With more than 50 years of law enforcement experience, Jim Wells County Sheriff Oscar Lopez has been the longest serving sheriff in Texas and once the youngest sheriff ever elected into office.
"I have shown them change," 78-year-old Lopez said. "What was asked of me many years ago was done."
In his almost 36 years as sheriff and nine terms in office, his department has grown from seven deputies in 1981 to 36 deputies in 2016.
“The greatest impact I've had in this department is the improvement in the safety of the people of Jim Wells County,” Lopez said. “We have more than enough officers to serve and protect the people.”
He implemented programs for the youth of the county, created a fully operational SWAT team, started the first Crime Stoppers in the local area and implemented a Mobile Command Center used for disasters and rescues.
His career began in 1963 with the Alice Police Department then the district attorney's office. He also served on the Sheriff's Association of Texas, one of the oldest law enforcement associations in the nation.
“They chose me to be a representative and speak for more than 250 sheriffs in Texas,” Lopez said.
In July 2016, Lopez received the Tom Tellepsen Award in front of his colleagues from around the state at the 2015 Sheriff's Association of Texas. The Tellepsen Award is the highest award bestowed on a sheriff. It recognizes the recipient's contributions to the advancement of law enforcement.
Since March 2010 the sheriff's department has seized $2,740,960.76 in traffic stops and raids. The money goes into the drug forfeiture fund where it remains to buy equipment such as units, body camera and laptops for deputies to fight against drugs.
“This job is not just about the sheriff and what I do behind this desk,” Lopez said. “Without my staff and the deputies, who are patrolling the streets, we wouldn't be a successful department.”
Money that comes in is shared with local law enforcement agencies such as Premont, Orange Grove and Alice Police departments.
“If we have the money to help them why not help,” Lopez said. “Last time I checked we were all working towards the same goal."
The sheriff has kept up with technology and has allowed the creation of websites and Facebook; tools his department uses to catch criminals as well as keeping the lines of communication open with the public.
“I'm proud of this man,” said Sylvia Lopez, Sheriff Lopez's wife of 23 years. “He has always been ready to help the community and served them well. He is well respected and recognized everywhere.”
Lopez decided to run for another term as sheriff and during the runoff elections in May, lost his bout.
“The people have spoken and they decided it was time for someone else,” Lopez said. “God bless the next person who comes into this office.”
According to Chief Deputy Louie Valadez, the sheriff's job is not easy, it just seems that way because they don't understand the daily tasks that are done.
“The next person to occupy this office will have some shoes to fill,” Valadez said. “They will understand what it takes to run the department and keep it running.”
Lopez plans to enjoy the rest of his days making memories with his wife and grandkids. Lopez passes the baton to his successor at the end of the year.
“I'm looking forward to going fishing and sightseeing,” he said.
Lopez has two daughters, three grandkids and five great-grandchildren.
“I'm ready to babysit my grandkids and spend more quality time with them,” Lopez said. “I've always wanted to be that kind of grandpa, but as the sheriff it didn't always work.”
In January 2017, the sheriff will turn in his badge but plans to be there for the people if they need him, he said.
“He will always be our sheriff regardless,” said JWC Clerk Nelda Lopez. “He has guided, protected and served the people of this county to the end.”