End Of An Era

El Campo City Attorney Ronny Collins (l-r) visits with soon-to-be-retiring city Police Chief  Terry Stanphill and Assistant Police Chief Gary Williamson after city council formally accepted Stanphill’s resignation Monday.  Stanphill retires Oct. 30 after 38 years of service to the residents of El Campo.

El Campo Police Chief Terry Stanphill presented his resignation to city council Monday night, one accepted “reluctantly.”

He’s spent 38 years in the El Campo Police Department, going from patrol officer to chief for the last 10. Stanphill’s last day will be Friday, Oct. 30.

Aside from the badge, an officer’s tools of the trade were handcuffs, a pistol, a radio and a typewriter when he started in October 1982.

Now, he said, there’s instant access to data, a constant ability to communicate and a shift in mind set to community policing.

“Becoming a recognized police department has probably had the biggest impact (since he became chief),” Stanphill said.

The national guidelines helped set policies and procedures for the department’s operation.

“It helps identify weaknesses too,” he said, adding department injuries are one example. After reviewing cases of resisting arrest in the city, the taser was added to each officer’s duty belt. “Those injuries dropped dramatically,” he said.

At the same time, use of force incidents dropped too, possibly due to a now intensive review of each case and the use of body cameras.

“Overall it (technology) is awesome. The biggest thing is information sharing. I remember the old dot matrix printer,” he said, adding then an hour to learn about a crime in a neighboring department was normal. “Now, I know about it a minute later (from a nationwide report).”

Just then a be-on-the-lookout request comes over his email from Converse. He reads it and then decides whether to post to his officers.

Computers are carried right to crime scenes and are used in each cruiser.

“Communication is the equalizer. (In a chase, for example,) they think they are ahead of you, but you’re ahead of them (notifying other units).”

Stanphill served as the department’s first officer with a K-9 partner and worked as the first narcotics detective prior to becoming lieutenant in 1999.

A lifetime career in El Campo wasn’t always what he had planned.

“I had wanted to be here two years,” Stanphill said, saying back then, he had hoped to use local experience as a resume maker for a state law enforcement career.

Instead, his application was passed over once in a year where the state had specific types of cadets in mind.

Then the promotions came and he opted to stay.

As deputy chief, Stanphill was named Employee of the Year in 2009, selected by his peers. That same year, the El Campo Chamber of Commerce honored him as the Achiever of the Year.

Then Deputy Chief Stanphill was asked to step in immediately in 2010 as interim chief with the unexpected resignation of short-term Chief Terry Marek.

“Stanphill is a great employee. His heart is where the citizens are,” then City Manager John Steelman said when Stanphill was named the interim.

After some discussion, the El Campo City Council unanimously selected Stanphill as the department’s chief in October 2010.

“I was called into city council (the executive session for an interview) .. they asked if I was offered the job would I take it. It took no time at all to answer.”

Then Mayor Richard Young said at the session, “We felt like we had enough history with Terry Stanphill that we could not get a better candidate.” 

Stanphill is only the fifth person in the department’s 64-year history to hold the chief’s title. Marek took the office in May 2009 upon the retirement of Chief Jim Elliott, who served in that role 28 years. The department’s first chief, in 1946, was Walter Broadus, who served 33 years. Jim Hoffman was chief from 1979 to 1981.

Since becoming chief, Stanphill has made cross training a requirement at all levels. He’s made a recommendation to council that Assistant Chief Gary Williamson replace him.

It’s part of a succession plan in place not just at the ECPD, but in all city departments, started when Mindi Snyder served as city manager.

“Gary’s got the best and latest training, more than I did (at the time he became chief). He’s level, on an even keel, doesn’t get rattled.”

The city will post the job opening and hope to make a decision within 30 days.

Like Stanphill, Williamson’s a graduate of the FBI Academy.

That’s where Stanphill learned how to implement the style of policing local officers have learned under his administration.

Community policing encourages communication and officers visible in the at town functions from club meetings to festivals. It’s helped create movies in the park, coffee or ice cream with a cop functions, Trunk-or-Treat and outreach programs like Explorers allowing teens to experience the career.

COVID-19 has hampered some efforts, but Stanphill said he’s pleased by the interaction, evidenced in the communication with a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators a few months ago. “They came and talked to me (prior to the event to plan logistics). Ten to 20 years ago, that wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

The department moved from a repair-prone East Jackson site to a new West Loop headquarters under his administration. Included with the updated facilities are more offices, expanded workspaces and locker rooms, a bigger holding facility and evidence storage area as well as an emergency management operations center and a gym. Vast improvements, he said.

He’s proud of his people and works each year lobbying for better pay and benefits. Most years, council agrees. With COVID this year, however, they say they just can’t.

He leaves a department, Stanphill says, with strong procedures and staff.

Stanphill is a life-long resident of El Campo, a Ricebird from the Class of 1978. He attended Wharton County Junior College and graduated from the Victoria Police Academy, second in his class. He has been a master peace officer since 1999.

Now, he will go to work part time for Quality Hot Mix of El Campo as a safety manager.

More free time also means he will have time to ride his motorcycle, golf and fish.

He and wife Denise, who works with the Department of Public Safety, have been married 38 years.

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