A highly contentious battle for sheriff ended Tuesday night with a victory for Larry Smith, who will be Smith County's first new sheriff in 35 years.
Polls showed Smith finished with 13,501 votes, or 52.79 percent of the complete but unofficial total, while 12,075 votes, or 47.21 percent, went to Chris Green.
Smith celebrated his victory alongside supporters, friends and family inside a local pizzeria.
The two candidates embarked on a near year-long campaign to succeed Sheriff J.B Smith, who announced he would retire at the end of December after 35 years in office. Because no Democrat ran for the office, Smith will be sworn in as sheriff Jan. 1.
Smith, 54, thanked Smith County voters, including the 47 percent who voted against him.
“I hope to earn their respect as we do what needs to be done for Smith County and the sheriff's office,” he said.
Green, 51, a retired 20-year Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden, said the results showed it was a hard fought, passionate battle between two candidates. He said the campaign was a long but great experience.
“I will continue to support the sheriff's office because I love Smith County,” he said. “Smith County didn't lose tonight.”
Smith, 54, has 34 years of law enforcement experience. He worked 11 years in the Gregg County Criminal Investigation Division, the last eight years as captain of that division, several years with the DEA, and 22 years with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Smith said the top concern for rural Smith County residents is poor response times, poor investigation by deputies once on scene and no follow-up with residents after crimes. Smith said failure to make basic investigation efforts and not communicating with residents will be a focus of his administration.
Response times can be improved by managing roster schedules, he said.
The roster should allow for eight deputies and a sergeant to patrol the 920 square-mile county, he said. He plans to have two of 29 criminal investigators rotate to complement the force. Having investigators roving with deputies and responding to mid-level crimes, such as major burglaries, would create training opportunities for inexperienced deputies with regard to evidence collection and how to work a crime scene.
Smith said he would lead by example without micro-managing personnel. While campaigning, Smith said experience is necessary to know if personnel need “a pat on the back or a kick in the behind.”
He said his office will coordinate its efforts with surrounding law enforcement agencies, such as the Tyler Police Department. Smith said his experience as the ATFE's international response team sharpened his ability to build a rapport quickly with officials around the globe.
Building better relationships and working with surrounding local, state and federal agencies will improve the office and save tax dollars, he said.
“I am going to stick to what I campaigned on,” he said. “We're working together for a common goal, to provide the best, most effective, efficient law enforcement office possible.”
Smith said he already has found savings within the office's budget, including better prices for food service contracts, and will begin implementing those changes.
Second Amendment rights were a common question for Smith at forums because of his federal background. Smith said he would not enforce court-ordered confiscation of an individual's firearms if such a law were enacted. As the top law enforcement official in Smith County, he said his first priority will always be protecting the life, liberty and property of residents.
Green said the race divided the county, from residents, families and the law enforcement community, and he hopes Smith can bring Smith County together. He offered his help in any capacity and said he is looking forward to a vacation with his family before he makes future plans.
Sheriff J.B. Smith congratulated Smith and said he will make the transition as seamless as possible. Sheriff Smith said the office, its facilities and budget, will be open and available to Smith and his future administrative team.
Smith said he appreciated J.B. Smith's openness as he transitions into office.
“This isn't over with,” he said. “I have met so many people during the campaign and I expect they will provide a pulse for what's going on in Smith County."