34 Chapters
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Chapter 17. Herman B. Short

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

17

HERMAN B. SHORT

As a member of the Houston City Council, Louie Welch had a vision of the type of police chief he wanted if he ever became mayor. Welch didn’t want an academician or a nice guy. He preferred a squeaky clean, non-political veteran unafraid to strongly enforce laws for all Houstonians.1

By the mid-1960s, Welch had support from minority groups, mainly stemming from his strong stand against refusals to serve African-American customers in the City Hall cafeteria. One day in 1961, Councilman Welch became the first Houston public official to sit down with blacks in a public place to share a cup of coffee with them amid booing and catcalls of a crowd outside still favoring Jim Crow laws. Scared by hearing the N-word loudly voiced, the cafeteria’s cashier called Welch when she couldn’t get an answer from the mayor’s telephone to ask him what to do. Not surprisingly, Welch got the vast majority of black votes in the 1961 mayoral election, but lost to incumbent Louis Cutrer.2

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Chapter 10. Reorganization

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

10

REORGANIZATION

During Oscar Holcombe’s two terms as mayor between 1933 and 1937, he inaugurated several changes for HPD largely regarded as politically motivated. Not the least was his creation of the Department of Public Safety. By making this move, he effectively ended the existence of independent police and fire departments. Holcombe abolished the position of chief of police and imbued the director of public safety, George Woods (his former campaign manager), with the chief’s powers and then some. However, Woods stressed, “If anyone calls me chief, they had better take to their heels when they say it.”1

As public safety director, Woods implemented a number of changes that had long-lasting ramifications for HPD. The egotistical Woods created the position of superintendent of police and appointed Banyon Wylie “B. W.” Payne, former captain of detectives, to fill it. In the process, Woods, who claimed that the city budget required it, fired Chief Percy Heard and Captain of Detectives J. K. Irwin. In addition, many high-ranking officers were reduced in rank.2

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Chapter 8. HPD and the Klan

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

8

HPD AND THE KLAN

By 1918, the police department had 176 officers for a city of 153,192. That same year, Mrs. Eva Jane Bacher joined HPD, officially becoming the department’s first female police officer. Another woman, Juvenile Officer Ferdie Trichelle, also served. Bacher would be promoted to detective in 1920. The 1918 Houston City Directory was the first to include a policewoman—in this case referring to Bacher as “Woman Police.” She would be referred to as “Woman Police” the following year as well, although Bacher signed most of her correspondence as “Policewoman.” Bacher next appeared as “Woman Detective” in the 1920–21 Houston City Directory.

In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and went into effect the following year as the Volstead Act, introducing America to Prohibition. Almost from the beginning, HPD was embroiled with enforcing the federal law. Like modern day police officers tracking drug dealers, early HPD used intuition to capture booze runners. For example, one night in 1920 two motorcycle patrolmen were riding along Sabine Street when they spotted an automobile “with kegs in it.” They pulled over the car and found ten kegs containing almost five gallons of moonshine whiskey. The two suspects were charged with violating the federal law. That same week, HPD detectives teamed up with Prohibition agents and raided a house on Wilson Street, where they found a small quantity of wine and whiskey. The tenants Mr. and Mrs. Tomasino operated a grocery store there, but were both arrested; these were little more than pyrrhic victories in a war that could never be won.

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Chapter 23. The Drill Instructor

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

23

THE DRILL INSTRUCTOR

Harry Caldwell met the Joe Campos Torres and throw-down gun nightmares head-on and stood stridently in his approach to easing the pains they caused. He delegated little authority and generally rubbed both the street officers and the brass the wrong way. He frequently engaged in his own public relations campaigns without involving anyone else.

Caldwell found himself heading a department with extremely low morale dealing with a high crime rate amidst stern criticism from intolerant Hispanic and African-American community leaders. For the first time in his career, Caldwell saw grown men in blue with tears in their eyes because of the lack of public trust caused by the Torres incident. Pappy Bond admitted to Caldwell shortly before announcing his retirement that his nerves couldn’t take being police chief any longer.1

Caldwell inherited a number of controversies. On April 26, 1978, he fired the three officers involved in a notable throw-down case that resulted in the death of Billy Keith Joyvies. They were Sergeant Walter Earl Plaster and Officers John Stephen White and Clarence M. Burkett. Plaster and White were indicted in federal court on charges they conspired to violate Joyvies’ civil rights. Burkett was an unindicted conspirator. In a trial before U.S. District Judge John V. Singleton Jr., Burkett, under a grant of immunity, testified that he fired a .25-caliber automatic pistol provided by his partner, White, who minutes later handed the gun to Plaster. Burkett, later a private investigator, testified that the actions of the officers were necessary to make things flow smoother after Joyvies “obviously dumped” a gun he was firing at the officers during a high-speed chase on July 11, 1975.

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Chapter 13. The Old Gray Fox’s Whim

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

13

AT THE OLD GRAY FOX’S WHIM

Known as “the Old Gray Fox, Oscar Holcombe would serve as Houston mayor longer than any other man. He began the first of eleven non-consecutive terms in 1921. The prematurely gray and political crafty Oscar Fitzallen Holcombe was born in Mobile, Alabama and lived with his family in San Antonio before moving to Houston in 1906 at age eighteen. He formed his own construction company and ran for mayor for the first time in 1921 at age thirty-two. Holcombe was elected to eleven non-consecutive terms from the 1920s through the 1950s, a record no other mayor has approached.1

Holcombe utilized a police officer spoils system like no other Bayou City mayor in history. He manipulated officers as ward heelers during election years and employed only two police chiefs over four consecutive two-year terms until 1929. In his first campaign, Holcombe vowed to reorganize city departments, pave more streets, build new schools and improve the business climate. Policing this more pleasing environment was seldom mentioned in his speeches.

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