People outside the department and younger officers who have come on in the last few years won’t know the name but, just about anyone who served with the Houston Police Department prior to 2011 should know or at least know of Mr. Edward Thomas. Mr. Thomas is FINALLY receiving recognition by the Houston Police Department and the city. Mr. Edward Thomas was the longest serving officer with the Houston Police Department. He was also the oldest active officer in the country at the time of his retirement at age 91 and 65 years of service. He’s a WWII veteran who served in Normandy and was the first black officer hired by the Houston Police Department.
Mr. Thomas joined the Department in 1948 and was a mentor to a great many officers, especially the black officers who followed him, including my own father who joined in 1962. In those days, black officers were not allowed to drive department cars. They could not attend rollcall with white officers. They also could not eat with white officers at most public restaurants. Nor could they arrest a white person. And if they made an arrest, they had to board a city bus with their prisoner, and walk him into the jail themselves. Some of these policies were in place with the department all the way up to the mid 1970s. Times have changed for the better in many ways and the department is recognizing Mr. Thomas by asking City Council to rename the HPD headquarters at 1200 Travis in his honor.
Police Chief Charles McClelland leaves after speaking to City Council at City Hall regarding the police department’s budget, Thursday, June 5, 2014, in Houston. (Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle)
We, the people, are on our own. The police have no responsibility to provide personal or property protection to you as an individual citizen except with limited exceptions of a special relationship such as being in custody/under arrest. This ruling has been handed down multiple times in recent years with Warren v. District of Columbia often cited as one of the leading cases in this area of law. And for once, a police chief (Chief Charles McClelland, of the Houston Police Department) has gone so far as to publicly state that the police can’t and won’t actively respond to every case.
“We work violent crimes first. If someone steals your trash can or your lawn mower out of your garage, there are no witnesses, there’s no evidence, there’s nothing for a detective to follow up on, it’s not assigned,” McClelland, a 37-year veteran of HPD, told City Council members during a budget hearing. “There has never been a time that I have been employed there that the Houston Police Department has had the capacity to investigate every crime that’s been reported to the agency.”
Don’t misunderstand this as a “gotcha” or indictment against HPD or any other agency. To be fair, the Chief is just stating a reality. And I highlight it only as a call to recognize the fallacy of the idea that the government will protect you. It simply can’t be done. Agencies will always struggle with their budgets and the availability of resources/officers. They cannot be everywhere at all times and that means some calls for help will go unanswered and may never be investigated after the fact. In short, you’re on your own.