HARKER HEIGHTS — Much has happened already during the tenure of the Harker Heights police chief, with two murder convictions in Bell County courts, one from a 2016 case and another from 2017, as well as the recent injury of one of his officers in a motorcycle accident on the job, all in less than three months.
Chief Phil Gadd has not entirely finished moving into the chief’s office at headquarters even though former Chief Mike Gentry officially retired on April 27.
“Chief Gentry built a solid, professional police department,” Gadd said. “We’re keeping his policies in place, but we’re moving forward with an increase in technology and other minor changes. Nothing will be earth-shattering.”
Although the deputy chief position under Gentry prepared him for his current role, there have been a few surprises. “There’s a few more meetings, and a few more hours,” he said.
Still, he likes to keep his finger on the departmental pulse.
“I still enjoy riding along with the officers, to hear their concerns and thoughts,” he said. Gadd attends as many morning and afternoon briefings in the patrol room as possible.
“I want to make sure I know what happened the night before, and so officers know I’m engaged.”
A Killeen native, Gadd began his law enforcement career in 1977 as a Killeen Police Department officer, at 19 years old. After moving up through the ranks, he joined the FBI in 1991 and retired after 23 years.
He returned to his Central Texas roots in 2015 when he was hired at the Harker Heights Police Department.
“I knew I wanted to give back to the community where I grew up, and to retire as a Texas peace officer,” Gadd said. "This community is important to me and when I retire here someday I want to know these officers are ready to protect us."
Being police chief is not without its challenges.
Harker Heights is growing in population, with ever-increasing calls for service, but the department’s manpower has barely budged over the years.
The department fielded around 45,000 calls for service in 2007 compared to about 60,000 calls 10 years later, according to HHPD data.
“We need to increase our manpower to meet the needs of the community,” Gadd said. “My goal is to have almost 2 officers per 1,000 people and right now we have 1.5 officers.”
The department has a limited budget, however, so Gadd is looking for ways to increase revenue from sources like grants and by eliminating some higher-paying positions.
“I would like to get two more detectives in the criminal investigative division and two more patrol officers,” Gadd said.
Gadd said the city's biggest crimes are theft and vehicle burglaries, but two homicides have occurred in Heights so far this year.
An indictment has been made in both cases. Parish Dionte Young, 25, of Killeen was indicted in March in connection to the shooting death of Larry James Sterling on Feb. 10 in Harker Heights.
Joseph Manuel Blas, 26, was arrested April 20 and indicted the next month on charges of murder of Thomas Raymond West on March 10.
Both men are booked in the Bell County Jail on first-degree murder charges, according to jail records.
"I'm proud of our competent and skilled investigators," Gadd said. "We know we'll have other (homicides) in the future but we can do our best to prevent them when possible and then resolve them."