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MISSION — As Mission Police Chief Leo Longoria recently took a break from his intermittent vacation before he officially retires, he met with his top administration officials, but didn’t look like a man who was ready to stow away his badge.
His office remained in tact. Piles of paper lined his desk, his awards and photos still stood in his bookshelf and his bulletproof vest stood on the floor beside the door ready for a quick exit.
After announcing his retirement – effective in 2012 – last October, Longoria has been preparing himself for his new life as a hands-on dad and insurance agent.
“There’s been a big transition in my life and it basically had to do with setting my priorities,” Longoria said in an interview from his office recently. “I’m reflecting more on the fact that there were times that I took a vacation, but I was never on vacation. I never took one mentally, I was usually always thinking about work.”
During summers, Longoria confessed that he’d be crunching numbers in his head for budget sessions while his kids swam in pools.
“There’s all that time that I left behind in being a father,” he said. “My kids, when they were younger, would bring me a piece of paper and say, ‘Look dad,’ and I wouldn’t give it the importance that I should have. I truly now realize that I really missed out on a lot.”
Longoria knew that accepting a position as police chief meant long hours and time away from his family.
“I know leaders have those struggles and those problems,” he said. “But you don’t really understand the impact of it until those times have gone and passed you and they’re no longer here.”
Longoria, 50, has five children, one of whom died years ago in a car accident.
The chief is retiring with a total of 30 years in public service including 25 years with the Mission Police Department; 16 of those were as police chief.
He also served in the U.S. Marines and worked in Alamo with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office before coming to Mission.
Under his leadership, Mission was the first police department in the Rio Grande Valley to place digital cameras and computers in police units and the first to install GPS systems in patrol units. He also implemented the Mash-Camera Network System and purchased and implemented use of a Mobile Command Center.
He supervised construction of the new police station and the new police south station. He implemented the K-9 program, the Boat Patrol Division, the Identification Division (ID Technicians), the Traffic Division, the Anzalduas Bridge Division and implemented the SWAT Team.
Other programs the department has introduced under Longoria’s direction include the Mission Police Explorer Program, the Annual National Night Out Program, the F.B.I. Partnership for Safe Street-Violent Crimes Task Force and the D.E.A. Partnership for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Taskforce. He implemented partnerships with the Department of Homeland Security’s Division of Investigations, the U.S. Marshal Fugitive Apprehension Task Force and the Madero Project and the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office for state seizures.
He worked with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Council of Governments to establish the Regional Police Academy in Mission.
Longoria also serves as a board member of the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management; he was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry.
The time spent away from his family was spent doing what was right for the citizens of Mission, Longoria said.
Likewise, City Manager Julio Cerda said under Longoria’s leadership the city’s crime rate has remained low despite ongoing violence in nearby Mexico.
“Our growth keeps going up and we’ve lowered our crime rates,” Cerda said. “It’s very important as a leader for those rates to stay under control. He kept citizens of Mission crime free as much as possible.”
Longoria was one of the first law enforcement officials to publically acknowledge spillover violence from Mexico.
“It affects the character of our community,” Longoria said of Mexico’s ongoing crime.
As he contemplated retirement for about a year, Longoria said he’s stayed because he’s got a sense of obligation to the city and its residents.
“I want to be engaged and help,” he said, adding that border crime was a major issue here.
While he then called it “bleed over” as it’s “slowly bleeding our resources away from the norm of what we normally do, like community policing, kissing babies,” border crime hasn’t affected the safety of Mission residents.
As Mexican residents move to Mission, the city has reacted. When he started as chief, the city’s problematic areas were in burglaries of Winter Texans’ mobile homes, then teen crime and gang activity. Working with school districts has helped teen crime activity go down and by adding additional patrolling, especially in the northwest and southwest areas of the city, the burglary problem has been addressed.
“We continue to have rapid growth, but our department is ready for that,” he said. “The characteristics of our officers are strong. There’s nothing we can’t handle.”
Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas said a key to Longoria’s successes as chief has been having a strong police force.
“He was very understanding and fought hard for his officers,” Salinas said, adding that Longoria was always on the lookout for quality officers.
As he retires, Longoria said he’d still remain active in speaking for Mission and Valley law enforcement at the state and federal level.
“I’m going to stay active with law enforcement in the Valley,” he said.
And while he won’t be the city’s chief any longer he said he’ll also remain active in Mission.
“That’s my routine, I’m not going to be able to not do that,” he said of law enforcement.
Salinas said he was grateful for Longoria’s service to the city.
“I wish him a lot of luck,” the mayor said. “I’m grateful for him and for what he’s done for the City of Mission. He’s a very good chief.”
As he prepared for his retirement, Longoria thanked the Mission Police Department staff, the Mission City Council and city staff for their assistance and hard work.
“They push us to make sure we do the right thing,” he said of city leaders. “They make me a better leader.
“I’ve been real happy to be here and thankful to the community for the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m going to work hard and stay engaged and be a success in my new adventure.”
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.