Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023–1:51 p.m.
-Adam Carey, Rome News-Tribune-
When Maj. Paul Webber joined the Rome Police Department in 1976, things were quite a bit different. For example, officers weren’t issued items such as uniforms, radios, flashlights, shoes, or even outerwear for the rain.
“Heck, prior to Chief Collins, recruits were issued a gun, badge, belt, and a shirt and then you went on patrol for two weeks of training,” Maj. Webber said. “Yes, things are a lot different now, and definitely for the better.”
Webber, who joined the Rome Police Department on June 19, 1976, and retired Friday after 46 years of service, was honored with a small ceremony at which he was presented with his retirement shield and service weapon.
Webber was born in Dayton, Ohio, but raised in Columbus when his family moved there for his father’s medical practice when he was three. He arrived in Rome in 1972, attending Berry College for a time, before finding his way to the Rome Police Department.
According to Webber, back then if you wanted to carry a shotgun on patrol, you had to request one, and check it back in at the end of your shift. The department would purchase a handful of vehicles every 10 years, and the squad cars didn’t have cages in the back to protect officers.
Webber credits Rome’s Vernon Grizzard with donating the first batch of body armor to the force in the early ’80s.
Webber recalls his first chief of police, John Collins.
“Chief Collins came from the GBI and was a former state patrol officer. He really started to standardize a lot of our equipment, including uniforms,” Webber said. “When I started, officers could almost wear whatever they wanted, within reason, because nothing was issued by the department.”
Current Rome Police Chief Denise Downer-McKinney spoke admirably of Webber’s mentorship and, just as importantly, his friendship.
“When I joined, there were perhaps only four women on patrol, and some people did not want to work with us,” Downer-Mckinney said with a smirk. “So Maj. Webber says, ‘Fine, no problem. I’ll take them all on my shift.’
“He could see that we were effective on patrol, and he really stepped up and that made a huge difference. But he paid the price for his advocacy of women and it hurt his career for a while. He’s been a good friend and mentor, always trying to build you up and not tear you down,” she added. “It’s tough, because I miss him already, miss not having him as someone to bounce ideas off of. I’m losing a brother.”
Webber’s depth of knowledge and experience is something that can’t be replaced, and he worked across almost every department, Downer-McKinney said.
Assistant Chief Debbie Burnett echoed Downer-McKinney’s assertion that Webber showed his support for the women on the force.
“He always treated me as an equal, and never said anything the least bit disrespectful in all our time working together,” she remembered. “But Maj. Webber is always late, which is fine because it’s Paul, and when he sits down he knows what he’s talking about. He really has the knowledge.”
One thing that Webber was proud of is that the Rome Police Department is fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which is known as the gold standard in public safety.
“We were first accredited in 1986 by CALEA,” Webber said. “There are over 400 metrics that we are graded by, including use of force, and we’ve been accredited every year since.”
According to Webber, less than 10% of police forces nationwide are accredited with CALEA, and it’s a significant undertaking. This has also caused the Rome Police Department to be very cautious in its hiring practices.
“In my entire time on the force, I think we’ve been fully staffed for maybe 30 seconds,” Webber said. “But it’s far better to be careful in whom you hire, especially now, than worry about trying to make your numbers look good.”
Few have known Maj. Webber for longer than Maj. Mark Tison.
“We knew each other from the Sports Connection, maybe 36-38 years ago,” Tison said. “In fact, Maj. Webber was the last person to pull me over before I joined the force.”
Many agree with Maj. Rodney Bailey that Webber simply can’t be replaced. They’ll catalog the lessons he taught and build on those, sharing them with generations of police officers to come.
This story is possible because of a news-sharing agreement with the Rome News-Tribune. More information can be found at northwestgeorgianews.com.