Growing up in the Texas panhandle, Harker Heights Police Chief Michael Gentry was supposed to go into the family business of working in the oil fields. But he had a different career path in mind.
Separating himself from five generation of Texan Gentrys, he decided to pursue his lifelong dream of going into police work.
“My father and grandfather weren’t too pleased about my decision,” said Gentry, who got his start in 1978. “But I’m glad I didn’t go that route, because right around that time, in the 1970’s, the economy changed and it was no longer profitable to drill for oil and the country started importing oil from overseas.”
Gentry is the first in his family’s long lineage to go to college and the first not to work in oil.
“My grandfather and my father were very tough men, good men, with a strong ethical core, but they were not perfect by any means,” he said. “They had a set of rules that they lived by and that’s what caused me to seek a law enforcement career.”
His grandfather, who worked as an oil field Texas Ranger and later as a deputy chief, gave him a strong talking to before he started on his 35 years in law enforcement.
“He was an old man when he said this to me, but it’s resonated with me ever since: ‘You can’t do this job well, unless you are willing to sacrifice everything but right,’” Gentry said.
“I didn’t understand that at the time, but it’s served me well.”
Gentry came to Harker Heights in 1995 and has served as its police chief for the past 18 years.
“I didn’t intend to stay here. My original plan was to work here for a few years and then move onto a bigger department,” Gentry said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have had the career that I have had, and I’m surrounded by good people here. And I’m so proud of the city of Harker Heights. I’ve been charmed.”
Gentry also never planned to be a chief.
“When I went into law enforcement, I wanted to do the hardest and toughest things I could, which is why I’ve done special weapons and tactics, unarmed defensive tactics as well as high performance and tactical vehicle operations,” he said.
Throughout all the positions he has held during his career and all the obstacles he has faced and overcome, what guides him on daily basis is always doing what’s right.
“You have to have a value-based, internal-compass because you will never make everyone happy,” Gentry said. “You have to be driven by principal to do this job. This job has been difficult, and I’ve seen my share of good times and bad times, but I’m not the victim of bad life experiences. I’ve been forged by them.”