Unit 179 enroute” Kenny said in his matter-of-fact way.

Greg Sievers, Chip Simmons, Mike McVicker

       Kenny thought about it. “Funny, that neighborhood is usually very quiet.”

       Lieutenant Chip Simmons heard the call go out, but he knew that the patrol units would handle it. If they did need him and his team, he would get the call.

       Chip Simmons was born in Keflavik, Iceland. In 1972, his family moved to Pensacola, where he grew up, graduating from Pine Forest High School. Chip loved sports – all kinds. But he especially loved football, and he was good at it.

       “How can I put my interests into serving the community?” Chip wondered. After all, he was intelligent, in great physical shape, and believed in the good in people. He also felt drawn to the need to protect those who can’t always protect themselves. Finally, he came to the conclusion – “I can become a law enforcement officer!”

       In 1984, he applied for a position at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea of being a deputy. Not only is your job – maybe even your life – spent serving the community, but the job is exciting and adventurous. A deputy never knows what’s coming next!

       The prospects were looking good! Every day, the reality of being a lawman came closer. The worst that could happen to hinder that was an injury. Besides that, it was just a matter of time!

       Then it happened – he broke his arm. “Not now!”Chip thought to himself. But it was a reality. He was out of commission for at least a few months. “But” he thought, “maybe I can still do the job with a broken arm. After all, I can still run, fight, write reports, talk on the radio, drive a cruiser. I can do this!”

       “No you can’t” was the answer from the Sheriff’s Department. “Sorry, but you missed the deadline. However, you still qualify to become a Correctional Officer at the county jail. Sheriff Seely is over both the road deputies and the correctional officers. If you began your career at the jail, you might be able to transfer over in the future.”

       Chip’s dream was crushed…or at least put on hold. There were advantages to working at the jail, however. First – he could get a paycheck…NOW! That was good. Second – he would still learn a lot about the law enforcement profession. After all, they did work closely together. He decided that taking the job in the jail would be his best option.

       In 1986, an unexpected opportunity presented itself to Chip. The Pensacola Police Department called. “Are you still interested?” asked the voice on the other end.

       “Uh, yes…I guess so” answered an undecided Chip.

       “Okay, be here Tuesday morning and we can get started on the testing process.”

       Chip was there. Having completed the application, he completed the interview, the psychological exam, and the polygraph. Finally, he got the call. He was finally a police officer, or a police officer trainee. The next order of business was the police academy.

       Pensacola Junior College was located on the north part of the city. The criminal justice training center was located there. The course lasted 320 hours, or about ½ day for six months. The other half was spent working at the police station – training mostly.

       After the academy came the Field Training Program. Each officer was assigned to three training officers, one at a time, for 14 weeks. Intense individual training was given to the new officer, much like a class with one student and one teacher.

       After becoming a trained police officer, Chip didn’t stop learning. First, every day was a learning experience. Working the streets is an education all on its own. He learned about people, about applying laws, about de-escalation, and more. Chip found that the job was just as much fun and just as exciting as he first imagined. And, he discovered that he had the opportunity to help people more than he thought he would.

       It wasn’t long before Chip began looking to the specialized units, and there were several: Tac, Investigations, Narcotics, Traffic, Community Relations, and others. The Tac squad bore a special interest to him. Working in plain clothes, Tac officers conducted stakeouts, did surveillance, served warrants, and interviewed suspects. Yes, that was the first step. Investigations was next, followed by Narcotics.

       Chip found that this unit was his niche. In the Narcotics Unit, he had more autonomy than Patrol. His hours could be adjusted to fit the assignment, and he had tools at his disposal to help him be successful. His main job was to curtail the illegal drug activity within the city limits of Pensacola. He also worked with sheriff’s deputies, state law enforcement officers and federal officers.

       In addition to the demanding duties of the Narcotics Unit, Chip made the decision to further his career through college. Within a few years, he had earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Public Administration. He also studied hard for the sergeant’s promotional exam. He attained that rank in 1995.

       As a sergeant, Chip was transferred to the Patrol division, which is where all new sergeants start. But it wasn’t long before he and the Narcotics Unit found each other again. Through, strategic decisions, relations with other officers, and hard work brought the Narcotics Unit success after success!

       In 1998, Chip was rewarded for his hard work when he was promoted to Lieutenant. This time, he stayed with the Narcotics Unit, an uncommon decision by the department’s command staff. It reflected his talent and skill at attaining achievement within the unit.

