After 40 years of service in law enforcement, Harker Heights Police Chief Mike Gentry is retiring, effective April 27.
Gentry, 59, who has served the city of Harker Heights for the past 22 years, will be honored at a 2 p.m. ceremony on April 27 at the St. Paul Chong Hasang Parish Center.
The event is open to the public, but attendees are asked to RSVP by April 16 by calling 254-953-5420.
Gentry graduated from Burnet High School in 1977, and following a short time in construction became a dispatcher for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in Austin.
Shortly thereafter he began his law enforcement career in Burnet as a police officer. From there he worked vice and narcotics in the Austin area. In 1982, he moved to Brenham, where he was a police officer for five years.
Gentry holds an associate degree in Business Management and a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration plus graduating from several nationally recognized executive development programs such as the Law Enforcement Management of Institute of Texas and the FBI Academy, where he specialized in special weapons and tactics (SWAT) and unarmed defensive and arrest tactics.
After working almost 10 years as a patrol officer, tactical officer, investigator and supervisor, he became a program manager for the Law Enforcement Training Division at Texas A&M University, where he was responsible for the presentation of various tactical and special operations training programs throughout the United States as well as on an international scale.
He wanted to become a police chief and accepted the chief’s job at Bowie, Texas, a town of about 7,000 northwest of Dallas/Fort Worth. He worked there for five years, then moved back to Burnet in Central Texas.
“I had an ailing mother in Burnet and wanted to be close to her,” Gentry said.
“After I settled in this part of the state, I applied for the chief’s job with the Harker Heights Police Department and the rest is history,” Gentry said.
“My wife encouraged me to apply for the job and I wasn’t sure if Harker Heights was where I wanted to go,” he said. “I did, however, know about some of the difficulties that the city had been facing in the past.”
Gentry said that when he interviewed for the job, he met Steve Carpenter, who at the time was city manager. As he began to become familiar with the city and its people, he became excited by what the city was trying to accomplish and decided that he could be helpful in that regard.
Gentry told the Herald that his main concern when he took over as chief was the crime rate.
“Violent crime was the highest in the area in 1994 and a lot of it centered around the bar district,” Gentry said. “One of the things I wanted to do was to bring that environment into submission and to deal with the sexually oriented businesses that were thriving at the time and I think we did that.
“A personal goal for me was to take this police department and make it a place where police officers could succeed. There were lots of opportunities that needed to be maximized and we did that by working with the city management team to increase pay, resources, equipment and facilities and obviously we are not the same department that we were 22 years ago,” Gentry said.
In talking about his tenure, Gentry, said, “I had no idea I’d be here for 22 years. Frankly, my intention was to come here and spend a few years and then aspire to go to a bigger department. What happened was I kind of fell in love with the place.
“That’s because the city is stable, we have mature leadership, service orientation, great partners at the city level and exceptional police officers who are outstanding people.”
Gentry spoke of his perception of law enforcement and said on many occasions, “It is an honorable profession that is absolutely necessary. An ordered society cannot exist without people who will defend the peace and hold accountable those who would deviate from societal norms.”
Gentry continued, “A lot of people say they don’t like the police, but only a few have never experienced a culture where they didn’t have it. I’ve always said that as police officers, we always have to remember the nobility behind what we do and we always have to be oriented toward true north.
“It doesn’t make any difference what people around us say, it doesn’t matter what the modern culture tells us to do, it doesn’t matter what the masses want because there is right and wrong and we must always do what is right,” he said.
“As a chief of police, I’ve always believed that I have to do what is right. If I don’t do what’s right, then I have failed myself and everyone else around me.”
In addition to some consulting, one of the things Gentry wants to do after retirement is write a book about leadership.
“It’s not going to be an academic study of leadership like others have done. This will be more of my exceedingly simple view of life. I’ll use anecdotes to prove the points I make,” he said.
In reference to the changes in law enforcement over the past 40 years, Gentry commented that there are no moral codes we saw in the past, even among those who participated in criminal activity.
Gentry said the change in our culture is now coupled with the escalation of violence against police officers during the last few years.
“There is nothing in this job that compares to the death of a police officer,” Gentry said. “It is the darkest day that anyone in our field will ever see and I’ve had to do it far too often. I’ve lost people under my command and I’ve lost friends throughout my 40-year career.
“Each one of them is just as real today as the day it happened.”