OXFORD — Oxford's new police chief says he's living out his dream — policing a small town where he can get to know both the law-abiding citizens and the usual suspects by their first name.
He stops short of comparing Oxford to Mayberry, but he does compare it to heaven.
"Since coming here to Oxford, it feels like heaven on earth, in a manner of speaking," said Chief David Harvey. "I have gotten to know so many nice people and gotten to be very close to several. It makes my day to patrol the streets in Oxford and to stop and talk to some of the residents from time to time and hear about the history of the town."
Before his appointment as chief earlier this month, Harvey had been an officer with the Oxford Police Department for three years. Prior to that, his law enforcement career included 20 years with the DeKalb Police Department, where he got to know former Oxford Chief and current City Manager Clark Miller, and two and a half years with the Lithonia Police Department.
"My dream was to work in a small department. I always wanted to be a preacher or a policeman," he admitted. "I hated the idea of getting up in front of people ... I've never been much for public speaking, so I leaned toward the police officer's job."
Harvey said when he graduated high school in the mid-'70s, jobs were about as hard to come by as they are now. He had worked part-time with the Coca-Cola Company while in school and had an opportunity to go to work with them full-time and wound up staying 10 years. During that time when he applied for positions with small police departments, he was faced with the inability to get hired because he didn't have experience and the inability to gain experience without being hired.
"Finally, I was about to turn 30 and had the opportunity to apply with DeKalb. The timing was right and I did a lot of praying about it. The doors opened up ... I said if I didn't do it, I'm going to be too old," he recalled.
He made the plunge, becoming a DeKalb County Police Department officer in the patrol division and attending the academy to become certified.
"It was the best thing I ever did. I realized then that was my calling. I fell in love with it," he said.
In fact, while still in the academy it became apparent that he was going to be that officer that was always in the middle of things, whether it was arresting an elusive suspect or locating evidence. They gave him the nickname Hound Dog Harvey when he was asked to locate a murder weapon and found it hidden under some leaves.
"I just seemed to have a way of finding things or people a lot of times by being in the right place at the right time," he said.
At least once during his law enforcement career, he was very nearly at the wrong place at the wrong time, and Harvey gives the Lord full credit for getting him through that situation.
"I felt like God had his hand on me ... I could have got killed real easy, but he was controlling things there," he said.
It was the week before the Atlanta Olympics and he was called to the scene of a shooting in a quiet neighborhood where a woman who asked a 32-year-old man to stop shooting his rifle had been shot as well as another neighbor.
"I got there first. They couldn't really tell us which house he was at. The fire department had gotten there before us and he had shot at them, too. When I got there, I just happened to stop in front of the guy's house and he was standing outside," Harvey recalled.
As Harvey reached for a shotgun inside his patrol unit, the man began shooting at him.
"We exchanged gunfire and then one of his bullets went through the police car and ricocheted and hit me in the arm and the face ... I called for help and a couple of the officers came up right before he was coming around the car where I was at and I guess to finish me off. They engaged in gunfire and killed him."
Although Harvey realizes he and his three officers that comprise the force could be faced with any kind of crime at any time, typically the crime in Oxford runs to burglaries, thefts and the occasional illegal drug activity. Much of their work involves traffic enforcement, as well.
Harvey said some of his work is pure pleasure. For instance, working as a crossing guide at Palmer Stone Elementary proved to be most enjoyable, and Harvey still receives letters and art work from the students which he proudly displays in his office.
"No one could ask for a better position to be in than I am in, being the chief of police in such a wonderful town," he said. "The people living here are some of the nicest people you could know; the Police Department is made up of professional officers with years of experience in many areas; and the city employees are a pleasure to work with from day to day."
Harvey lives in Monroe and is married to Wynema and has two stepdaughters and one grandson.