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Interview with: Earl Maughmer
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: October 1, 1974
Oral History 119
LM: 00:8 Captain, when did you first join the force?
EM: June 12, 1939.
LM: What led you to police work?
EM: I needed a job, principally. I came out of the Navy in April 1939. There were a few vacancies on the police department and some talk of starting a police training school, and I signed up for it.
LM: What type of conditions did you find on the force when you first joined with regard to job security, training, politics?
EM: It took awhile to understand about law enforcement. At that time, police departments were politically controlled more or less. We went on the street after 16 weeks of training with the idea that we could enforce the law fairly and impartially and to do all of the things that a law officer is supposed to do. It wasn’t long before we found out that you could enforce certain laws only against certain people, other laws against other people. We became aware that the political regulation of the police department was to accomplish the aims of the politician.
LM: How did that manipulate the department?
EM: Well at that time, by appointing policemen first to the department for political reasons—any one who worked in a certain campaign could be appointed to a job. It was a form of reward or payoff or political activity—unqualified people being appointed. Then every 2 years when administrations changed, the administration of the police department changed; they’d demote the high ranking officers, maybe move in outsiders into positions of administration—there was no qualifications, no experience—simply because he was a friend of the administration. They’d demote those in office, promote those patrolmen—in general, if you could describe it this way—we had about 50 percent-time law enforcement. Six months before an election, the morale of the department would go to pot, the patrolmen would tell the captain, “I’m not going to do it, because next year I’m going to be captain and you’re going to be a patrolman.” This held to be true in a lot of cases. Six months before an election the morale went to pot. It took 6 months after the new administration came in to begin to get organized, and 50 percent of the time is gone. With an administration being 2 years long, it was really effective for 1year out of every 2.
LM: Were there any actual dismissals?
EM: Oh, yes. The police department was quite small then. We had 300-and-some-odd-people, and as many as 50-100 would be dismissed every two years with about that many hired.
LM: What about gambling conditions in the city? Were they very active?
EM: Gambling is always active in a large community. It can be out in the open or it can be behind closed doors, and back in the old days it was quite prevalent, obviously. As I remember from being on the streets—of course there was no air conditioning then, and windows were open—second floor you could hear the radio reports of races being run and bets being placed; you could hear dice games in progress. These things were apparent to every policeman who worked the streets. We all worked traffic on the streets at the beginning. When we had ideas, possibly, of raiding a dice game or a race horse set-up, sergeant would say, “Son, your business is on the street right here on this corner. What’s upstairs belongs to the vice squad. They handle all of those things.” Of course, the head of the vice squad was always a person selected by administration; he administered the laws on vice according to the way they wanted to enforce them. If they wanted to put the prostitutes in jail, they put the prostitutes in jail. If they wanted to leave the racehorse shops open, they didn’t bother them. The reason for this is money. People that could profit by certain administrative procedures were willing to contribute to campaigns, so the meat in any political campaign was money; money used to buy advertising, and to get a person elected. Any organization or group that was willing to toss a few thousand dollars into a political campaign could then dictate some of the policies—administrative policies—of the department. So by and large, the racketeers—if that’s the proper word—controlled politics. The legitimate organizations like the Boy Scouts or the PTA or the Kiwanis Clubs—they contributed nothing to a political campaign. It was unethical and they didn’t do it.
6:54 -7:03 unintelligible
These interests were willing to contribute politically because they could get their money back with a plus on the end of it if their man happened to be elected. These are the forces that controlled law enforcement, not just here but everywhere in the country. If a person who could profit dollars-and-cents-wise from a certain mayor being elected, then they would contribute to his campaign.
LM: 7:31 Under these circumstances then it appears that the police department became an active force in political campaigns.
EM: It’s true, very true. The promise of jobs—and of course—back in the old days when jobs were a little hard to get—tenure of 2 years under a political admin—on the job with steady pay checks was very nice inducement for people to get out and campaign. There were no illegal motives but just looking for a job. If we get so-and-so elected, I’ll get a job on the police force or I’ll be a fireman or I’ll go to work for the city if he gets to be mayor. A 2-year job tenure was pretty strong motivation to get political help in addition to dollars and cents. A police department was a strong force for an administration to use to be elected.
