After almost 42 years in law enforcement and almost 11 years as Robinson police chief, Rusty Smith announced his retirement late last week.

“Having started out as a dispatcher in June 1975 with the Ballinger Police Department, I’ve done a lot of things and I think it’s just time to wrap that up,” the 64-year-old chief said. “That was 42 years ago, and now, it is just the right time.”

Smith submitted his resignation papers on Friday to City Manager Craig Lemin, with his effective retirement date as May 31. Within the next several weeks, Lemin said he will start to organize a search for the next police chief and consider any internal or external candidates.

“Rusty has a strong law enforcement background, so we definitely will be looking for that and definitely someone with a strong community policing background,” Lemin said. “We want someone who will challenge the officers and keep them working in moving the department forward as well.”

Smith said he has had challenges and triumphs as chief, including acknowledging a “rookie mistake” he made the day before he announced his retirement.

Smith left his service weapon in a restroom in Hewitt City Hall during a training session at the city council’s meeting room on the morning of March 2.

“One of our cleaning employees found it as soon as Chief Smith left the restroom, so it was in the restroom for only few minutes,” Hewitt City Manager Adam Miles said. “We notified our chief of police, and it was immediately returned to Rusty.”

Smith said he left the weapon in an alcove in the stall and acknowledged the mistake. He said he spoke about the incident with Lemin and made him aware of it.

“It was a rookie mistake, and we all make rookie mistakes,” Smith said. “I am not perfect.”

‘A lot of experiences’

In 1976, Smith started his law enforcement career in Ballinger, a small town between San Angelo and Abilene. After working as a reserve officer with the Runnels County Sheriff’s Office, Smith served 21 years with the San Marcus Police Department and held positions with the traffic unit, crime prevention unit and crime stoppers program and eventually became a detective with the criminal investigations division.

“From there, I applied to be Robinson police chief, and I think they liked that I was coming in with a lot of experiences,” Smith said.

Robinson hired Smith in June 2006 to lead its 17-officer police department. Smith said his retirement almost came in last year after one of his officers died by suicide.

“While I had to keep a strong face for the department, I came close to resigning right after that, because of the emotional struggle that it was,” Smith said. “Shortly after that, the 800 MHz radio system project came up, so I knew I wanted to help get that started.”

800 MHz digital radio

The Robinson Police Department has grown to 24 officers and has newer vehicles, more resources and adapted its telecommunication efforts with the Waco Police Department’s 800 MHz Core digital radio system. City officials have credited Smith with implementing the new digital radio system for Robinson fire and police crews. It went live last fall.

The digital network allows the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office and various police agencies to communicate on the same network.

“Since I’ve been here, I think the thing he has been most instrumental in is handling is the 800 MHz radio system, getting that to the city council and getting that approved for the police and fire departments,” Lemin said. “I haven’t talked to anyone in a police department that doesn’t appreciate that and I think that is one of the biggest things for the city.”

Changing culture

Despite the challenges, Smith said he has appreciated the support for Robinson officers and the department and that he is proud to retire as Robinson’s police chief. He said he plans to pursue something in the technology field and to step away from law enforcement.

“My wife and I started talking about this about two years ago, but I knew I had to wait until the time was right,” Smith said. “Forty-two years is a long career, and seeing the changes in law enforcement in those 42 years, it’s night-and-day difference. … But I know that we in the Robinson Police Department have changed a lot of the culture here, and I am proud of that.”

Lemin said the city plans to hold a farewell event for Smith, but details have not been set.

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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