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Cop on the streets and the school hallway

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Sgt. Ron Smith stands in front of the American flag at the Roswell Police Department May 10. Smith has held a variety of positions throughout his 16-year-long career with the department. (Alex Ross Photo)

For the last 16 years, Sgt. Ron Smith has put on a uniform and worked to keep the streets safe as a member of the Roswell Police Department. The job is something Smith, 54, said he takes seriously.

“I do my best every day to make sure I honor the people of Roswell because they have entrusted me with a great deal of authority and responsibility,” he said.

Smith was born in Michigan, but traversed the country when he was growing up, living in communities in California, Florida, Tennessee and Colorado.

He graduated from high school in McKinsey, Tennessee, and then joined the Navy. After getting married, he and his wife moved to Roswell where his father lived.

Smith was working for the owner of an apartment complex in town, when one night in 2003, a burglary was reported at that complex.

“It took over three hours for an officer to respond,” he said.

The officer who responded later told Smith the slow response time was due to a shortage of officers. At the time, sometimes just two or three officers were on duty at a time. Smith, then 38, decided to switch career paths and become an officer.

“I told my wife, ‘You know what? I can help,” Smith said.

After filling out the application and graduating from the New Mexico State Police Academy, Smith then became a police officer in Roswell.

New Year’s Eve 2004, just before midnight, when Smith said he made his first arrest — it was the department’s second arrest of 2004.

Smith and the field officer with him thought they heard the bolt of an AK-47 being pulled back and the gun loaded. Smith and his partner situated themselves in a place from which they could quickly respond if the weapon was fired, when suddenly gunfire erupted from a different house.

The man who fired the gun was later arrested for negligent use of a firearm. Smith said he shook a little afterward and could feel his adrenaline spike and he remembered how surreal it felt when the man arrested was taken into custody and placed in the back of a police unit.

Smith said he felt excited at the time, but the training officer he was with was so professional that they were able to just finish up with that case and then go to the next call, as is the usual procedure.

After about three-and-a-half years as a patrol officer, Smith then transferred to the department’s Technical Services Unit — or crime scene unit for another three-and-a-half years. He made sergeant in 2010 and for a year worked again as a patrol officer.

In 2011, Smith returned to the Technical Services Unit until 2015 when he became head of school resource officers in the Roswell Independent School District. He became the RPD’s sergeant over training and recruiting in 2017, a position that he still holds.

One of the biggest worries Smith said he and other officers often face is that they will not arrive at a scene soon enough to help either their fellow officers or the people who are in trouble.

“It’s just a sinking (feeling) when you feel like you are not getting there on time,” he said.

The job also has its share of hard moments. One of those moments came in 2012 after the murder of Saul Sanchez, 39, of Dallas City, Texas.

Sanchez had been staying at a home of friends who were out of town when he saw two burglars stealing items from the house. When Sanchez confronted them, one of the burglars shot and killed Sanchez.

Smith, who had played golf with Sanchez previously, had an investigator on the case and sometime later, Sanchez’s daughter approached him, not knowing he had been working on the case, and asked Smith if he had known what had happened to her father.

“That was a hard day for me,” he said.

Officers can’t always help someone in trouble, but sometimes they can help the families of victims.

“That to me was hard because that little girl probably doesn’t deserve to have to relive that, but she probably will have to,” Smith said.

The two suspects were arrested last November and are now awaiting trial on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated burglary.

For Smith, though, there are also good parts of the job. After working with the schools as a resource officer for two years, Smith has been invited by the principal of Washington Avenue Elementary School, to be a part of the school.

He said that he has been well-received by the students. He often high-fives them in the school hallway and takes part in activities such as reading books out loud to children on Dr. Seuss Day.

For Smith, he gets recognized and praised by the students outside of school. He said he has had 6- or 7-year-old children sneak up and hug his leg while out shopping at Walmart.

Parents who are with their children then react with surprise when they see this because Smith is out of uniform and off duty when this happens. However, once he explains to the parents who he is, they understand.

“So, my reward comes when the children recognize me and I get to talk to their parents about who I am,” he said.

Despite the challenges the job can sometimes present, he said that he likes the job and plans to keep doing it.

“I started at 38, I might as well stay until I am 60,” Smith said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.