Calhoun County sheriff hangs up his badge

IF YOU GO

• WHAT: Calhoun County swearing-in ceremony

• WHEN: 10 a.m. Tuesday

• WHERE: The Bauer Exhibition Building, Calhoun County Fairgrounds

PORT LAVACA - The walls of his office are bare for the first time in 16 years.

Calhoun County Sheriff B.B. Browning stood in the middle of the empty room Friday afternoon, taking in the sight.

He had put off packing for weeks, the accumulation of years of service in law enforcement that lined his walls - framed photos, guns and knives, awards and honors he had picked up over the years.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, George Aleman will become the new sheriff of Calhoun County, and Browning will head off into retirement.

Browning came to Port Lavaca in the early 1960s working as an oil-field technician. One night, he spotted a petite brunette from across the room. Her name was Tiney. The pair fell in love and were married a few months later. Browning settled in the town and started looking for ways to give back.

Browning started in law enforcement when he helped found the Calhoun County Sheriff's Reserves. Then he was appointed a constable, and after 21 years in the office, he decided to run for sheriff.

The job required long hours, and, as with any job in law enforcement, it meant seeing an ugly side of mankind. Still, it was the chance to help people and to protect them from the harder elements of life. Browning loved that about the job.

"You have to look at it in perspective, that certain people are bad elements, and that's what we're trying to control. There are a lot of good people out there. I've made a lot of good friends over the years," he said.

Law enforcement has changed since he took office. Back then, there were only a couple of computers in the office compared to systems that rely on electronics nowadays.

That wasn't the only change. When he was elected sheriff, Browning campaigned on the issue about drugs in the county.

He was determined to go after the people bringing drugs into the county, and, once he took office, he set about making good on that campaign promise.

He kept photos of the drugs and money seized by the task force he formed shoved beneath the glass top on his desk. The photos and one large marijuana leaf sat beneath the glass, a constant visible reminder of their mission to keep fighting against drugs.

"I like people, but I don't like them using drugs, and I don't want them in my county," he said. "You'll never stop the drug traffic completely, but I think we made a dent in it."

He enjoyed the work, but when it came time to think about the next re-election campaign, Browning decided it was time to hang up his badge.

He turned 75 last Thursday, and he had a longing to spend more time with his wife, but there was another reason he chose to retire from office.

He had seen so much over the years - horrific car accidents, violent murders, the dark side of humanity - and it has changed him. He was losing the ability to be shocked at what people could do to each other - what they were capable of doing.

"Nothing surprises me anymore," he said. "I decided it was time to let the next generation handle it."

On Friday afternoon, he hefted the final box out to his car, packed to the brim with the contents of his office. He stood in the center of the room, holding the box and taking in the sight of the naked walls. He shook his head gently, as if in disbelief. He smiled, taking it all in as Deputy Jesse Alvarez walked down the hall to see if he needed a hand.

"It's been great working under him. I'm going to miss him being sheriff. He always made this feel like a family," Alvarez said.

Investigator Renette Todd met Browning 13 years ago when she interviewed for a job in his department. He had a tough exterior, but it didn't fool her, even then. She could see the warm, caring person who was there just below the surface, she remembered.

"I can honestly say that after a few of years knowing B.B., he made me the law enforcement officer I am today by his example. Everything I do for the community, it is because B.B. instilled in me the importance of community involvement and getting to know who you work for - the community," Todd said in a letter she wrote earlier this year nominating Browning for the Tom Tellepsen Award for the Sheriff's Association of Texas.

After Browning left Friday, Todd said she was a bit surprised to find how sad she was at the prospect of not seeing him everyday.

"I did not know the sadness and void it would leave in my life of not being able to see B.B. daily at the office," she said, noting that even while she was sad to see him go, she's happy that he and his wife will be able to spend more time together and with their family.

Chief Deputy Mark Daigle echoed Todd's sentiments.

Working with Browning has just been an absolutely wonderful experience, Daigle said.

While working alongside Browning, Daigle said he learned the importance of treating people with respect whenever possible.

"When you're dealing with people, you have to remember that you're dealing with them, and this is something impacting their lives," Daigle said. "When you're able to put that in perspective and treat the person with dignity and respect, it makes a difference. 'Be nice, no matter what,' has been the sheriff's motto, and we've always lived by that."

That approach and the focus on forming good relationships with the community has paid off in the fight against drugs. Those relationships have made people comfortable enough to come and talk to members of the agency about drugs in the county.

"Having that dialogue has been important," Daigle said.

Todd will be staying on at the sheriff's department, but Alvarez and Daigle are leaving the department as Aleman comes in to put his own administration in place.

Aleman said he'll be focused on forging similar good relationships within the community once he is sworn into office Tuesday.

Aleman said he is excited about the prospect of taking office and putting his plans into action, promising to have an open-door policy as the head of his department. On taking office, he'll be focused on putting his own stamp on the agency, he said.

"Everybody has got their own ways of doing things. I've got some ideas and plans for the department. Sheriff Browning has his legacy, and we're going to start working toward ours," he said.

Still, his mission will be the same as Browning's even if his approach will be different.

Aleman has hired Bryan Prall, a former Department of Public Safety supervisor, as his chief deputy and Rusty Henderson, who served in the department for 20 years, is returning as lieutenant.

"We're here to serve the citizens of Calhoun County, and we're going to do whatever we can to make it a better, safer place to live in," Aleman said.

Browning has cleared out the space, but he left sticky notes on the phone, on the remote control, on the emergency response book - instructions on how things work.

He also left the marijuana leaf pressed under the glass top of the desk as a reminder of the mission to fight drug traffic from overrunning the county.

Leaving the office, Browning is proud of the work he's done, but he noted that he never could have done it alone.

"I'll miss the people. I've had a good group of people that worked for me. That was always my philosophy: Get good people around me, and they'll make you look good," he said. "That's what they did."