After 23 years as Orange police chief, Sam Kittrell, 57, the longest head of any Orange County law enforcement agency, plans to retire by year’s end.

Kittrell came to the decision a few weeks ago and has told only a few close associates.
Reflecting on his career Monday morning, he said he’s tried to take every case personally – from the smallest theft to the most heinous murder – such as the recent death of Orange businessman Mickey McNamara.

“I knelt beside him as he was dying,” Kittrell said. “Those [cases] are tough. I realize that these are people’s lives. In that brief moment, things are totally changed forever. Not only in the lives of that person and their family, but for the people responsible. They have families too.”

The unsolved 2002 murder of Dannarriah Finley will always haunt him, he said, but with the technology available today he is certain he will live to see justice done.

“I believe in all my heart we will clear that case, and that whoever sits in this chair after me has the same passions and desires as I do … I would have loved to have been here to see that happen.”

A native of Orange, Kittrell was born to Claude and Doris Kittrell and graduated from Stark High School. He grew up in the days when Orange was prosperous, only to see it bounce around on the scale of things positive and negative.

He said downtown Orange as it is today had its beginnings when the early version of Lamar State College-Orange burned to the ground. Kittrell saw the community work together to raise funds for a new campus, and as chief he helped usher in a more eye-pleasing police station nearby on Eighth Street. The addition of the Ron E. Lewis Library to the college also helped beautify the area.

In retirement he looks forward to the continued improvement of downtown as the city, Stark Foundation and LSC-O work on an ongoing master plan.

Kittrell put his college career on hold when he hired on at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in 1973. Later he worked with the Vidor police.

He eventually received his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Lamar University after being named Orange police chief; and for a few years also served as Orange city manager.

The oft-told story that has followed Kittrell throughout his career is his interview appearance in “The Thin Blue Line,” a critically-acclaimed documentary about Randall Dale Adams.
The film pointed out glitches in the legal system that almost resulted in Adams’ execution over the death of a Dallas police officer. (Kittrell was with the Vidor police when David Harris, the probable killer, was captured in Vidor).

“I still get calls from colleges because they use the movie in their teachings,” Kittrell said. “It is still available and still shown today. Hopefully it helps people to be a little better informed to the criminal justice system and how it works; and some things to do and not to do.”

As for his future plans, he said, “I’m looking into a few things.”

In his retirement letter to Orange City Manager Shawn Oubre, Kittrell wrote, “One might ask if things are going so well then why would I leave. I want to leave before I reach a point in my career where I have lost the edge, the drive or the compassion for the job. I want to leave before I have served beyond my ability to effectively lead the department. As much as I was a fan of Roger Staubach I don’t want my last pass to be completed to an offensive lineman.

There is no singular reason as to why it is time for me to retire from this position. There is nothing wrong. It is just time.”

He offered special thanks to former City Manager Charles Curry, former Mayor Jim Dunaway and former City Council Members Ann Kate and Martin Thomen; and to present Mayor Brown Claybar.

But he admits that’s “the short list.”

“Most of what I consider my valuable training experience is from valuable people I’ve worked with,” he said. “People that I’ve chosen very carefully over the years to watch and learn from.”

Kittrell: time to pass the torch

Following is the complete text of Police Chief Sam Kittrell’s retirement announcement to Orange City Manager Shawn Oubre:

“To have served as chief of police in my hometown for 23 years has been the most rewarding and fulfilling experience of my life. When I began my law enforcement career on Nov. 15, 1973, I never dreamed that some day I would be the chief of this department. I feel fortunate to have served during an era when law enforcement evolved from a time when the levels of training and technical skills were not as readily available or required to a time when every individual is provided the training, equipment, and facilities necessary for the efficient and effective delivery of professional law enforcement services. I am also pleased to have served when the compensation for the men and women who serve is such that our families are not required to make as many sacrifices as they did in generations past.

“This decision was reached at the end of a lengthy and complex process. Things are going about as smoothly and as positively as at any point in my career. I believe with all my heart that I have reached a point in my career and in my life where it is my best interest and in the best interest of the department to pass the torch of leadership. I still love going to work every day and I could not ask to work with a better group of people. No one knows the pride I feel every day as I work side by side with the men and women of the Orange police department.

“One might ask if things are going so well then why would I leave. I want to leave before I reach a point in my career where I have lost the edge, the drive or the compassion for the job. I want to leave before I have served beyond my ability to effectively lead the department. As much as I was a fan of Roger Staubach I don’t want my last pass to be completed to an offensive lineman. There is no singular reason as to why it is time for me to retire from this position. There is nothing wrong. It is just time.

“I am very thankful to you, to the past city managers and to the current and past mayors and council members under whom I have served. I hate to exclude anyone but I would feel remiss if I did not offer a special thanks and recognition to City Manager Charles Curry, Mayor Jim Dunaway and to Council Members Ann Kate and Martin Thomen for showing tremendous courage in nominating and confirming me as chief of police over 23 years ago. I also want to offer my sincere appreciation and gratitude to Mayor Brown Claybar under whom I served both as city manager and as chief. That time as city manager is a time I would not ever want to repeat. But if it had to be repeated, he is the person I would choose as the one to go through it with again.”