Ofelia Garcia Hunter, Alice Echo-News Journal

Incumbent Sheriff Oscar Lopez attributes his experience and keeping up with law enforcement advancements for his longevity as sheriff as he runs for his eighth term in office.

"Number one is my experience, number two is being professional," he said. "Every day you have to change, you can't stand still. We are doing our job every day to protect and serve our community."

Lopez has two opponents, Narciso Gonzalez, a retired border patrolman and Enrique Saenz, an Alice police officer.

Lopez has expanded the sheriff's department from a small staff of 14 to currently employing 73 and has implemented many programs including the most recent, COPS In School.

Because of the program, deputies are visible at the schools to help deter crime, he said.

"All the county schools in Jim Wells County have been helped through the forfeiture fund," he said. "The schools have the use of a K-9 (for searches), access to our vehicles and deputies, along with a station there at the schools."

Lopez said the funds have also purchased surveillance cameras and other equipment for the schools.

He said keeping up with the advancements of technology has put the department ahead of others in the area.

"Now everything is computerized with high-tech equipment," Lopez said. "(Taxpayers) are not paying into the sheriff's department any more than what they have to because our forfeiture funds have been utilized to the fullest."

He said having a task force and SWAT team with other area law enforcement agencies has pooled resources to benefit the departments.

"We have multi-agencies that perform highway interdictions we work on a monthly basis," he said. "Not only with the task force, but other agencies like Orange Grove and Alice where we work together to fight crime."

He said one of the areas he is most proud of is meeting jail standards for 26 consecutive years.

"For 26 years, we have passed our jail inspection," Lopez said. "To us, it's an honor."

He said the expansion of the jail's capacity from 30 beds to 90 in 2004 for $2.4 million, is practically paying for itself. The jail gets paid $45.96 daily per federal inmate, currently housing 40, he said.

Lopez began his law enforcement career as an Alice police officer in 1963 and moved up the ranks and became police chief from 1975 to 1976. After losing his first election for sheriff, Lopez took an investigator position with the district attorney's office from 1977 to 1980.

He then ran for sheriff again and took office in 1981 and the voters have kept him in office since.

Lopez attended Del Mar College and Texas A&I University.

Lopez is married to Sylvia Garcia Lopez for 15 years. He has two daughters, a stepson, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"I think everybody is doing a great job," he said of his department. "Each deputy that works in their department cares about their job."