Being a police officer was more than a job for Mike Renfro — he believes it was a calling from God.
As a master electrician, Renfro could have made more money and been safer rewiring homes instead of fighting crime, but that was not where his heart was.
He began being a reserve officer during his spare time while working at the Borden’s Milk plant, where he retired after 23 years. Since he had a day job, Renfro often worked the graveyard shift for the department.
“I put 25 to 40 hours in at the police department,” he said. “I was like another officer. I just didn’t get paid for it. That’s how much I enjoyed being a policeman.”
The semantics of police work were a lot different in 1974. The department did not have its own building or a dispatch center, although there was a holding area for criminals. The department’s phone line ran to a small, steel box in the heart of town at the intersection of U.S. Highway 69 and Texas Highway 16.
Renfro said the one officer on each shift waited near the box for assignments, but if they were out on a call, there was no way for the public to reach them.
Later that year, a dispatcher position was created, but he went home at midnight, leaving a single officer to his own devices.
“It was you, God and Smith County, and after midnight of course, Smith County was 30 minutes away if you needed any back up,” Renfro said. “So what you did was, you handled it yourself … You didn’t have walkie-talkies. You didn’t have portable radios.”
Officers did have a way to contact Smith County in their cars, but the technology was antiquated and slow. Renfro said officers learned to be self-sufficient. He said high-speed chases were particularly tricky.
Renfro went full-time with the department in 1994. During his tenure, he filled nearly every role on the department’s payroll including patrol, animal control, sergeant, field training, code enforcement, firearms instructor and range master. Police Chief Daniel Somes said Renfro trained all but two of the 14 full-time officers, including him.
Somes said that when he started with the department in 1999, it was still running shifts with one officer. Since Renfro lived downtown, he was the best option for backup and kept his gear handy in case he was needed.
“In the old days, dispatch would call Mike, and he would come running,” Somes said. “If he was in his PJs, he was in his PJs and he would grab a shotgun and come to your location.”
Officers said Renfro became a father figure to them all, teaching them and listening to their concerns.
Police Detective Mike Lazarine recalled a time when he needed help and his mentor answered the call. Lazarine said that about 2003, officers switched off working a dispatch shift in the office.
One night, he dispatched an officer to a wreck on Interstate 20, but when the officer arrived, the man in the vehicle was unstable and attempting to walk into oncoming traffic. When the officer pulled him away from certain death, the man became combative and began hitting him in the head and chest.
Lazarine quickly called for the second on-shift officer to drop what he was doing and help. As he was trying to call Renfro at home for a third set of hands, the phone lines were backed up with calls from residents telling him an officer was fighting on the side of the road.
Lazarine said each every officer has a similar story, of Renfro saving the day and making sure the officers came out of a situation unscathed. Renfro said he viewed all the officers as sons and wanted to ensure their safety.
“If you need me, I will come running with a smile on my face and bells on my toes,” he said he liked to tell the young officers.
Renfro said he worked 10 years on night shifts, and then he was moved to days.
“I got to where I could see better at night than I could in the daylight,” he said.” I was almost like a cat at night.”
In addition to working as an officer and electrician, Renfro was very active in church life. He is a licensed minister and choir director for a church in Tyler.
“I used tell people when I arrested them, I’ve got three choices: I can marry you, bury you or arrest you,” Renfro said. “You’re not my type, so you only have two choices, and all I need to know is where do you want the body sent?”
Now that he has retired from his second career, he will focus on working as a locksmith. Renfro learned the trade from a friend in Mineola who wanted to make sure Renfro had something to do after he retired.
“It’s like who would you want unlocking your car — a stranger or a retired police officer,” Renfro joked.
Somes said Renfro will be missed, but he has no doubts if the department called him in a time of need, Renfro would still answer the call.
“He will be sorely missed, and I think his impact will be felt for a long time,” Somes said. “He’s family and always will be. ... He has a servant’s heart, he really does.”