By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
After a five-decade law enforcement career that began as an "accident," Bell County Sheriff Dan Smith announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election in 2012.
The announcement indicates an end to Smith's seven terms as the leader of the Bell County Sheriff's Office. Smith was elected in 1985. When his term expires Dec. 31, 2012, it will end a 28-year run as sheriff that several county and law enforcement officials characterized as exemplary.
Smith said a combination of factors led to his decision. Among those was the fact that if re-elected he would be 68 by the time his term expired.
"I've been here 28 years, and I just personally don't think people should stay in office forever. It's just time for me to step aside and let someone else move the agency in their direction," Smith said.
Smith began his law enforcement career in Morgan's Point at the age of 22. The city marshal at the time experienced sudden health problems. Somewhat out of boredom, Smith decided he would try the position out.
"I just fell in love with it as soon as I got into the patrol car," he said.
From there, Smith went through the academy at Morgan's Point, served in the Harker Heights Police Department and was an investigator for the county attorney's office.
Smith won election as sheriff in 1984, running as a Democrat. He switched to the Republican Party in 1999.
"To put your name out there and have people express confidence in you through a vote is a feeling that is truly indescribable," he said. "To have that happen seven times is truly gratifying."
During his tenure, Smith has seen the county's population double. Likewise, the sheriff's office has experienced growth as well.
When Smith was first elected, the sheriff's office had 67 employees and the jail averaged about 40 inmates. Today, BCSO has 265 employees and the county jail system holds more than 800 inmates daily.
"Sheriff Smith has made sure that the sheriff's office kept pace with this growth and the demands it has made," County Judge Jon Burrows said in a prepared statement. "The citizens of Bell County have been fortunate to have had his leadership."
As sheriff, Smith oversees all criminal investigations in unincorporated Bell County. The office also handles all county jail operations.
District Attorney Henry Garza said Smith has been nothing but exemplary in handling those operations. With jail operations and criminal investigations so closely connected to the DA's office, Garza said not a day goes by that his office does not encounter sheriff's deputies.
"I'm proud to say it has been a privilege to work with Smith's staff over the years. During that time, he has done an outstanding job as sheriff," Garza said.
Smith is the second incumbent holding a county office to announce he will not run for office in 2012. Judge Joe Carroll previously announced he will not seek re-election to the 27th District Court.
"I consider (Smith) a personal friend as well as a professional colleague," Killeen Police Department Chief Dennis Baldwin said. "I thoroughly enjoyed working with him, and I hate to see him retire."
Smith said he is unsure of his plans after his law enforcement career is over. He said he may work in some capacity, but not in law enforcement.
Smith's influence on law enforcement has not only been confined to Bell County. He served as the president of the National Sheriff's Association from 1998 to 1999. He also was the presiding officer for the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, the board that sets licensing and certification standards for Texas officers.
Smith also advised state lawmakers on legislation affecting criminal law and law enforcement.
"I think it's going to be a tremendous hole to fill in Bell County," HHPD Chief Mike Gentry said.
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.