Denison Police Department Sgt. Jackie Thomas retired on Tuesday, ending his 34-year career with the department.

Thomas began his work with the Denison Police Department in July of 1983 and started as a patrol officer. But in his decades of service, Thomas rose to become a sergeant, a firearms instructor, a member of the Criminal Investigations Division and one of the department’s first SWAT team members. The department celebrated Thomas’ accomplishments, career and retirement with a party on Wednesday afternoon.

“I think his dedication really stood out above everything else,” Lt. Mike Eppler said of Thomas, whom he worked alongside for 24 years. “No mater what task he was given to do, he did it. He did everything right, he did it the best and you could really depend on him.”

Thomas said he first flirted with the idea of becoming a Denison Police officer after he was discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1979.

“I was looking for a job come that January of 1980,” Thomas said. “I saw that the Denison Police Department was hiring, so I went and got an application, filled it out and went back home and thought about it. I said, ‘You know, I’m not really ready to go back into a uniform.’ So, I threw it away and I went and got me a job driving a forklift.”

After three years of driving that forklift, Thomas said he saw that the department was hiring once again and decided to apply. He turned in his paperwork and was hired on as a patrol officer.

Thomas eventually worked his way into the department’s Criminal Investigations Division, where he spent 10 years working cases that largely involved abused children. The now-retired officer said those cases were both the most difficult and the most rewarding of his career.

“Working with them and seeing the abuse was probably the hardest part of anything I had done,” Thomas said. “But helping to put people who did the abusing away was probably the most satisfying part of my job.”

In his 34 years with the department, Thomas said the resources and equipment available to officers changed drastically and for the better.

“The things I have seen change most in law enforcement would be technology and the safety of the officers,” Thomas said. “When I started, we didn’t even have bulletproof vests. We didn’t get back up on calls when you went out in ‘83 and the odd years after, you went and handled them yourself. We didn’t have portable hand radios at that time either. In fact, the department only had five or six of them.”

Thomas said it was difficult to say goodbye to his colleagues and friends at the department, whom he described as “family.” But he said he has plenty to keep him busy and that he would spend his free time riding his motorcycle, fishing from his new boat, taking care of his three grandchildren and fixing up his new home, for which he said his wife had already assembled a “honey-do list.”

Looking back on his long career, Thomas said he learned many important lessons, but that one in particular would always stick with him.

“I honestly learned a lot,” Thomas said. “But I learned from the Denison Police Department how to treat people and that if I treated them right and I treated them fairly, then I would always be respected for that.”