LM: At that time, the special police officers were used quite widely, right?
LM: How do they fit into this pattern of political involvement?
EM: These commissions—all these many years up until just recently—were just a gift of the mayor or the police chief or the sheriff. They could appoint anyone—give him a commission as a policeman or a law enforcement officer—some with no pay just a badge and a car. They used their position to accomplish certain things in their neighborhood; they could show identification as being a special officer, and it carried a lot of weight in the wards. They would control gambling to an extent or prostitution—they carried a police commission with the police chief’s name signed on it or the sheriff’s. So special officers and special commissions did have strong influence on police administration.
LM: Are they still used?
EM: Still somewhat; however, more recently controlled. We have a section now who investigates each person who has a need for a so-called special officer’s commission. They look into his background, his reasons for it, his credibility, ability to—not ability—but whether or not he would be a benefit or detriment to the police department. There are some private reasons for having special officers.
LM: Let’s backtrack this for a moment. You mention that when you first came on the force, there was an academy beginning.
LM: That was the first one.
EM: 10:46 Yes, sir.
LM: Can you tell us something about that?
EM: The move was on to have more highly trained law enforcement. It was a modern trend at that time. The city had said they could create 25 new positions in the police department. As a result of the advertising, there were some 1200 people applied for 25 positions. A preliminary IQ-type examination was given to these 1200 people trying to reduce the size the applicants, maybe select the more highly qualified people. The result of the preliminary test—about 800 as I recall passed it. The rest failed it. Then they went into a program of selecting candidates by physical appearance: height, weight, whether the man swaggered when he walked or limped or had a crippled arm or whatever—military-type bearing. So the 800 people were paraded all day long at the Coliseum under the selection of an ROTC Major from Rice Institute and several other people, and they selected candidates for their appearance alone. The net result was that numbers of people were eliminated in the selection process, and they wound up with 75 people in training school which was proposed to be a 16-week police academy-type operation—still with the idea that only 25 people going to work with the graduation of the school. The city paid us $90 a month for the 16 weeks we were in class. I think it’s obvious from the number of people that were in the program at the start—and the selection process—that the 75 people were very highly qualified intelligent-type candidates. This became apparent to the news media and others while the class was in progress. So before we graduated, they had increased the 25 positions to 50 to take advantage of this nucleus of well-qualified policemen. So there were 50 of us that went to work after the 16 weeks.
LM: Who suggested the formation of the academy? How did it get going?
EM: 13:55 Lieutenant L. Dean Morris was a progressive-type policeman in those days. He was the educator-type, and he felt that police needed more training in law enforcement, administration, and other fields. He felt that the best officer should be selected to go into a school and it was Chief Morris—I say Chief Morris, he later became Chief—Lieutenant Morris’ insistence that the city start a police training class or academy. Also—at the same time—we had a civil service director, Mr. William A. Bernrieder, who was an advocate of more highly trained policemen. Mr. Bernrieder, Lieutenant Morris, and several others at the time created the class.
LM: How long did the academy last?
EM: Sixteen weeks.
LM: Was it continued?
EM: Well, it was after a fashion. The Class of ’39 was the original, and then—of course—the war started in 1941. There was no class—no police class at all—between 1939 and 1948.
LM: What was the reason for this?
EM: The war. The armed services took most of the young people who were qualified to go into law enforcement. There were a few people hired but not too many between 1939 and 1948. The department stayed pretty static or stable with its number of people. There were probably less than 50 people hired between ’39 and ’48. What we now call Police Class 1 started in 1948. There’s been a designation there—the Class of ’39, then Police Class 1 in 1948.
LM: So the class was in ’39 and the war started in ’41, which leaves us with 1940. Were there any other reasons for it’s discontinuance that you are aware of?
