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Houston Blue

The Story of the Houston Police Department

Mitchel P. Roth and Tom Kennedy

Publication Year: 2012

Houston Blue offers the first comprehensive history of one of the nation’s largest police forces, the Houston Police Department. Through extensive archival research and more than one hundred interviews with prominent Houston police figures, politicians, news reporters, attorneys, and others, authors Mitchel P. Roth and Tom Kennedy chronicle the development of policing in the Bayou City from its days as a grimy trading post in the 1830s to its current status as the nation’s fourth largest city. Prominent historical figures who have brushed shoulders with Houston’s Finest over the past 175 years include Houdini, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, O. Henry, former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, hatchet wielding temperance leader Carrie Nation, the Hilton Siamese Twins, blues musician Leadbelly, oilman Silver Dollar Jim West, and many others. The Houston Police Department was one of the first cities in the South to adopt fingerprinting as an identification system and use the polygraph test, and under the leadership of its first African American police chief, Lee Brown, put the theory of neighborhood oriented policing into practice in the 1980s. The force has been embroiled in controversy and high profile criminal cases as well. Among the cases chronicled in the book are the Dean Corll, Dr. John Hill, and Sanford Radinsky murders; controversial cases involving the department’s crime lab; the killings of Randy Webster and Joe Campos Torres; and the Camp Logan, Texas Southern University, and Moody Park Riots.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: North Texas Crime and Criminal Justice Series

Title Page, Copyright

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Foreword: Ray Hunt, President, Houston Police Officers’ Union

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pp. ix-x

These men have done an outstanding job of documenting the Department’s creation and its rich history since the birth of Houston in 1836. Additionally, they also documented the birth and development of the police labor movement in HPD following the establishment of the Houston Police...

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1. Baghdad on the Bayou

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pp. 1-12

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...

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2. Houston, USA

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pp. 13-16

As German scientist Ferdinand van Roemer approached Houston in 1845, he recorded in his diary, “I found myself on the way to Houston, next to Galveston, the most important city of Texas.” However, upon his arrival in the Bayou City, he reported the houses on the city’s main street...

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

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pp. 17-29

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...

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4. Houston’s Crime Problem

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pp. 30-40

Despite a number of strides in upgrading local law enforcement, one local newspaper lamented in 1873, that “at no time in her history, has [Houston] been so immersed in crimes as at the present. The terrors of the blade of the assassin and the bullet of the murder have become a matter...

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5. The Marshal Becomes the Chief

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pp. 41-52

John G. Blackburn was the first head of the Houston Police Department to be referred to as chief of police rather than marshal, signalling another step in Houston’s advancement from town to city. Blackburn was born in Mississippi and moved to Marshall, Texas in 1871, where he resided until...

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6. Murder Was In the Air

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pp. 53-67

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...

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7. The Bloodiest Day

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pp. 68-76

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...

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8. HPD and the Klan

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pp. 77-82

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...

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9. The Prohibition Era

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pp. 83-96

Once Prohibition was legislated into reality with the passage of the 18th Amendment, it dawned on most observers, particularly in law enforcement, that it was virtually unenforceable. Although Prohibition would later be regarded as an unmitigated disaster for providing the opportunity...

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10. Reorganization

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pp. 97-110

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...

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11. Percy Heard and the War Years

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pp. 111-133

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...

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12. The Post-War Era

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pp. 134-144

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...

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13. The Old Gray Fox’s Whim

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pp. 145-151

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...

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14. Secret Leaders and 1269m

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pp. 152-161

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...

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15. A Sergeant Becomes Chief

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pp. 162-176

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...

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16. Political Winds

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pp. 177-190

By the time Mayor Oscar Holcombe appointed Carl Lester Shuptrine police chief on August 15, 1956, the appointee was in position to achieve a noteworthy Houston policing irony. He was demoted in 1947 and promoted in 1956—for the same reason: he was non-political. Holcombe..

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17. Herman B. Short

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pp. 191-207

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...

