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Chapter 20. All 7’s

Mitchel P. Roth and Tom Kennedy University of North Texas Press ePub

20

ALL 7’S

The first African-American officers in the Houston Police Department served in 1870 during Reconstruction. Those first blacks were believed to be state police officers whose job was to counteract Reconstruction Era violence against black citizens in Houston and around the state of Texas. These were known as “special officers”—a term used for decades to refer to African-Americans without the full authority of their white counterparts.

HPD African-American police historian May Walker wrote The History of the Black Police Officers in the Houston Police Department 1878–1988, which revealed that three of HPD’s twenty-two officers in 1892 were the first black officers with full police authority. Hardly any records exist to show the names of these men, none of whom served more than five years. There is confusion over the years of service for the first fully identified black officer in HPD history. His name was Nathan Davis. His first year of service is reported as 1878; however, a picture of the twenty-six-member force in 1916 is the first and only departmental picture depicting Davis, a man approximately six-feet tall with a fully gray handlebar mustache. Officer Davis patrolled predominately black areas and had full authority with one exception—he could not arrest a white suspect without the assistance of a white officer, nor could he get a promotion.1

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Chapter 11. Percy Heard and the War Years

Mitchel P. Roth and Tom Kennedy University of North Texas Press ePub

11

PERCY HEARD AND THE WAR YEARS

As the 1930s came to conclusion, city politics were as complicated and acrimonious as ever as a new mayor took office and a new police chief was appointed. L. C. Brown became police chief in January 1939 and almost immediately set about putting his stamp on the force by demoting twenty-six police officers, forcing seven to retire and firing three others. He also closed three police substations and promoted many of the officers that Holcombe had demoted during his administration to their former ranks.1

The same year that saw the release of Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz also saw HPD open its first police training school for new recruits, under the direction of Captain L. D. Morrison. The five-week classes were conducted at the Sam Houston Coliseum. Moving farther away from its roots in patronage politics, the department subjected new recruits to more requirements than simple political party affiliation. In 1939, HPD adopted a military model for screening potential officers. Of the first 362 who passed the initial exam (out of 597), only seventy were selected as recruits and of these only fifty graduated. But due to budgetary constraints, only twenty-four would wear the HPD blue. The remaining twenty-six were put on a waiting list and would be considered for future jobs on the force or as special police officers. One of the questions asked on the written exam was, “Why do you want to be a police officer?” The same question was still on the test seventy years later.

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Chapter 3. Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Birth of HPD

Mitchel P. Roth and Tom Kennedy University of North Texas Press ePub

3

CIVIL WAR, RECONSTRUCTION, AND THE BIRTH OF HPD

Prior to the Civil War there was little if any police patrol in Houston. After nightfall the lack of protection was even more daunting. What little reliable protection existed was the result of local merchants hiring private guards and volunteers to protect their businesses. As Houston and the United States stood on the brink of Civil War in 1860, most evidence suggests that policing was inadequate by all standards.

One of the earliest accounts of a member of HPD killed in the line duty was of the death of Officer C. Foley on March 10, 1860. According to the report in that day’s Tri-Weekly Telegraph, Foley had been patrolling the market district when accosted by Michael Flock. Upon being hit by the policeman, Flock left the scene only to return shortly after with a shotgun, fatally shooting Foley. Little is known as to the fate of Flock, who was carried off to jail and later tried in court. It would be more than twenty years before another member of the force was killed in the line of duty.1

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Chapter 14. Secret Leaders and 1269m

Mitchel P. Roth and Tom Kennedy University of North Texas Press ePub

14

SECRET LEADERS AND 1269M

Breckenridge Porter Sr. was the only Houston police lieutenant in history to be thrown out of the Texas Rangers and charged with murder within a relatively short period of time. The storied details of Porter’s life were retold around police headquarters throughout the 20th century, always in modest, down-to-earth segments, using the honest-to-goodness modus operandi of the biographic subject. Just as Ranger Porter got the hang of a job that included earning a $2 bounty for each illegal immigrant he captured in the Valley, the issue of his age cropped up.1

The Rangers’ age requirement was twenty-one; he was barely twenty. Before the state found out, Porter and a partner were assigned to Galveston, where violence frequently broke out in union picket lines at the port. During one near-riot, shots were fired and Porter was left standing with a smoking shotgun in his hands; one man was dead.2

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Chapter 21. Buffalo Hunters and a New Union

Mitchel P. Roth and Tom Kennedy University of North Texas Press ePub

21

BUFFALO HUNTERS AND A NEW UNION

Pappy Bond had a plan in late 1974. The new captain in Narcotics had taken over a division troubled by unsafe arrest practices and accusations of brutality, wiretapping and other questionable activities that often turned the tide in the criminals’ favor. Bond attacked the growing drug problem in the Bayou City through a special inter-departmental recruitment technique. He perused the lists of arrests from Patrol and wrote down the names of the arresting officers most often appearing.

On his yellow notepad, he scribbled the names of the top three from Central Patrol, Northeast, Shepherd and Park Place. He interviewed each of them, flattered their egos by citing their aggressiveness, and appealed to their purposeful demeanor as being just what HPD needed to take on drug dealers.

He sought and signed up the people who later nicknamed themselves the “Buffalo Hunters” on the day shift. The night shift became known as “Ripley’s Raiders” after Narcotics Lieutenant Billy Ripley. These hunters and raiders were younger officers unafraid to plunge head-on into the more challenging and dangerous police situations and live to write detailed reports. One of them was Bob Thomas, who endured his share of meanness and violence as a patrolman in Third Ward and with the Park Place Rangers, known in the 1970s as HPD’s toughest patrol division. In his three years on the force, Thomas had heard more shots fired and saw more blood than hundreds of officers with far more years on any beat.1

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