FOREST, La. (AP) - The work days of Police Chief Bob Smith start and end making sure the schoolchildren in Forest stay safe.
On Monday, Smith, 85, started a new term as the West Carroll village’s police chief - a position he has held since 1998. With his most recent win, Smith was told he was the oldest elected police chief in the state and, possibly, the oldest elected official.
His career in law enforcement actually started in retirement. After 30 years spent traveling the world as a mechanic in the Air Force, Smith retired from the military and started a civilian career with International Oil Co. stationed in Saudi Arabia. When he retired from that job, he relocated to Forest.
When he realized no one was working for the village police department, Smith asked the mayor if he could take on the job of chief. Ever since, he has served in the position and implemented changes to help fund improvements.
“When I started (as police chief), I started the court system in 1999,” Smith said. “I petitioned the attorney general and got permission and did that. That is when we started getting grants and getting police cars. We had several police chiefs that didn’t have a way to ride.”
Serious crimes in Forest move through the 5th Judicial District, but traffic violations are heard in a village court by the town’s mayor, Larry Denmon, who said Smith is a credit to the community.
“We are very proud of Bob’s dedication over many years to the village and its people,” Denmon said. “He has been and still is an inspiration to all of us. Chief Bob has done much for so many and goes about doing it quietly and without need for reward - the pay sure is not much. I know of few that continue to give back so much to their community.”
For Smith, his favorite part of the job takes place before and after school, when he makes sure children arrive and depart Forest High School safely.
“The most important part of my day is coming up in the morning and watching the people come in to drop off their kids and letting them see there is somebody here for them when they are bringing their children to school,” Smith said.
He also maintains an active presence on campus in the morning, walking the halls and greeting the children.
“If I wanted to use one word to describe Bob, it’s just his presence,” Principal Steve Harris said. “The kids here, they love him, but it’s just nice having him seen here, and he’s happy to be here. He does a lot for the school.”
Forest High School is situated a block off Louisiana 17. No school zone signs are in the 45 mph zone on the state highway, so Smith parks on the side of the road every day to remind people to slow down and watch for children, something that is particularly important in the morning as diners line up along the highway to eat at Helmer’s Country Store.
Patsy Helmer, assistant manager, first met Smith four years ago when the store opened. She said he is a regular presence now, and she considers him a part of the family.
“When it’s business, it’s business,” Helmer continued, “but when he’s not working, he’s the funniest person.”
Smith is considered a pillar in the community by many who can’t imagine Forest without his presence.
When asked if he will seek an additional term to serve the public, Smith answers, “Who knows?”
Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, https://www.thetowntalk.com
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