OXFORD – Ray Hawkins of Water Valley, assistant chief of police at the University of Mississippi, has been named Officer of the Year by the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Association.
Hawkins joined the UM’s Department of Police and Campus Safety in December 1996 after serving with the Water Valley Police Department for over five years.
“During his tenure at Ole Miss, Ray has exhibited strong organizational and leadership skills; however, Ray truly showcased his leadership abilities when he headed the university’s security plan for the 2008 presidential debate,” said UM Chief of Police Calvin Sellers.
UPD and the city of Oxford coordinated security efforts for the debate with various local, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service. Hawkins stepped into the role of interim UM chief of police when former chief Jeffrey Van Slyke accepted a position last spring at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
While Hawkins has coordinated campus security detail for numerous dignitary visits, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and Prince Edward of England, nothing could prepare the 18-year law veteran for the debate, which was covered by journalists worldwide.
“No words can describe the amount of work that went into planning the debate,” Hawkins said. “In the end, I simply wanted our department to be able to say, ‘We did our best.'”
Sellers, who joined UPD three months before the debate, said the way Hawkins kept the department going while planning a major historic event in the absence of a chief is “the single event that justifies him winning this award.”
Hawkins, a 2001 UM graduate with a degree in criminal justice, has held many roles during his tenure at Ole Miss, including field training officer, lieutenant of special services/patrol/investigations and commander for protective services team.
He is a certified crime prevention specialist and National Rifle Association handgun and shotgun instructor, as well as an instructor with the Lafayette County Law Enforcement Officers’ Training Academy. He recently was elected to serve on the Mississippi Board of Law Enforcement Standards and Training as the campus law enforcement representative.
“Ray is a well-rounded person who seamlessly balances his work and his community roles in Yalobusha County,” Sellers said.
“Any kind of acknowledgement is good,” Hawkins said. “It’s humbling but yet definitely validates what we do here at Ole Miss. I don’t work for accolades, but it’s still great to be recognized.”
He credits much of his success to his parents, John and Earline Hawkins and the role they played with him and his five brothers and three sisters. “There are so many lessons I learned growing up.”
Hawkins said he gives credit to other Water Vallians including Crip Tyler for what he taught on the baseball field; former WVHS Principal Larry Carr for what he taught in High School; and former coach Jerry Holt for what he taught on the football field.
“That’s one thing I can say about Water Valley. It is a caring community,” Hawkins added. “If you want to accomplish something and you care about what you are doing, you have a lot of people who are out there supporting you. That’s what Water Valley has always been and what I hope it will always be.”
He also gives credit to his former boss, Water Valley Police Chief Mike King, for a lesson that he says has served him well over the years. “Mike King told me early on that a police department is a reflection of the administration that is currently in office. Those are the people who decide how well you do your job.”
Hawkins attended Mississippi Valley State on an academic scholarship after graduating from Water Valley High School in 1983 and earned an ROTC scholarship while there. “My goal was to become an officer in the military,” Hawkins said. “But, I ended up in law enforcement.”
Being in law enforcement has given him the chance to help other people, Hawkins said. And, helping others is the reason he ran for a position on the local school board. “I felt like our school district could do better; could be better.”
Hawkins, who served as president of the board, praised Superintendent Sam Higdon for doing what was best for the community and for the district.
“I think what we did probably made some enemies along the way, but we really helped our district grow and took it to a different level,” said Hawkins. “What I am doing here at the university and what I do at home is try to make my community better.”
Hawkins and his wife, Kathleen, live in Water Valley, where he is a deacon of New Providence M.B. Church. He is a member of the Water Valley Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation and the Yalobusha County Economic Development District.
“Water Valley has always been home and Water Valley will always be home.”