EM: No. I think the 50 people they added in ’39 pretty well used up the amount of money the administration was able to put into the police department, more or less filled the number of positions, and made the manpower level at an acceptable strength so there was just no need—outside of a few political appointments—in the two years by incoming mayors. There just wasn’t any organized entry into the department.
LM: But the political situation being such as it was, the insecurity—job insecurity—wouldn’t that play a part in the lack of interest in continuing it?
EM: No. No. There were a few people who campaigned for the mayors in that period of time between 1939 and 1948 who sought jobs in the department. They hired a few and promoted/demoted some during those years. But by and large, the size of the department didn’t grow too much.
LM: 17:33 How about the men who were graduated from this academy? Did it have any effect on them with regard to their service in the department? Did it hold any special advantages for them?
EM: Their training? Certainly it did. They were recognized as superior—if that’s the proper word—policemen at the time. With the training they had and the character of them—much higher than the average policeman who was put to work either before or during the years between ’39 and ’48. The Class of ’39 was head and shoulders above most entrants into the police department.
LM: How many of these men have ever reached ranking positions—superior positions—within the department?
EM: I couldn’t answer that off-hand. Most of them were promoted from time to time, some ranked higher than others. Deputy Chief is the highest any of them ever attained—quite a few captains, quite a few lieutenants and sergeants and detectives through the years, never had a chief out of the group.
LM: Was there any effect on these men after graduation from the academy and getting into police work and finding the political involvement and manipulation? What effect did this have on the men?
EM: I think the situation that was here in those days had a lot to do with a policeman’s attitude. Most of them wanted to enforce the law fairly and impartially like they were trained to do. When they couldn’t for one reason or another, they resented it. They resented the political hiring, firing, promotion and demotion, unqualified people being put into positions of trust and administration. By and large, the Class of ’39 is a group of 50—eventually some 65 out of 75 went to work. A few of the positions were filled between ’39 and ’48 by people who graduated in ’39. About 15 of them eventually went to work. These people played a major part in transformation of this department into what it is today.
LM: 20:22 You play a prominent role in the Houston Police Officers Association. Would you like to devote a few minutes to the background of the Association?
EM: I can talk a lot about it. I wouldn’t like to mention names. In the early ’40s, there was some organized crime—graft and corruption, if you want to call it that. We resented it. The newspapers were quite used to the fact that they could control things in the city by publication of the publisher’s political viewpoint. They could sway public opinion. The newspapers resisted very strongly anything that would take away this power of swaying public opinion. In those days, everyone was vying for the newspaper’s favor to get their publicity and, therefore, public opinion. Most of us by the middle ’40s or a little later had decided that if these conditions were to continue to exist, it wasn’t worth staying for. I pretty well feel that the Class of ’39 was incorruptible; there was no way that they would join forces with any violation of the law or graft or corruption. Most of us just felt like that if we couldn’t change it, we’d just as well quit and go on to other fields. So in the latter part of 1945 on—the early part of ’45 and the year of 1944 we’d pretty well made up our mind that we had to do something, make a change. So December of 1945, a few of us went up to Austin and got a charter for a police association. Of course we’d learned that doctors have their association, lawyers have theirs, arts and crafts have their union and so forth. One of our voices was pretty pitiful if we didn’t have an organization to speak for the majority of the people, so we realized we needed a group—someone to represent law enforcement locally and before the legislature where the laws are made. In December of 1945, we started the police association where we could group our opinions, and have one person speak as a mouthpiece for the majority and to give some weight to our position. The police association movement in this state started in 1945.
LM: Were there any other associations in other police departments elsewhere in the nation at this time?
EM: Yes, there were. There were others in the nation—of course we weren’t aware of it.
LM: You had no idea of it?
EM: No idea of it. Communications between departments was very limited. Politicians saw to that. No information from any other department ever reached us as to groups that were working on civil service matters or retirement or wages or hours or any of the things that a group of people is interested in. We had absolutely no knowledge of any other group. The Houston Police Officers Association was formed out of the clear blue sky to solve our own problems.
LM: 24:28 How did you go about organizing it? Was there much resistance from ranking officials in the administration?
