MCKINNEY — Terry Box didn’t plan to get into law enforcement. For him, working as a dispatcher at the McKinney Police Department in 1968, was just an after-school job.
But it became much more than that. And on Dec. 31, after 32 years as Collin County’s sheriff, and 48 years in law enforcement, Box will hang up his hat to make way for a new sheriff.
The 66-year-old Box, not to be confused with Dallas Morning News columnist Terry Box, was born and raised in McKinney. When he was 18, his father C.G. Box Jr., a captain and chaplain for the McKinney Fire Department, told him he needed to get a job.
After three years, he decided to leave his hometown for a job to work out on the streets.
“I didn’t want to give tickets to people in my hometown,” he said with a laugh. “So I went to a small town known as Plano.”
Moving up the ranks
Box was hired in 1971 as the ninth police officer in the Plano police department.
“I remember my first chase was westbound across Highway 75 on Parker Road, and right past Highway 75 it turned into a one-lane gravel road with barbed wire fences on both sides,” he said.
He quickly moved up the ranks and in 1981, Box left Plano to became the third in charge under former Collin County Sheriff Joe Steenbergen and his chief deputy, George Brakefield.
Despite the jump to work for the sheriff’s department, Box said he never had any desire to get into the politics of being sheriff.
But by 1985, both Steenberg and Brakefield, had died. And at 34, Box was appointed by the commissioners court to take over the top.
“For someone never wanting to be sheriff of Collin County, there I am, thrown in the limelight,” Box said in a recent interview. “I think I learned really quickly that if you do your job, do it professionally, that will take care of the politics.”
Box, currently the longest serving sheriff in the state, was then elected in 1986 and quickly began planning for the county’s impending population boom.
“Once I became sheriff it wasn’t very long that we realized Collin County was going to blow off the map population-wise and we did not have a long term plan for housing the detention people and hiring the employees,” he said.
Looking back at his more than three decades in office Box said he is particularly proud of his department’s vision.
“Going through all that planning and knowing now it has come to fruition, we planned properly,” Box said. “Our building can easily be added on to, the employees have a good work environment so we are … very proud to see a facility that operates correctly.”
The Collin County jail has been state-certified for 29 years, the longest tenure certification in the state, he said. It’s also known for it’s towel mug shots, a policy Box implemented years ago to make all police mug shots look uniform.
The towel — or lack thereof — sparked controversy last year when Attorney General Ken Paxton did not wear a towel for his booking picture. Box had been ordered by the court to not use the towel.
“I had a federal judge giving me a court order about five minutes before he walked in the door,” he said. “But I think its a proper thing to do. It’s got to be known as ‘the’ mug shots, but it’s a way of cutting their clothing out of pictures.”
Box also made waves back in 2013 when he joined sheriffs around the country in refusing to enforce proposed laws he deemed unconstitutional that restricted the right to bear arms.
Box’s comments came in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., after President Barack Obama issued a series of 23 executive orders involving gun control.
The sheriff also said he was especially proud of his annual charity golf tournament, the Sheriff Box Shoot-Out “Fore” Kids, which he started in 1993. The tournament has raised more than $2 million for a number of charities and will continue under the new sheriff, Box said.
Time to leave
But for all of his accomplishments, Box said he decided earlier this year that he didn’t want to continue. He decided not to seek reelection.
“I had to think to myself, ‘Do I want to run for another four years and be 70-years-old when I go out of office?’” he said. “Everything was timing for me and I want to do more things.”
Instead, he threw his support behind Republican candidate and former Collin County Second District Attorney Jim Skinner, who was elected in November.
Skinner said that much like Box, he will have to continue to find ways to accommodate the growth of the county.
“It is important we keep pace with the growth from a law enforcement perspective,” he said “I want to make sure we never encounter a situation where we are talking about an overcrowded jail or the inability to cover calls throughout the county.”
He said that he hoped to continue Box’s legacy of maintaining “the best jail in the state of Texas,” and has worked closely with Box to ensure a smooth transition when he takes the oath of office on Jan. 1.
Skinner said one of the issues he plans to tackle early on is mental health services.
“This is one of the first issues I’m going to have to get in and take a close look at and see how we are going to respond and handle it appropriately,” Skinner said. “I don’t want the Collin County sheriff’s office or the detention facility to become a warehouse for the mentally ill.”
But, Skinner said Box reminds him that he will also be facing new issues during his tenure.
“He’s going to be taking over challenges I’ve never had to deal with … like officer safety, more training, our society has changed in the last few years for law enforcement, recruiting has changed,” Box said.
He noted that shortly after the Dallas police shootings in July that killed five officers, two rookies in the sheriff’s academy resigned after talking with their families.
“That is going to be one of the challenges, getting people, getting good, professional people to become involved with law enforcement,” he said.
As for what does Box plan to do in retirement?
“It’s not what I’m going to do, but rather what I’m not going to do,” he said.