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Photograph by Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record

Former Spiders men’s basketball coach Dick Tarrant is a legend for his winning teams and NCAA Tournament upsets. Besides his basketball accomplishments, he’s also partly responsible for the professional success of one of his players, Eric English, R’89 — even if he didn’t know it at the time.

Before each season, Tarrant invited an FBI agent to speak to the team about point-shaving and other potential pitfalls. After arriving on campus undecided about what he wanted to study, English became interested in working for the FBI. He discussed the possibility with an agent, who recommended English spend time with a local law enforcement agency to gain experience.

After graduating with a criminal justice degree, he joined the Richmond Police Department.

“I found my passion,” said English, a 6-foot-2 guard on the Richmond team that famously advanced to the 1988 Sweet 16. “Within six months, I knew this is what I was going to do with the rest of my career.”

Rising through the ranks of RPD provided English with a wealth of experience. In a nearly 30-year career with the department, he served as a bike officer, investigated property crimes, and served on the training staff as he ascended the ranks to deputy police chief. English also oversaw critical incident management and watch commanders, who are the night supervisors for the department.

That background propelled him to his current role, to which he was appointed in September 2018: police chief in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Taking a leadership role allows me to navigate in an organization and make some changes to make the department better for the organization and the citizens,” he said. “I can bring fresh ideas from my experience in Richmond.”

In leading a department with 112 sworn officers, English is much less focused on violent crime — there were zero murders in his first year on the job — but still faces issues such as nuisance crimes and home-lessness. Harrisonburg, located in the scenic Shenandoah Valley, also is home to James Madison University and its large student population, most of whom live off campus.

Since taking over, English has shaken up how the department recruits new officers. He’s emphasized bringing in candidates who reflect the diverse community and can effectively communicate with local residents.

“As I’ve grown in the profession, I’ve learned different things to help me navigate,” he said. “I want to help people in society. In law enforcement, we can help people in so many different ways.”

English appreciates his tranquil new surroundings giving him the ability to focus on resolving specific problem areas. It’s a significant change from the RPD, which he described as “policing on steroids.”

In Richmond, he would go home after his shift ended and wait for his phone to ring, informing him of a potential crisis. In Harrisonburg, he does not get those calls.