Highland Police Chief Terry M. Bell died Saturday after an almost two-year battle with cancer.
He was 55.
The news was announced late Saturday night in a Facebook post from the Highland Police Department.
“It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Chief Terry M. Bell, Chief of Police and Public Safety Director for the City of Highland. Chief Bell proudly served the City of Highland for 10 years, and served the City of Collinsville for 20 years prior to that. Godspeed Chief Bell, you will be missed. A grateful department and community salute you,” The department wrote.
Police Lt. Chris Conrad, who was tabbed as Bell’s replacement following command training, said funeral services for Bell will be held next weekend.
Bell, who was originally from Mattoon, began his career in public service with the United States Marine Corps. On his retirement from the military, Bell began a career in law enforcement.
After brief stints at the National City and Freeburg police departments, Bell entered the Collinsville Police Department in 1988. He would serve the department for the next 21 years.
“While he was with Collinsville he served in just about every position that they had in their department,” Conrad said.
Collinsville Police Chief Steve Evans said that before he came to the department, he watched from afar as Bell and the department’s leadership team shaped the agency.
Among his contributions in Collinsville, Bell helped to design the current police department building. Bell also helped improve City Hall operations and led an effort with the city’s Community Development Department to address code issues and curb crime around multiunit housing buildings.
Bell left Collinsville as assistant-chief, before being picked over nine other candidates for his position at the Highland Police Department at the beginning of 2009.
“He saw this job as the end all be all in where he wanted to be and where he wanted to make his difference,” Conrad said.
City Manager Mark Latham said he knew he would be a great fit for the community.
During the interview process, Latham said he was impressed by Bell’s demeanor and his understanding of the expectations of leading a police force in a smaller town.
“That’s something that he projected very well,” Latham said.
Lt. Conrad, who worked for the department at the time of Bell’s hiring and was promoted by him to the ranks of sergeant and lieutenant, said the former chief worked to advance the department in many ways.
“He kind of came in and jumped with both feet into tackling a lot of the issues that we had,” Conrad said.
After securing funding, Bell worked to correct technology issues and modernize the Highland police fleet.
Bell also initiated a radio project for a more accessible communication system. Before the project, Conrad said the police system operated off of a very small antenna, which caused coverage problems and prevented officers from calling out in specific areas. Bell helped to raise a 250-foot radio tower that allows officers to talk out of county and state on their portable and in-car radios.
“It is a huge upgrade to the system from what we had before and it is a system that will serve the city of Highland for probably 30 to 40 years,” Conrad said.
Bell also changed the department’s record management system, which now utilizes a mapping component, a computer aided dispatch, and has improved how officers issue citations.
“It’s really streamlined and modernized how we operate the police department,” Conrad said.
Bell was also the major proponent behind revitalizing the effort to raise a new public safety facility.
Before his retirement, Bell was able to secure a design and floor plans for the building, which will house main operations of the police, fire and EMS departments. Mayor Joe Michaelis said the project has been Bell’s longstanding dream.
“Chief bell paved the way with all the time and effort into this project to make it become an eventual reality,” Michaelis said.
However, Bell’s colleagues said his impact spans far beyond tangible accomplishments.
When Bell started with the force, the department was seeing a high turnover of retiring officers. Bell’s colleagues said he worked to mentor and mold younger officers.
“This has given him the ability to put his stamp on how they are trained and how they are indoctrinated into the job,” Conrad said.
Conrad said Bell also put an emphasis on training. He said this outlook on education has created a more professional department, vastly improved the force’s relationship with the public, and encouraged many officers to go back to school.
“We bolstered a department that probably has more bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees per officer than just about any department in the area,” Conrad said.
Bell served as president of the Southern Illinois Police Chief’s Association, and was a member of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Bell also served on the Madison County 911 Advisory Board.
“I think the most notable attribute that Chief Bell gave to this community was that he had the respect and admiration of the people he supervised as well as the community,” Michaelis said.
“I think that’s why he probably became the not just department leader, but the community leader that he became,” Conrad said.