       For most officers, working hard on cases, earning college degrees and working toward promotion would be plenty. Not for Chip. A few of the teams at the Pensacola Police Department require commitment above the regular hours. One of those teams is the SWAT team. In order to be accepted onto the SWAT team, an officer must conduct himself above board. He must also be in top physical and mental shape, an experienced marksman, and a good team player. Chip not only made the team, but eventually became the department’s SWAT commander.

       It was this position that he held on August 1, 1999, when the call on Baisden went out. Brendon Road was located on the east side of the city near the Pensacola Airport. The locality was a peaceful, middle-class neighborhood without many requests for police officers, making this call an unusual one, especially at 9:04 PM.

       As in all “shots fired” calls, several officers respond. In addition to Kenny Willis, Stew Melton, E. J. Caddell, Kristen Brown and Leon Martin headed that way, just in case. Most such calls prove to be something other than the dreaded call that someone has shot someone else. Accidental discharge, target practice, car backfire – many solutions are more likely than a dangerous one.

       However, an innocent episode was not what was taking place in this case. The resident, a 49-years-old despondent man was contemplating taking his life. The man stepped from his house onto the screened-in pool patio. He fired his handgun at least once, but not at himself. The neighbors, suspicious, called the police.        

       As officers arrived, each took up a position on the perimeter of the house. They tried to talk to him – to get him to put the gun down. However, their view was somewhat distracted by the patio screen. The on-scene supervisor, Rodney Eagerton, was concerned for the safety of the officers who were present and for the neighbors. The man was obviously distraught, meaning all those around were potentially in danger. So, Sgt. Eagerton summoned the SWAT team. Lt. Simmons got the call after all.

       “Okay, activate the whole team,” Chip instructed the dispatcher. “We don’t know what we have, and we might need them all.” He headed toward the scene.

       On the way, Chip got a call over the radio. “Lieutenant, I was only able to contact two other SWAT team members,” said the dispatcher. “Sgts. Sievers and McVicker are on the way.”

       After all the team members arrived, Lt. Simmons made the decision for the action to take. Normally, the SWAT commander was tasked with…commanding. He didn’t usually become directly involved in the operation unless it was necessary. Today it was necessary. The plan went as such: The entry team consisted of Lt Simmons, Sgt. McVicker, Sgt. Sievers, and Officer Martin. Sgt. McVicker had the bullet-proof shield. St. Sievers had the beanbag shotgun. Lt. Simmons carried the 12-gauge shotgun as a last resort.

       The entry team’s objective was to end the standoff without injury. As the operation began, the team entered through the front door, followed the hallway and stopped at the back door. Repeated attempts at trying to get the man to put down the gun failed, so action was required.

       Chip gave the command for Sgt. Sievers to fire the Bean Bag gun, which he did. Being struck by two bean bag rounds at 300 feet per second will take the wind out of anyone. The man dropped the gun and fell backwards. Sgt. McVicker then rammed him with the shield. Chip grabbed the gun while the man was subdued. Mission successful.

       On January 21, 2000, the Pensacola Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police hosted the annual awards banquet. Chip Simmons, Mike McVicker and Greg Sievers were presented with the department’s highest award, the Gold Medal of Valor. They were also presented medals from the Police and Fireman’s Insurance Association for heroism on August 31, 2000.

       Chip went on to be promoted to Captain on June 28, 2002. He was quickly placed in the position of department spokesman and public information officer. 2 ½ years later, on January 11, 2005, Chip was again promoted – this time to the position of Assistant Chief. He worked hand-in-hand with Chief John Mathis. On June 11, 2010, Chip took over as Chief when John Mathis retired. Chip remained in the top cop position until his retirement date on July 15, 2015. As he stepped down, the Pensacola News Journal named the awards he had earned. Besides the before-mentioned Gold Medal of Valor, he also was awarded the Bronze Cross, the Chief’s Medal, five Meritorious Service Commendations, two Unit Citations, four City of Pensacola Merit Awards, and the Mayor’s Leadership Award. Quite an accomplishment in 29 years!

       Almost immediately, Chip was hired as the Assistant County Administrator over the Escambia County Jail, the same agency that he began his career with in 1984. Shortly afterwards, Chip was offered the position of Chief Deputy of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office by Sheriff David Morgan. He accepted and took over operation of the department immediately.

       When Sheriff Morgan decided to retire, Chip threw his hat into the ring of candidates for county sheriff. In November 2020, he was elected to the position of chief law enforcement officer in Escambia County.

       Chip began his career with the overwhelming desire to serve the citizens. I would say he has done so!

#oldpolicestories #pensacolasfinest

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