34 Chapters
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Chapter 1. Baghdad on the Bayou

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

1

BAGHDAD ON THE BAYOU

Much of the early history of peacekeeping and law enforcement in Houston has been lost to fire, floods and poor record keeping. Not until the 1840s does the dim outline of what would become one of the nation’s largest police departments begin to take shape. The earliest references and anecdotes dealing with law enforcement can be traced back to the early 1830s. By most accounts, the origins of Houston policing can be traced back to the efforts of an Anglo settler named John W. Moore in the years leading up to the Republic. Moore was appointed Alcalde of the Eastern Province, a position that covered everything from local judge to sheriff.

However, most law enforcement was community-based in this era. In fact, as far back as Anglo Saxon England prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066, community residents were called on to bring local troublemakers to justice in lieu of formal policing. And so it was in Houston almost eight centuries later; when a crime was committed, someone alerted the community and the familiar posse composed of local residents of western lore would set out to bring the malefactor to justice. Typically the suspect would be held in confinement until the arrival of the Alcalde, who would conduct the trial and dole out punishment. There was no need for a penitentiary in the 1830s since punishment usually took place immediately after the trial, whether it was physical or financial in nature.

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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 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 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 6. Murder Was In the Air

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

6

MURDER WAS IN THE AIR

On August 22, 1910, Houston Police Chief George Ellis resigned, ending an eight-year reign as Houston’s top cop. His resignation was unexpected to say the least. By all accounts, Ellis was a popular chief held in high regard by the rank and file. But when he showed up at the police station wearing citizen’s clothes that morning, his staff knew something was up. Ellis calmly took off his badge and handed it to Night Chief James Ray, who was on duty conducting morning roll call at the end of his shift. Mayor Rice promptly appointed Assistant Chief Ray to replace Ellis.

Ellis’s resignation was not publicly announced until the next day, which one reporter claimed was to forestall a rush on the part of applicants for the position. Mayor Rice was overwhelmed with applications nonetheless. However, reflecting the political climate of the day, the mayor said in response, “There were a good many applicants for the position, none of them being considered. An efficient public service can only be maintained by merited promotions [from within].”1

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