EM: Well, it developed some later. In the beginning, while it wasn’t secret, it was only about 13 of us that were willing to put our name on a charter. We went to Austin, got us a charter for a police association with 13 people, and it was viewed somewhat with mistrust. A lot of policemen wouldn’t join the association. They were afraid of political reprisals. Others said it was a labor union and we couldn’t get involved in union-type activities. We had a little problem convincing policemen that the association was the only way we could make our voice heard. So it took a few years to convince people there’d be no political reprisals. We had—in ’47 it got a little violent politically—the mayor at that time was a strong mayor, and he resented anyone taking away his power to hire or fire, promote or demote. But the charter was already granted; we were in business as a Texas corporation and there was nothing you could do about it.
LM: Were there any efforts to end your meetings of officers?
EM: Somewhat. The men were told—not really openly, as a threat—were told that the man at city hall kept records on the names of whoever attended the meetings. They were apt to be fired or otherwise oppressed if they took any part or action. We held our meetings just the same.
LM: Were the meetings open? Or clandestine?
EM: Oh, they were open. We held meetings, most of the time, right here in the police department in the courtroom of the old building over there. They really didn’t try to stop them; they just tried to keep people from joining the association or taking part in the meetings.
LM: Were there any direct threats made to you as a member?
EM: Oh, yes. I think all of us had open threats. Some people were dismissed and later rehired, or just transferred around from one job to another, put in places where you couldn’t contact other policemen—that sort. In 1949, I was assigned to guard the fire boat out there on the ship channel. That was a nice sort of assignment—the weeds were neck high and I walked a mile of bank from 12 at night until 7 in the morning guarding the fire boat. But this was designed to keep us from talking to other policemen.
LM: 27:51 How did you manage to have meetings with these shifts and hours and all the obstacles that were placed in your path?
EM: We just did it. We had meetings twice a day on meeting days—one at night and one in the morning—so we could catch the off-duty people. We just did it.
LM: What official positions did you hold at this early time in the association?
EM: I was the first-vice-president in 1946. We got our charter in December ’45; after the charter was official, we had a temporary chairman and he set up the first election. Detective Frank Murray was the first president of the association. I was the first first-vice-president. Now, Detective John Irwin was the first second-vice-president. Of course you realize—at the time—I was pretty much the rookie compared to these other people that had been here a good many years. Incidentally, the two names I mentioned were honest, forthright police officers, been here a good many years, totally incorruptible. Totally incorruptible. They joined forces with the younger people to do something about it. So Frank Murray was the first president. At the end of the year, then second-vice-president John Irwin was elected the second president. He went from second-vice-president to president in the second year of operation. In the third year, I was elected president for that year and the following year. I served two terms as president.
LM: How did the association come to support the State Civil Service Law?
EM: As we got into matters dealing with salaries and retirement systems, we became acquainted with the firefighters’ activities. We found that it was an effort to have a civil service system enacted by virtue of state law. The reason for this was we had civil service as such, but it was by city ordinance. The constitution for the city of Houston—or the charter, rather—said that there shall be a civil service. Simply that. So each mayor—commission then, council now—could, in one council, abolish civil service actually—the exact rules—and then one week later recreate a civil service and still be within the charter. The ordinance was capable of being changed in this manner; this opened the door of hiring and firing and demotion I spoke of awhile ago. The new mayor would come into office, and at the first council meeting they would abolish all the civil service rules. Then in a week’s time they’d make the moves they wanted to make, then the following council meeting they’d reenact civil service just like it was. So we felt that if this was possible, we’d never progress with a solid civil service system. We’d have to go to the state for a state law that the local council didn’t have the power to change. In cooperation with the firemen in 1945—we had worked some little bit before our association had actually been formed—
LM: In what areas?
EM: In civil service. We knew—in fact, I was up in the legislature in 1945—we had no association. I went as an individual to try to help get a state civil service law passed. We almost did it.
LM: When you say “we”—?