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18. Conflict at Texas Southern

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pp. 208-218

Houston’s leadership kept violence and damage to neighborhoods and businesses to a minimum when compared to the Watts section of Los Angeles, Detroit and other scenes of rioting during the violent days of the Civil Rights movement. Accounts of what became known as “the...

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19. The Successor

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pp. 219-232

“The man Short elected mayor” picked a flawed successor ill-prepared for the big job on the third floor of 61 Riesner. Mayor Fred Hofheinz was a social liberal whose friends in the department were a few reliable old hands he got to know when his father Roy Hofheinz served two years as mayor in...

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20. All 7’s

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pp. 233-246

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...

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21. Buffalo Hunters and a New Union

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pp. 247-264

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...

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22. The Darkest Day

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pp. 265-279

Hofheinz had known Byron Glenn “Pappy” Bond throughout his twenty-two- year HPD career. The rotund captain grew up in the elder Mayor Hofheinz’ administration in 1953 when Fred was in his teens, making him a “comfort factor” for the young mayor. In a serious interview with Bond about...

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23. The Drill Instructor

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pp. 280-298

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...

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24. Hispanics Stand Tall

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pp. 299-311

In the year 1950, the Houston Police Department leadership perceived a problem with the Hispanic community. A Hispanic suspect killed an Anglo, prompting police to believe they needed a “Latin American Squad” to deal with cases involving similar circumstances. A called meeting at the Civil...

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25. The Outsider

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pp. 312-328

The man who succeeded Harry Caldwell was as low key as Caldwell was confrontational and aggressive. B. K. Johnson smiled more often, listened silently but thoughtfully and doled out orders without bite and sting. When Caldwell announced his retirement in February 1980, Mayor...

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26. Neighborhood-Oriented Policing

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pp. 329-338

There was some belief that HPD was on the verge of a war with the community with tension reaching palpable proportions to street officers until Mayor Kathy Whitmire picked Lee P. Brown as Houston’s police The prevalent attitude among gays, African-Americans and Hispanics...

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27. Betsy and the Poster Boy

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pp. 339-358

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...

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28. The Man in the Uniform

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pp. 359-367

Clarence O. “Brad” Bradford grew up on a farm outside Newellton in Tensas Parish, Louisiana, near the Mississippi River, four hundred miles from Houston. He was one of twelve children born to the farm’s owners—a well disciplined African-American and his wife, a college woman...

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29. Hans Marticiuc and Greater Benefits

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pp. 368-382

For fifteen years, Houston’s police employee groups stepped up the age-old fight to get better salaries and benefits at a feverish pace by lobbying sympathetic legislators for laws that provided officers with significant bargaining rights with the city. Their most ardent adversary was Kathy Whitmire...

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30. The Chief from Phoenix

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pp. 383-398

Bill White always did his homework. When he became mayor of Houston in 2003, he researched the Houston Police Department like a doctoral candidate, using the same fact-finding abilities and impressive menu of knowledge he employed to become a notable consensus builder in...

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31. An Insider and New Trust

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pp. 399-411

Police department histories are rife with irony and standard practice. The biggest irony in HPD history was the 1982 event in which the cops’ most-resented mayor, Kathy Whitmire, appointed an outsider who markedly changed the quality of life of Houston officers and their policing techniques...

Appendix 1. Fallen Heroes of HPD

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pp. 413-416

Appendix 2. Houston Mayors and Police Chiefs, 1837–2012

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pp. 417-423

Appendix 3. HPOA/HPOU Presidents

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pp. 424-425


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pp. 426-452


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pp. 453-466


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pp. 467-486

E-ISBN-13: 9781574414820
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574414721

Page Count: 496
Illustrations: 50 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: North Texas Crime and Criminal Justice Series

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Subject Headings

  • Houston (Tex.). Police Dept. -- History.
  • Police -- Texas -- Houston -- History.
  • Police -- Labor unions -- Texas -- Houston -- History.
  • Houston Police Officers' Union -- History.
  • Houston Police Officers' Association -- History.
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