34 Chapters
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Chapter 27. Betsy and the Poster Boy

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

27

BETSY AND THE POSTER BOY

Lee P. Brown served as chief from April 19, 1982 until January 19, 1990—seven years and nine months, compared to Herman Short’s nine years and two months. He left Houston to become New York City’s police commissioner and served there two years before becoming drug czar in President Bill Clinton’s administration. Then he served three terms as mayor of Houston from 1998 until 2004.

When Brown left, Mayor Kathy Whitmire was in her final two-year term, still with no friends in the higher ranks of the Houston Police Department. Whitmire had inspired the troops in blue like a despised head football coach who openly taunts a rival team. Her attitude moved police lobbyists to study the legislative process more fervently than ever before and use ambitious political gambits designed to keep beneficial laws from changing in the five legislative sessions in which the mayor fought against them.

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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 12. The Post-War Era

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

12

THE POST-WAR ERA

America has long grappled with juvenile gangs of one sort or another. This has been true throughout a good part of Houston’s history. Gang names seemed less sinister in the 1940s when monikers included the Long Hairs, the Black Shirts and the Alley Gang. Most American cities have also endured so-called “juvenile delinquency” problems. Like today, the media often exaggerated the incidence of youth crimes.1

During the 1940s, local newspapers filled columns chronicling the large number of crimes by minors and with pleas for curfews to curb juvenile delinquency. The Houston Post heralded the use of curfews in 500 American cities as a way of “solving the perplexing problems of teenage life.” The newspaper cited a Parade magazine article that claimed “curfew is, in part, America’s answer to the problem of youth in a country at war.” In reality, several city officials noted, there were few figures to support either a decrease or increase in youth crime, explaining that any infraction of a city ordinance was listed as a criminal offense. Hence, children who rode their bikes on sidewalks were committing offenses, as were children who “trespassed” on private property to retrieve a ball that landed there, or shot an air gun on their own lawn but the pellet landed in the next yard. Minors caught smoking cigarettes on the streets were even included in the statistics of law violations.2

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Chapter 15. A Sergeant Becomes Chief

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

15

A SERGEANT BECOMES CHIEF

Police Chief L. D. Morrison Sr. closed the little-used North Side Police Substation at 1814 Gregg when the new headquarters at 61 Riesner opened in March 1952. He also transferred twenty-one officers, three sergeants and one lieutenant from the Motorcycle Squad to the Safety Division, effectively disbanding the “solos” squad.

By May 15, Morrison posted his semi-annual bulletin about politics and the men in blue. The bulletin said that civil service rules prohibited policemen and firemen from taking part in such political activities as making speeches, soliciting votes, passing out literature and writing letters. The rules also protected the men from reprisals for refusing to contribute to political campaigns or to render any political service.

One activity that no law affected was the naturally flowing inter-departmental politicking that posed day-to-day distractions for the chief. Even though some ranking officers were dismissed, demoted or chose to resign, some strong followers of B. W. Payne remained to stir the waters of discontent. Morrison did what chiefs before him had always done—he put his loyalists in influential positions and those not so loyal in out-of-the-way assignments in a growing department that now numbered about 600.

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Chapter 7. The Bloodiest Day

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

7

THE BLOODIEST DAY

By early 1917, HPD consisted of 159 men headed by two veteran police officers, Superintendent Ben S. Davison and Deputy Superintendent J. E. Dunman. The rest of the force was composed of sixteen detectives, twenty mounted officers, six motorcycle cops and several others on special assignment. Except for one black detective and one black officer, the force was completely white.1

According to several police veterans, “For years Houstonians had displayed only modest respect for the police department and had shown little faith in its ability to preserve law and order.”2 It had in fact been only six years since two policemen settled a dispute with a duel on Main Street, leading one observer to note, “It wasn’t safe to get in range of the police.”

Few Houstonians could have imagined that the hot and rainy dog day of August 23, 1917, would turn into the bloodiest day in the history of the HPD. On that day five Houston police officers lost their lives in what became known as the “Camp Logan Riot.” But it was much more than that. This was not the only race-related conflict in America’s military history—incidents took place at virtually every camp in the south where black troops were stationed during the early 20th century. But, this was by far the worst event of its kind and remains to this day a record holder of sorts; its aftermath resulted in what is still the largest mutiny and the largest domestic court martial in U.S. Army history. It remains the only race riot in which more whites perished than blacks. In all, sixteen whites were killed, including the five Houston police officers, and close to thirty others suffered violent wounds such as the loss of limbs. No black civilians were killed, and only four troopers of the 24th Infantry died. Of these, two were accidentally shot by other soldiers who may have mistaken them for police officers. A white citizen shot a third soldier who later died in a hospital. The fourth black was Sergeant Vida Henry, the well-respected soldier with an honorable record up until he undertook the leadership of the violent attack on Houston. Henry took his own life.

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