BELTON — After 28 years, Dan Smith will hang up his sheriff’s star next week.
Smith is retiring after seven terms as the elected head of the Bell County Sheriff’s Office. During his tenure, he has seen the county’s population double and law enforcement techniques revolutionized through technology.
With Smith as sheriff, the office’s staff nearly quadrupled, while the number of inmates under his staff’s care has quintupled.
“Growth drives everything,” he said. “It drives crime, personnel. It’s all tied to population.”
His close relationship with all law enforcement agencies in the area has placed him at ground zero for defining events such as the 1991 Luby’s massacre in Killeen and the 2009 Fort Hood shooting.
To say Smith has seen a lot would be a vast understatement. But running a staff of 265 employees really ended up “being a day-to-day thing,” Smith said.
Smith likes to say his law enforcement career began accidentally. He had never considered being an officer until a city marshal died suddenly in Morgan’s Point 40 years ago.
He took the job thinking it would be a temporary gig, only to realize he had found his calling.
“From the moment I got into a patrol car, I fell in love with it,” the 62-year-old lawman said.
Smith will be succeeded by Precinct 3 County Commissioner Eddy Lange, who narrowly beat former Bell County Jail Administrator Bob Patterson in May’s Republican primary election. Smith endorsed Patterson.
Lange then beat Democrat Frank Hernandez Sr. in November’s general election.
Smith is one of four long-serving elected officials retiring at the end of the year. But in his current position, Smith is only surpassed by County Treasurer Charles Jones and County Court-at-Law 1 Judge Edward Johnson for consecutive terms.
The Belton High School graduate went through the academy while working for Morgan’s Point. He then took a turn as an investigator with the city attorney’s office and the Harker Heights Police Department.
While working with grand jury investigations, Smith unknowingly prepared himself for a successful run for office in 1984. His contact with county officials, attorneys and officers at other law enforcement agencies created a network of colleagues who supported his run.
It also helped that he had his former college roommate at Southwest Texas State University, then-State Rep. Bill Messer, give him advice on running a campaign.
Over the next 28 years, Smith continued to win election after election, often unopposed.
When interviewed in his largely vacant office last week, Smith said he counts his successes with the relationships he has cultivated among local law enforcement agencies.
He pointed to the Bell County Organized Crime Unit, formerly the Drug Task Force, as a multi-agency investigative unit that would not exist without cooperation.
And with a ballooning jail population, the sheriff’s office remained in continual compliance with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Smith said.
His passion also has been the support of J.A.I.L. Ministry Inc. The nonprofit provides ministry to inmates in Bell County. It was founded in 1987 after Chaplain Harold Ellis approached Smith about a desire to minister to inmates.
Inmates finding Jesus is “the ultimate crime solution,” Smith said.
If there were any shortcomings, Smith said he wished he had been in better contact with the jailers at Bell County Jail. The sheriff’s office is by and large an agency dominated by jail work. A large majority of its staff are deputies assigned to the jail.
Smith said he won’t miss the long days, but his love of being a lawman will echo every time he sees a patrol car speeding to a call.
“I’ll look down at a radio that’s no longer in my truck wondering, ‘Where are they going to?’” he said.