We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Race and the Houston Police Department, 1930–1990

A Change Did Come

By Dwight D. Watson

Publication Year: 2005

In Houston, as in the rest of the American South up until the 1950s, the police force reflected and enforced the segregation of the larger society. When the nation began to change in the 1950s and 1960s, this guardian of the status quo had to change, too. It was not designed to do so easily. Dwight Watson traces how the Houston Police Department reacted to social, political, and institutional change over a fifty-year period—and specifically, how it responded to and in turn influenced racial change. Using police records as well as contemporary accounts, Watson astutely analyzes the escalating strains between the police and segments of the city’s black population in the 1967 police riot at Texas Southern University and the 1971 violence that became known as the Dowling Street Shoot-Out. The police reacted to these events and to daily challenges by hardening its resolve to impose its will on the minority community. By 1977, the events surrounding the beating and drowning of Jose Campos Torres while in police custody prompted one writer to label the HPD the “meanest police in America.” This event encouraged Houston’s growing Mexican American community to unite with blacks in seeking to curb police autonomy and brutality. Watson’s study demonstrates vividly how race complicated the internal impulses for change and gave way through time to external pressures—including the Civil Rights Movement, modernization, annexations, and court-ordered redistricting—for institutional changes within the department. His work illuminates not only the role of a southern police department in racial change but also the internal dynamics of change in an organization designed to protect the status quo.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University

Title page

pdf iconDownload PDF (91.4 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (46.7 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (73.7 KB)
pp. v

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (99.7 KB)
pp. vii-viii

The study of the Houston Police Department (HPD) changed my life fundamentally, I hope for the better. I would like to thank my family, friends, colleagues, and the HPD. A special debt of gratitude for assistance with this project goes to the Manuscript Division of the Library ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (232.4 KB)
pp. 3-12

Recent well-publicized cases of the abuse of power by the police in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and Houston have revealed how little we know about how the police function and how pervasive race is in determining police behavior. When Lee Patrick Brown was named chief of ...

read more

CHAPTER 1. “A Change Gonna Come”: Jim Crow Challenges during the Depression and World War, 1929–43

pdf iconDownload PDF (569.2 KB)
pp. 13-36

On Thursday August 1, 1929, Mayor Walter Monteith appointed Percy Heard as chief of the Houston Police Department. Heard’s appointment signaled the beginning of a new era in policing for Houston. By this time, the city was ...

read more

CHAPTER 2. “Almost the Law”: Black Police and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Policing in Postwar Houston, 1944–59

pdf iconDownload PDF (583.9 KB)
pp. 37-61

In 1944, the hope and promise of the impending double victory over fascism abroad and racism at home inspired many African Americans to reach higher for self-betterment. Immediately following World War II, institutional bureaucracies were among the most important and influential forces in the shaping of modern ...

read more

CHAPTER 3. Circling the Wagons: Police Department Retrenchment in a Time of Social Change, 1960–73

pdf iconDownload PDF (748.0 KB)
pp. 62-93

The maintenance of segregation in America was challenged in the 1960s by the various components of the civil rights movement. At the same time, the Houston Police Department was vainly trying to maintain the last vestiges of the Jim Crow hierarchy in the city. This chapter examines the ...

read more

CHAPTER 4. “What a Mess We Have Here”: Chaos with the Breakdown of Leadership in the Police Department, 1973–78

pdf iconDownload PDF (386.7 KB)
pp. 94-109

The police in America were besieged in the 1970s with demands for change from outraged citizens, who felt that the police had lost control. At times, the violent reactions of police departments to social change set the stage for dramatic and brutal confrontations. The HPD was no different ...

read more

CHAPTER 5. The Storm Clouds of Change: The Death of José Campos Torres and the Emergence of Triracial Politics in Houston, 1978–80

pdf iconDownload PDF (497.9 KB)
pp. 110-129

As the drama over the Randy Webster and Billy Keith Joyvies shootings was subsiding, another highly publicized case of police violence rocked the city of Houston. On the night of May 5, 1977, the arrest, beating, and drowning of Jos

read more

CHAPTER 6. Calming the Raging Sea: Katherine J. Whitmire, Lee P. Brown, and the High Tide of Change for the Police Department, 1981–90

pdf iconDownload PDF (483.2 KB)
pp. 130-149

By the 1980s, the Houston Police Department had earned a reputation as mean, racist, and brutal because of its long history of episodic violence against the citizens of Houston. This is a harsh but accurate depiction of the forces that shaped the HPD’s public image and defined its ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (109.7 KB)
pp. 150-152

Urbanization and modernization engulfed twentieth-century Houston. From 1900 to 1990, the city’s population increased fiftyfold, but the police department never grew large enough to protect the city adequately. The HPD’s steadfast desire to maintain tradition, including racial ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (541.6 KB)
pp. 153-177


pdf iconDownload PDF (423.9 KB)
pp. 179-197


pdf iconDownload PDF (245.0 KB)
pp. 199-208

Image Plates

pdf iconDownload PDF (11.2 MB)
pp. 209-218

E-ISBN-13: 9781603446198
E-ISBN-10: 1603446192
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585444373
Print-ISBN-10: 1585444375

Page Count: 222
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos. 6 tables.
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University