Seeing different sides of a memory


My grandson wanted to look at photographs that had been stored away in some old albums.  There were images of my folks, their town house in Houston, my children at various ages along with pictures of my sister and more images of various dogs and cats we’d learned to love over the years.

While turning one of the pages in the album there was a Houston Police Department ‘photo-op’ showing my old walking beat partner, Donnie White and me receiving a Police Chief’s Commendation.  Lots of memories came to the surface; but interestingly, a line from Charles Dickens’ book,  A Tale of Two Cities, jumped out first.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

The department was going through changes and had prioritized Community Policing, a nice way of saying, No Policing; the city wanted public relations at almost any price. I was assigned a new partner and we had little in common other than we wore the same uniform.  We were given a walking beat; if memory serves, it was about six city blocks.  Somebody working in our office had picked out a location for us to park our patrol car and even had special signs erected showing it as ‘Reserved for Police’.  It was up to us to do something positive, create good will among those within our assigned beat.

One of the first things my new partner and I noticed was the location they’d picked out to park our patrol car wasn’t well thought out.  We knew most of the time we’d be using it to transport shoplifting suspects from Foley’s Department store to the city jail.  That meant that if we used the spot picked out, we’d have to walk these prisoners two blocks to get to our police car. 

We let our supervisors know that it would be much safer for everyone if they’d change the location and reserved a parking spot right there next to Foley’s.  We went much further in our ‘suggestions’ as we made an in depth study of nearly every aspect pertaining to traffic flow, parking and safety issues within our six block area. 

We got the proprietors of the businesses to review our suggestions and had them submit their approval on letterhead stationary that identified each business as being positively included in our Community Policing efforts.  In short, our supervisors considered our actions worthy of a Chief of Police Commendation. 

“It was the best of times…”

Not too long after being carried through the streets of Houston on our supervisor’s shoulders, lifted up as heroes along with being handed the keys to the city… wait; that never happened…

A month or so later we noticed the limousine used by the Lamar Hotel was parked in the fire zone directly in front of that hotel.  We issued a parking ticket and didn’t think much about having done our duty.  We issued it a parking ticket almost every day for about a week, that is until our immediate supervisor approached us; asking that we ignore that particular vehicle since they, our supervisors, were having to void out the parking tickets. The owner of the Lamar Hotel was a member of the ‘good old boys club’ and didn’t appreciate being ticketed by some lowly patrol officers.

It’s difficult to explain my reaction to their ‘request’; it simply took off from there.  The department called it ‘insubordination’ and did their level best to get my partner and me fired.  I ended up with a 40 day suspension, without pay.  I suppose that was warranted since I really did tell all of the supervisors, to include three assistant chiefs, where they could put their ‘request’.

“…it was the worst of times…”

During my ‘spare time’, if that’s what it could be called, I didn’t sit around the house feeling sorry for myself.  Instead, I used locksmith skills I’d picked up from my friends at Reed’s Key Shop to begin earning a living.  I beat the pavement, so to speak, obtaining customers; visiting small used car dealers that were plentiful and always in need of a reasonably priced locksmith.

Within a very short time I’d replaced my police paycheck with more than enough to pay regularly occurring bills.  After a bitter Civil Service fight, I was re-instated as a police officer and, at my request, transferred to a completely different assignment and began working night shift patrol.  That meant I could be a fulltime locksmith in the daytime and a police officer at night.

I used to joke that I got my four hours of sleep every day whether I needed it or not. This arrangement lasted until I completed my twenty year hitch with the Houston Police Department and I became eligible to receive the retirement package I’d earned.

“It IS the best of times…

t-f-stern-1Self-Educated American, Senior Edi­tor, T.F. Stern is both a retired City of Hous­ton police offi­cer and, most recently, a retired self-employed lock­smith (after serving that industry for 40 plus years). He is also a gifted polit­i­cal and social com­men­ta­tor. His pop­u­lar and insight­ful blog, T.F. Sterns Rant­i­ngs, has been up and at it since January of 2005.

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