Johnson County Sheriff’s reserve Deputy Bill Hardin, known as the “oldest law enforcement officer in the world,” has died at age 99.
The veteran officer passed away on February 16, surrounded by his friends and loved ones.
“It is with great sadness we announce the loss of a great friend, brother and lawman,” the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) wrote on Facebook.
Hardin began his law enforcement career in the 1940s, working for the Fort Worth Police Department. Afterwards, he worked at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office and then at the JCSO, where he worked for the past 28 years.
Those who knew Hardin paid tribute to the man, calling him a mentor and a friend.
In a statement from the JCSO, the department called Hardin a “living legend” during his life.
“Bill was a true living legend — the oldest and longest-running peace officer in the world. But more than that, he was our brother and our friend. Bill never failed to share his knowledge with our new deputies and was always ready with a handshake and a smile,” the department wrote in a statement. “His presence within the walls of this agency will be truly missed. But his legacy will never be forgotten.”
In an interview with CBS 11 in 2022, Hardin explained why he refused to hang up the uniform.
“I’m afraid to stop because I don’t have a starter. I may not get started again … so I’m going to keep doing this until the sheriff runs me out. If I make it to 75 [years of service], I may retire.”
The legendary Texas officer began his law enforcement career in 1947 after fighting in World War II and worked as a law enforcement officer for the next 75 years.
He died just weeks before his 100th birthday.
“We lost a legend of a man this morning, who will be greatly missed,” JCSO Sheriff Adam King said. “Deputy Bill Hardin was just two weeks from his 100th birthday. Even though he didn’t reach his birthday, he holds a couple of records that will probably never be broken. May he rest in peace in the arms of the Lord.”
JCSO Deputy Aaron Pitts said Hardin taught him valuable lessons.
“He once told me that what made him love this job so much was that he always had something to learn,” Pitts said. “During the years I spent working with him, he imparted me with knowledge I couldn’t have gained from anybody else. It was truly an honor to call him my friend.”
During his first years with the sheriff’s office, Hardin worked on security detail at the county courthouse.
“He did that and worked our grand juries for a number of years,” Johnson County District Attorney Dale Hanna said. “Everyone here had such high regard for Bill. He was always such a positive influence, always had a great attitude and just very uplifting.”
Sheriff King then promoted Hardin to the department’s command staff.
“I didn’t want his personality and wealth of knowledge to be wasted, so we asked him to come work with our command staff,” King said. “In that role, Bill was a great public relations man because he loved everybody and everybody loved him, and he was so great at community outreach and working with the public.”
Cleburne Police Chief Rob Severance also honored Hardin.
“Deputy Hardin’s passing is a sad and huge loss for law enforcement,” Severance said. “It’s amazing to me because he began working as an officer the same year my mom was born. What a legacy, the amazing number of years he served communities in North Texas. I was honored to have met him. Just an interesting and great guy to talk to and hear his take on law enforcement in years gone by.”
During his time at the Fort Worth Police Department, Hardin became a mentor to many officers who still work there today like Detective Charles Goodwin.
“Bill was head detective of narcotics when I started and was very experienced,” Goodwin said. “He trained everybody who was new to narcotics and showed them the ropes on how to handle cases.”
“He just always had a smile. He greeted everyone with a big Bill Hardin smile. That’s how I remember him,” Goodwin continued.
“But Bill was just Bill. He was bigger than life.”