Bruce Hertel’s father worked as a lieutenant with the Hays Police Department, and when Hertel decided to also pursue a career in law enforcement, he hoped he could top his 34 years of service.
The longtime Ellis County undersheriff turned in his service weapon Wednesday, marking his retirement after more than 45 years in law enforcement.
“And I always thought if I can, I’m going to beat his 34 years, and here I sit,” Hertel said. “I made that goal, I guess.”
Hertel was sent off Wednesday afternoon with a standing-room only reception, attended by many sheriff’s deputies, Hays Police Department officers, dispatchers and county employees. Emotions ran high at times as Sheriff Ed Harbin and Scott Braun with the county drug enforcement unit — which Hertel helped establish — recognized him for his service and presented him with awards.
“On behalf of all the guys from Ellis County Drug Enforcement Unit, we can’t say enough what a loss you will be to our unit,” Braun said. “You mentored many of us; we became friends. You’re like a father to some of us.”
Harbin is expected to announce his appointment of a new undersheriff this week.
Hertel started work with the Hays Police Department in 1971, then joined the sheriff’s department a year later. He worked his way up the ranks in the county department, ultimately being elected sheriff for three four-year terms beginning in 1981.
Hertel then briefly worked as a private detective for the state of Kansas, then returned to the Hays Police Department for the next three years.
When Harbin was elected sheriff in 1997, he appointed Hertel as undersheriff — and that’s where he’s been ever since.
“There was a lot of stress involved. I didn’t like the politics when I was sheriff,” Hertel said. “I guess I was the happiest when I was doing detective work, investigations and stuff like that. Twenty-one years, I was in charge of major investigations for the sheriff’s department. I was also in charge of the drug unit as the administrative coordinator.
“That was the most rewarding work, I guess, if you could solve a crime.”
Hertel saw many changes during the 45-year span of his career, including implementation of cellphones, mobile radios and communications technology that could cover the entire county — and beyond.
“When I first started and the first time I was out on patrol, we never had a mobile radio or a walkie-talkie on our person,” he said. “We had a car radio, but we didn’t have walkie-talkies. The reason we didn’t was because your range was limited within city limits at that time. If you had to go out in the county, you couldn’t use it anyway.”
Weaponry also changed to include use of tasers, and Hertel was with the sheriff’s department long enough to work at three jail facilities. The first was located on the upper level of the courthouse, and the county typically had only a few inmates, he said. The sheriff and his family at that time actually lived in the courthouse to help take care of the county jail.
The current jail opened in 2016, and sometimes is at maximum capacity with room for 72.
The number of staff positions in the sheriff’s department also has increased exponentially, from only five employees in the early 1970s to nearly 20 officers and many more jailers, he said.
“You get into law enforcement and continually go through training to expect the worst in everything,” Hertel said, noting he has enjoyed his long career despite the challenges.
“That’s how you have to prepare for it. You’re always on call. You never know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen or where it’s going to happen. You have to be on your toes.
“I’m just ready to relax for awhile.”