EM: 32:38 Well, there’s a few individual policemen here that are no longer here and a few firemen. We were trying to impress the legislature with the need of the civil service to protect the tenure of qualified employees—policemen, firemen. We almost passed a law in 1945—kind of a double-cross in a sense, and in the year of ’46. So in 1947—by 1947, during the year of ’46, about seven other cities in this state followed our lead and created a police association in those cities. So by legislature time in 1947, we had the strength of about eight or nine police associations with the state firefighters and all of the local fire associations. With the combined efforts of all this group of people we passed 1269M—we call it the State Civil Service Law—legislation of 1947.
LM: Was there any cooperation in the year of 1946 between the police and the firemen over city wages?
EM: Yes. We had an election of the people to raise the salaries of policemen and firemen in 1946. We had a couple favorable councilmen at that time who took our side, and with their strength to influence the votes of the people in the city we managed to win a pay raise in June of 1946.
LM: How did you go about influencing the people?
EM: Well, we couldn’t get an election called by council. We didn’t have that strength. So we circulated petitions to get us the required number of signatures to force an election. This gave the opportunity for the policemen and firemen to talk to the people. We virtually had enough votes in the signers of the petition—if the people that signed it voted, we’d have enough power. That’s the way it turned out. The people overwhelmingly voted us the necessary pay raise that year.
LM: 35:15 This was the really first combined effort by police and firemen working together. Now the Houston Police Department was the first to organize an association?
LM: And then several other cities followed?
LM: How did this occur—the efforts by this department to bring in others?
EM: No, we really didn’t seek other cities at that time. We were more involved with our own personal problems. Some of it got into the newspapers, of course, and by word of mouth by officers going to different cities to spread the word that we were moving in that direction. Other cities then contacted us for information on how to set up a constitution, by-laws, how to become incorporated under state law, taxes. We did send officers to other cities to help. Nearly all of them in the state today have the same constitution and by-laws that we put together back in 1945. They simply copied it and changed certain parts of it to suit their own cities.
LM: Did you do much traveling to other places talking, encouraging the growth of these—?
EM: Yes, I did. I went to nearly every other city that has an association today—all of the larger ones anyway—we went to those cities and helped them organize, set up a temporary chairman and so forth, to have their elections and get them started.
LM: Was this very popular with the city administrations?
EM: Oh, no. Oh, no. They’d find out we were in town, sometimes they’d put out an order that their local people couldn’t talk to us, we couldn’t come in the police building.
LM: Any specific examples?
EM: Well, no names but one police chief tried to put us in jail; another one wouldn’t allow his policemen to talk to us.
LM: What towns were these?
EM: 37:30 Well, one was in Lubbock, Midland, Dallas, Austin, Laredo.
LM: Were any direct threats made to you?
EM: Well, one place the chief told us they’d sic the dogs on us—meaning police dogs—they had a few canines then which later came to be real popular in police departments. This one department did have some canine dog units. He said if he caught us out on the streets, he’d sic the dogs on us. (chuckle)
LM: Do remember the towns—the first separate towns where the associations were formed—offhand?
EM: Yes. San Antonio, Abilene, Ft. Worth, Wichita Falls, Brownwood, and Austin were the first.
LM: Was there any cooperation between the police and firemen at this time over the passage of the State Civil Service Law?
EM: Oh, yeah. Cooperation was the only reason it ever got passed. The truth of the matter is—the real truth—the volunteer firemen in this state helped us get it passed.
LM: How’s that?
EM: There’s no political stamp because volunteer firefighters, under their state retirement law could—well, volunteer firemen could receive a pension after so many years of service. Most of the cities and towns of this state had no paid fire department. They were volunteers—this meant they’re citizens, and they’re voting citizens. Throughout the history of Texas the small cities and counties controlled the legislature. They very jealously guard their position—country boys run the legislature. They don’t let the city boys have any power. So the net political power of the volunteer firemen can—not control—but their effect with their voting representatives and senators had a lot to do with police and fire civil service.
LM: What was their main personal interest in having this pass since they—these towns were under the population range that the law addressed itself to?
