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A Life of Service: Leander’s first police chief dies one day after 91st birthday

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Those who knew and served with Cecil D. “C.D.” Hill said the man who became the City of Leander’s first police chief was someone willing to lend his hand to those in need.  

Hill was born in Marion, Illinois on Aug. 25, 1927. A decorated war veteran who served in the Navy, Air Force and Army, Hill was assigned to the USS Lexington during World War II, going on to become a pilot serving in Korea and Vietnam. 

Hill officially launched the Leander Police Department in 1978, serving as the City Marshall, then as its first Police Chief. For his service, Hill is forever etched in the history of the now fast-growing city.

“We all want to leave a legacy and have some lasting impact, and Chief Hill had significant impact on the development of Leander as an incorporated City and on the creation of the Leander Police Department,” said Assistant Police Chief Jeff Hayes. “Working with local government officials, Chief Hill did the research on incorporation and was instrumental in filing the paperwork for incorporation.”

Hayes described how Hill even contributed his own money toward the filing fees and found election judges at no cost to hold the city’s incorporation election. 

“He and other members of the community worked tirelessly to establish Leander as a city. He did much of the same work to get the police department up and running, including purchasing much of the equipment such as badges, patches and other items needed,” said Hayes. “We owe our existence as a municipal law enforcement agency to his selflessness and determination. I can think of no better legacy than to know that we are the City of Leander and the Leander Police Department because of one man’s dogged determination.” 

Before 1978, the then-small town had no real law enforcement in place locally. For many years the citizens of Leander relied exclusively on the Williamson County Sheriff's Department, the Travis County Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety, agencies which the Leander Police Department partners with to this day. 

In 1978, Austin growth was threatening neighboring towns to the north with possible annexation. A group of concerned residents formed a group called the Citizens to Incorporate Leander, chaired by Hill, who was a Westinghouse Security Lieutenant at the time. This group was responsible for the transformation of Leander from a small unincorporated town to a self-governed city. 

According to a Retrospectus from the Leander Police Department, “In a general election held on Jan. 21, 1978, members of the community voted for incorporation and to elect the first Mayor and City Council. Shortly thereafter, Williamson County Judge C. L. Chance presided over a ceremony to swear-in Mayor Joe Bates, who in turn would swear-in his fellow councilmembers. The vote to formally incorporate Leander was narrowly passed by a margin of just 19 votes with 134 for, and 115 against.” 

Commenting on the hard fought process Hill said, “It was a long fight with a short stick.” 

Hill, who also served as a Reserve Williamson County Deputy, offered to volunteer as the City Marshal without pay and provide the first municipal law enforcement to the newly-incorporated City of Leander. Many early employees worked without pay since the city had no tax income until October of 1978.

Hill’s sense of service to the city called him to disband the city’s short-lived first police force, saying that the force wasn’t properly authorized in accordance with the law   acted honorably, even at the cost of the new Police Department.

“On November 12, 1980, after learning that the police department and its officers were never properly authorized in accordance with the law, Chief Hill formally released the sworn staff and resigned his position as Chief,” documents report. 

At the time, Hill submitted a letter to Council explaining, “Not only are there legal liabilities, if an officer were to be injured or killed in the line of duty, there would be no legal forthcoming benefits.” 

After notifying the Williamson County Sheriff and other local agencies, Chief Hill brought the short life of the inaugural Leander Police Department to a brief close. 

“An hour later, the City Council convened an emergency meeting and properly resurrected the Leander Police Department lawfully by ordinance. Former Lieutenant Lee Nusbaum was appointed the acting department head,” according to the Retrospectus. 

The City Council’s first meetings were held in the garage bay of the Volunteer Fire Department until they moved to the old McFarland Store on Willis Street, which became the first official City Hall. For a short time, Hill worked out of a small space in the new City Hall until it became more convenient to work from his car, and later out of the garage at his home. 

Hill wanted the city’s residents to feel that he would always be available, installing a special phone line in his home to take police calls. Hill worked full time for the city while also working at Westinghouse as head of security. Hill bought the very first badges, patches, uniforms and other gear for the new agency out of his own pocket. 

He also utilized his personal vehicle, a 1973 Chrysler New Yorker, as the City’s first patrol car. When interviewing new officers, Hill would ask, “Do you just want to carry a gun and a club, or do you want to help and serve people?” 

Hill held the position of chief until his retirement from law enforcement in 1980, though he continued to reside in the area and remained active in the community for years.

Hill passed away Aug. 26, 2018, just one day after his 91st birthday.

The City of Leander honored Hill's contributions by proclaiming Aug. 17, 2017 as “Cecil D. Hill” day and presenting him with a plaque at a City Council meeting.

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