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From chasing bad guys to working with NASA

By Mary Meaux

The News staff writer

NEDERLAND — Tom Hicklin’s law enforcement career has gone through some major changes in recent years.

The Nederland Police assistant chief began to see the unusual beginning in February 2003 with the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia. He and a fellow officer traveled to Nacogdoches to assist in the search for debris.

“I went from chasing bad guys then all of a sudden I’m working with NASA,” Hicklin said.

Then came Hurricane Rita in 2005, Edouard in August 2008 and Ike in September 2008.

The veteran officer joined the Nederland Police Department in December 1074 after serving for one year as a sheriff deputy. He worked up the ranks from patrol officer to training officer to administrative assistant to assistant chief.

“I became assistant chief in July 2005 right before Rita,” he said from his office recently.

At that time hurricane recovery was relatively new to the area. Hicklin said “they flew by the seat of their pants.”

The day after Rita hit the coast first responders were back at work but without the luxury of water and electricity. A full crew on duty and no water meant the need for a portable bathroom so officers commandeered some of the portable bathrooms they had seen blown across the area. The fire department stepped up, with hoses, and cleaned the tumbled toilets.

When a business donated ice to the department after Rita there was scrambling to find a place to keep the ice frozen. When Ike came around officers anticipated the need and were ready. Lessons were learned.

Hicklin is ready for retirement and has plans to become even more active in his church and mission trips to India. In January Hicklin will travel to Hyderabad, India — a trip he makes twice a year, as part of the Church of Christ India ministry. This will be his third trip there.

The Nederland native said he doesn’t have any hobbies because most of his time is consumed with work, the India project and church.

“Now I’ll have more time to expand my work with the India project and church,” he said.

Chief Darrell Bush has worked with Hicklin since 1974 when they were both hired. The two men grew up around the corner from each other and their families were friends as well.

And since Hicklin has been Bush’s right hand man since Hicklin assumed the role of assistant chief.

“He has been there to support me and carry out what I want done,” Bush said. “And sometimes, if he thought I was making the wrong decision, he’d tell me. I respect that.”

Bush said he was surprised when Hicklin told him of his decision to retire. The two sat down and spoke in between Hurricane Gustav and Ike.

“I knew it was opt to happen but I hate to lose him,” he added.

So what will the veteran officer miss the most when he finally leaves the department?

“The staff and my co-workers,” he answered.

Hicklin is married to Claudia for the past 31 years and the couple have two daughters; Alisa Hicklin who is a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, and Kayla Russell, who now resides in Oklahoma as well.

Hicklin’s last day as a peace officer in the city is Dec. 18.