HOLLY RIDGE | There’s a new chief in town.

Holly Ridge’s Keith Whaley said he’s still a little nervous and excited about his new position 10 days after officially taking on the title.

“He’ll be an awesome beacon for us to follow here,” said Lt. Ewan Richards with the police department.

Whaley’s main order of business is to ensure his officers are enforcing laws and being community-oriented in the small town, he said. It’s one of the many benefits of working in a town like Holly Ridge, Whaley said: Everybody knows everybody.

He wants to ensure the respect he’s earned from those he serves continues and plans to do that by running a tight ship to keep his community safe.

Richards believes Whaley will be a great leader for Holly Ridge and said the entire team is excited to have him at the wheel of the ship.

The chief started his career in law enforcement at the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office in 1995 and moved to the Holly Ridge Police Department in 2004. Whaley moved up the ranks to sergeant and lieutenant, then to major in March 2016.

With his newest promotion to chief, Whaley’s salary rose from $52,534 to $55,160 yearly, he said.

For the last year-and-a-half, Whaley said he’s been prepping for the role of chief. He stepped into the shoes of former chief John Maiorano when Maiorano retired on Feb. 3, Whaley taking over the next day.

Maiorano took a back seat to Whaley most of the last year to allow Whaley to run the show, but Whaley said when he visited Maiorano Tuesday, the former chief promised him he could call any time.

Whaley decided on a law enforcement career because of his desire to help others, he said.

“There’s a lot of people who turn to law enforcement when they’re in need,” he said. “When you’re able to help those people in need, it’s a good feeling.”

In Holly Ridge, officers mostly attend to property crimes like stolen bikes, Whaley said.

“No major crimes, knock on wood,” he said, the sound of knuckles knocking in the background.

In his years at the department there’s only been one homicide, in 2014, and one robbery, in 2010.

“For the most part, locally, we don’t have that black eye,” Whaley said, comparing Holly Ridge’s relationship with the public to the national one.

While there have been a few “bad apples” in local law enforcement over the years, Whaley said it’s nothing compared to the bigger cities, and the relationship between law enforcement and the people they serve is often a smooth one.

As for changes in the department, Whaley said, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

The only change he foresees is potential growth. The department currently employs 10, double the number from when Whaley started, he said.

Whaley plans to continue the growth and good community relationships by following in Maiorano’s footsteps and being a good leader.

Richards said Whaley has been a steadfast leader and having him as chief now is “superb” because Whaley leads his officers by example.

“You’ve got to lead from the front,” Whaley said. “You can’t expect your guys to do something you wouldn’t do.”