Becky Holland/Piney Woods News Photo
By Becky Holland, firstname.lastname@example.org
MARSHALL – Billy Hart has been wearing some sort of law enforcement uniform since 1989 – first as a corrections officer, then as a police officer on the streets and now as a police officer in the school system.
Married with two children and one grandchild, ‘Coach Billy’ or ‘PawPaw’ as he is known by many children and youth in the community, got his start in law enforcement after attending Central Texas College for corrections certification.
He worked in several maximum-security prisons for the state – progressing from an officer to supervisor to sergeant to lieutenant. “As my career progressed, I had to transfer, and then I went toward the private sector. I was a captain when I was at a prison in Newport, Arkansas, where we housed young males ages 14-18, and then I came back to Texas – toward the Houston area, where I was working with pre-release units,” Officer Hart said.
It was during his time with the pre-release units that Officer Hart discovered something. “We would look at these guys coming in, and see where they would match-up skill wise. We would check why they were there, and basically, check their backgrounds.,” he said. “They were being raised by grandmas, mothers or someone else. They didn’t have a father figure.”
“I just realized that there was something going wrong … No parental guidance, no manly influence, and the streets came and got them,” Officer Hart commented.
It was after a stint in North Carolina, while in the process of becoming a state trooper, that Officer Hart felt a call back home to Texas. He went on to Kilgore to the Police Academy, and in 2002, he was hired by the Marshall Police Department as a patrol officer.
Working the streets of Marshall for 13 years, Officer Hart became very involved with the community. That is one of his priorities as a police officer – to know the people he was protecting.
He began the Marshall Lil’ Mavs Pop Warner Football and Cheer Program. “There wasn’t anything for children below the age of a third grade student. They had no structured program,” Officer Hart said. He pointed out that was a pivotal time. “These kids were looking up to the big guys on the streets, and saw what was going on.”
“I have always loved football, played football and through football, I learned character, how to be dependable, accountable and be a part of a team,” he said. “That is something that these kids needed. So, when I was out and about in the community, I would talk to the kids and get them to come. We have rules -the Mav Rules, that everyone had to abide by.” The Pop Warner program was a successful program for many years.
“When I get involved in something, I give it my all, especially if I care about something,” Officer Hart said, adding, “and I care about the kids.”
In his tenure as a patrol officer, and now as a police officer in the school system, Officer Hart has seen many changes. One of which is an obvious- technology. “Technology can be your best friend, and your worst enemy. For us, it can be a help. Kids today use SnapChat and Facebook, and they are telling everything – and that is documentation.”
When asked if there was a misconception that the public has about school police departments that he would like to clear up, Officer Hart nodded. “A lot of people have this idea that we are not real police officers – we get called ‘Rent-A-Cops.’ And we are not that. We are police officers at the high school, the junior high, etc. We don’t get involved in school discipline, but we are here to protect the students and staff so that they can achieve the education they deserve and be productive,” he said. “We handle criminal activity in the schools.” Police officers in a school can investigate crimes and arrest if need be.
Looking at the monitor with the different screen shots of activity at the school, Officer Hart, or ‘Coach Billy’ or ‘PawPaw,’ said, “I really think that it does take a village to raise a child.”
In his spare time, Officer Hart devotes his time to his children. His son, Justin, was the starting quarterback for the Marshall High School Mavericks’ football team until he was injured in the first half of a game against the Greenville Lions. “We have been working with him to get him back and going. He had the severe knee injury, and we have got a scope and another surgery. He will be playing football for the East Texas Baptist University Tigers in the fall,” the proud father said. Officer Hart’s daughter will be a junior varsity cheerleader for MHS.
The Marshall Independent School District has four police officers and a chief currently. Next time you see one of them, remember, when you say you support the ‘blue,’ they are just as much as part of that as officers with the city police department and deputies with the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office.