By: Trey Cawley
During his 25 year tenure with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and as a former special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, alumnus Danny Billingsley has seen firsthand changes to policing and their investigations.
After a career in the military, Billingsley began his collegiate career at Sam Houston State University without a real plan for what he wanted to do after college.
“I was originally a Huntsville kid that went into the military right after high school,” Billingsley explained. “I spent four years in the military and as my career there started winding down, I knew that I wanted to attend a University. I looked at my options and it just made sense to attend Sam Houston than to go off somewhere else. I knew people there and had a head start on places I could work.”
Billingsley began his career with the Harris County Sheriff's Office.After completing his undergraduate degree, Billingsley began working on a Master’s degree while also taking a graduate internship with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to learn more about police work.
“During that internship, I spent a week with every division within each department,” said Billingsley. “I got some insight into what deputies and the officers on the street were actually doing in those positions.”
He soon had the opportunity to transform the internship into a full paying job.
“One day a staff member came in and said ‘You know, you are doing this for nothing on an internship’,” Billingsley recalled. “‘You should just fill out this application so we can start paying you.’ At that point, I had already passed my physicals to go back into the Marine Corps Aviation program but I decided not go through with it. The rest is, as you might call it, history.”
Working for the Houston Sheriff’s Department started a long investigative career in criminal intelligence, organized crime, homicide and internal affairs. It was during this time that Billingsley became a part of a new trend of college educated cops entering the police force.
Before his retirement, Billingsley was Chief Deputy at the Harris County Sheriff's Office.“I was a part of that first group of college educated cops and that was basically unheard of in local law enforcement,” said Billingsley. “Most agencies now do require two years of college or two years of military experience. There are more and more college educated cops on the local level now.”
He would later work for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for three years before deciding that the ATF was not a perfect fit for himself. He returned to the local level of policing with the Harris County Sheriff's Office to round out his career in public service. He would retire in 2008 as Chief Deputy of Field Operations Command.
Throughout his investigative career, he noticed how technologies changed the nature of his investigations.
“AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), IBIS (Integrated Ballistics Identification System) and DNA have been huge for investigators,” said Billingsley. “They make our difficult jobs slightly easier.”
The AFIS fingerprint system in operation.However, even with these new technologies, Billingsley stresses the need for good people using these technologies.
“Nothing replaces the human mind,” he said. “These great advances in forensics can all be manipulated so they always need to be made better.”
The key is to not be left behind by technology, but instead to learn how to use it.
“Some people are afraid of technology,” said Billingsley “Not all cops, but many are. They don’t want to try something new. Don’t be afraid of technology. Embrace it.”
Billingsley recently participated at Let's Talk at SHSU.His message to future students wishing to follow a similar career path is to learn more about yourself and what kinds of work you would like to make a career.
“My advice for someone who wants to go into law enforcement is to go to school,” Billingsley said. “While there, study all the things that are available to you. Expose yourself to everything you can. Do as many internships as you are allowed to do because you will learn so much. Don’t be afraid to embrace people in the field because cops love to talk about what they do. Do ride-alongs, embrace them, and learn what is going on.”