‘A good ride’: Achord reflects on 19-year career in law enforcement

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Thomas Achord never planned to become police chief.

“I didn’t come into this line of work to climb the ladder. I just wanted to be a cop,” Achord said. “I was in the right place at the right time, and I felt I could serve well.”

Achord, whose retirement begins Sept. 1, sat down with the Citizen on Monday to talk about his 19-year career in law enforcement. Compared to most cops, Achord started out late in the game. He worked as the water and wastewater administrator in Holiday Island for around 10 years before starting as a full-time police officer in Eureka Springs in November 1999.

“I had that desire to just serve the public. I never did anything for the money,” Achord said. “I took a huge pay cut coming here from Holiday Island. It was just a desire to give back to the community I grew up in.”

He started off like most rookies do, working midnights for a few years. Achord then moved on to patrolling downtown on his bicycle, saying he’s never had a job he loved more.

“I had the greatest job in the world. It was so fun,” Achord said. “I got paid to ride a bicycle. I found my niche downtown.”

His favorite part of being on the bike, Achord said, was interacting with tourists and shop owners.

“I’ve watched this town develop and change over the course of 25 or 30 years or more,” Achord said. “The opportunity to be on the bike gave me a bird’s eye view of everything.”

He learned about the complexities of the tourist industry, Achord said, and how the police department can encourage visitors to come back to Eureka Springs. People don’t return to a town if the streets are full of potholes and crime, Achord said.

“If your toilets don’t flush, tourists aren’t going to want to come. If you’ve got crime on your streets, tourists aren’t going to feel safe,” Achord said. “I saw all that, because I talked to the some of the same people year after year. They’d strike up a conversation, and I got to learn a lot.”

Much of his education, Achord said, came from the school of hard knocks. He went to college to become a civil engineer, but Achord believes he learned so much more on the streets of downtown Eureka Springs.

“You have to enforce the laws — you’re sworn to do that — but the officers that work in this department have to be a step above your standard ‘I’m just gonna go out and start arresting people’ mentality,” Achord said.

He fondly remembered his work downtown, recalling a time he spotted a person wanted for warrants near Basin Spring Park. It was like a movie, Achord said.

“He’s walking down the sidewalk in front of the old Basin Block Cafe, and I’m in front of the steps of Basin Park on my bike. We make eye contact,” Achord said. “He takes one more step. I call his name out, and he starts taking off down Center Street on those stairs down by DeVito’s.”

Never one to shy away from a chase, Achord followed the man.

“I watch him go down the stairs. He blows past this group of people coming past,” Achord said. “If he had stayed on the street five more feet, I would have had him, but he turned and went down the stairs. So I’m like, ‘Screw it!’ I went down the stairs on the bike.”

Achord continued, “I did the first few good. Then, I hit that first banner landing and I flipped end over end. These people — it was a husband, wife and two kids — are up at the top just stunned they saw this. I’m like, ‘I’m OK. I meant to do that.’ It was the first thing that came out of my mouth.”

When Morris Pate retired from the police department, Achord was named assistant police chief. He was appointed police chief in 2014. That meant he had to get off the bike and start pushing paper, Achord said.

“All I do is sit here and shuffle papers and do spreadsheets. I work cases, too, but the people who work here are the lifeblood of this department,” Achord said. “I don’t want any accolades. It’s all them.”

Over the years, Achord said, he has seen good police work and bad police work. He knows Eureka Springs has good police officers, Achord said.

“I’ve seen the good that good law enforcement can do,” Achord said.

It’s not always easy, he said.

“Cops aren’t looked at as … when they make contact with somebody, it’s usually under a bad circumstance,” Achord said. “Someone’s getting arrested, they’re a suspect or they’re a victim, and it weighs on your psyche a lot. You try to do as much good as you can. You’ve got a victim here you need to help.”

The person who takes his place, Achord said, should be ready to protect and serve those who live in and visit Eureka Springs.

“It needs to be somebody that has the same attitude and mentality that we’re here to serve the people,” Achord said. “You may not be able to solve everything, but you can at least give the person you’re helping the satisfaction that you gave it 100 percent.”

Everyone at Eureka Springs Police Department, Achord said, cares about keeping the community safe and thriving.

“Police can get a bad rap from a few bad apples. I hate that, because I’ve been in this business long enough to know the bad apples are few and far between,” Achord said. “The vast majority of us truly care and want to do good. I know for a fact the folks that work here have a genuine desire to serve and be a good public servant.”

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