FORT WORTH TX Jan 22 2017– This week’s shooting death of Little Elm police Detective Jerry Walker was another jolt, reminding us just how dangerous a police officer’s job is.
When yet another officer goes down, “I get a gut-hurting right here,” said 93-year-old Bill Hardin, pointing to his stomach – just under the badge that shows, despite his age, he remains an on-duty North Texas lawman.
Hardin has been a policeman for 70 years, spending most of it with the Fort Worth Police Department, then with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department, and, now, as a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy.
Despite his years on patrol, it still strikes deep for Hardin when he hears another officer has been struck down.
“I’ve learned over the years, it’s not the body inside the uniform, it’s the uniform,” he said, adding: “I don’t understand why … every time you get out on the street, you’re a target.”
Hardin, who turns 94 in March, is from all accounts the oldest – and most veteran – law enforcement officer in Texas. He spent 40 years with the FWPD, eight with Tarrant County, and has been with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department for 24 years.
It’s Hardin’s enduring devotion to keeping North Texans safe that makes him this week’s feature for CBS 11’s ‘Ones to Know.’
“It’s not an ego thing,” he told us. “As long as I can make a contribution, how little or how much, it makes me feel good.”
Hardin has plenty of stories to tell, about his days on patrol, including one in the 1950s in Fort Worth when he was dispatched to what sounded like a horrific scene.
“We got a call that there was this woman’s head, laying on the sidewalk in the 4600-block of Hemphill,” he recalled.
Hardin and his partner carefully put it in a bag and rushed to the police station. There, his partner poured the head out of the bag, onto a table surrounded by reporters and news photographers.
“It just rolled. It was a mannequin’s head,” Hardin said, grinning as he added, “We made the front page of the paper, holding that head.”
Despite repeatedly being threatened, including the time a gangster tried to run over him on Fort Worth’s north side, Hardin was never forced to pull the trigger of his service revolver.
“You know, I said a prayer every day when I went to work. I would say, ‘Lord, not today.’ I didn’t want to kill anybody. And I never had to shoot anybody,” he said.
Hardin said it’s a prayer many police officers abide by, even if it might place them in danger.
“What it comes down to, you’ve got a split second to decide what you’re going to do” when confronted by an armed suspect, Hardin said. “If it’s anything over a split second, you’re going to be dead.”
Hardin is finally considering retirement, reluctantly, but he hasn’t set a firm date.
But before he goes, he has a piece of advice for today’s young officers, faced with dangers that seemed inconceivable when he began walking the beat:
“All I’d say is, watch your back.”