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OFFICER BACK ON BEAT 8 MONTHS AFTER SHOOTOUT

Police officer Phil Webber returned to street duty Wednesday night for the first time since he was wounded in a shootout in July.

Even more than his shot-off finger, Webber said he had missed keeping his fingers on the pulse of Provo.Webber said not "knowing what's going on on the streets" was the most difficult part of being out a patrol car the past eight months. "Spending time behind a desk takes an officer out of the know," said the 141/2-year police veteran.

"I'm excited to be back," he said. "It's been a long time coming. Too long."

Despite getting shot in the finger, which sent splinters into his neck and shoulder, during a gunfight with a Provo man near the Provo Boat Harbor, Webber says he's not apprehensive about heading out on the beat again. He spent more than a month in the hospital. Kevin Erickson, 22, was charged with attempted murder in the shooting.

"I've planned on this for a long time," Webber said getting into his car.

Because his trigger finger is now gone, Webber has had to learn to shoot with his middle finger.

Provo has changed since July, he said. The city has more businesses and traffic signals to keep an eye on. But Webber said it shouldn't take too long to reacquaint himself with the city.

Webber particularly enjoys working nights because of the people on the streets and the things happening while most of Provo sleeps.

As Webber approached his police car Wednesday night, 10 well-wishers greeted him with applause and praise. They also decorated the car with bows and a banner reading, "The Heat Is On." Other officers and dispatchers joined the gathering.

"So who's going to be my training officer?" Webber quipped.

Provo resident John Smith organized the surprise welcome-back party in appreciation of Webber's service. Smith's daughters, Barbara and Karen, presented the officer with their homemade "Acme Crime Guide" to help him on the streets. They also gave him a pen with which to write tickets.

"I know a lot of people who won't like that," Webber said, accepting the gifts.

Maybe Webber will be the only one smiling.