EM: Well, I think it was just a general rapport between the volunteer firemen. They received all of their training from paid fire departments. Of course, their pension retirement benefits were relative to how much money was in the state fund in Austin, and they wanted to cooperate with paid firemen. So the concept—then and now—is still policemen and firemen are pretty much the same category in the city. They both have hazardous duties, they both work all hours of the day and night, must have continuous duties—not like street and bridge and public works and some other divisions that work a straight 8-hour day, 5 days a week. Police and firemen work 7 days a week, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. So that puts them in a little different position. Then, under the state constitution, the governor can call out police and firemen any time, any place. It’s an unusual position. He couldn’t call out the street and bridge repair people, but for a storm or a fire, a confrontation, a riot or whatever took place in any of the cities, the governor could call police and firemen out to handle the situation. They are state officers under the state constitution. This gave rise to the passage of civil service. In April of 1947, the legislature was in session while our bill was pending—the Texas City disaster occurred on April 17, 1947. At that time, it killed all of the firemen and several of the policemen. The town was completely unable to control looters. The governor declared it to be an emergency situation and policemen and firemen from all over this state went into Texas City. A lieutenant from this department was Officer in Charge. He directed activities of firemen and policemen. So it proved the point that policemen and firemen are state officers. It also proved the point that if a man was injured in one of these situations out of his own immediate jurisdiction, he could come back and they could say that you’re not qualified to be a policeman and be fired. Of course, we tried to cash in on the opportunity. We had injured policemen from Texas City go to the legislature and testify that they were out of their jurisdiction by a call of the governor, and that without the protection of civil service their jobs could be terminated when they got home. This gave a lot of strength to the movement to have a state law created.
LM: 43:55 You mention that there was a great deal of cooperation between police and firemen. During this waiting period, prior to passage of the bill, how did this cooperation form?
EM: We had meetings together. We met with the local fire group, and then we met with the state fire group. We had meetings all over the state. This is how the law evolved into the actual words and phrases—in these meetings—the requirements of the law and the requirements that are written in the law came about by these meetings.
LM: Did you play a role in the passage of the bill?
EM: Oh, yes.
LM: 44:42 What was your role?
EM: I was representing all of the uniformed people in Texas in the legislature as a lobbyist—so to speak—we called them legislative agents. There was a—my counterpart was a retired fire chief whose name was Deesie. He was inactive; he was a representative in 1945, and I had met him and learned how these processes go in the legislature in 1945. Again in 1947, we really got together. I represented the uniformed policemen—municipal policemen—for about 15 years in every session of the legislature. Every 2 years we were on hand up there to tell the story of the policemen, what we needed, what we had to have.
LM: Was there much debate in the legislature over the passing of this bill?
LM: Oh, yes. The city fathers objected very strongly to a so-called union. We contended that we weren’t a union; however, the firefighters were affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. But they were still restricted; they couldn’t strike. Effectively, it’s not a union if you can’t strike. But they classed us as a union—all the politicians objected. They came to Austin in droves and busloads to speak against our legislation.
LM: How did the police and fire representatives influence the state legislators outside of the incident that you mention in Texas City?
EM: We sent groups of city policemen—I say groups—small—maybe one or two people all up through East Texas to these little country towns that only had four or five policemen, and we told them what the movement was and tried to solicit their support. They didn’t know how to influence legislation, so we had to take them out and make them introduce our people to their legislators—representatives and senators—and also to their business people so we could sell the story to the business people to have them put so-called pressure on the legislative representatives. Oh, it’s a grassroots method of doing business. You have to get the word to people—it’s not so much pressure, it’s just getting the word out. There’s a whole lot more country representatives than there is city representatives, so the only way to do it is through their local policemen and local firemen.
LM: It’s a great deal of legwork involved here.
EM: Yes, sir. Most of us used our days off and vacations, operated on money from collections we took up. We didn’t have enough dues or even treasury to pay the expenses, so we—I’ve slept in fire stations all over this state simply because we didn’t have hotel expenses. We’d go into little towns and meet with firemen first and get arrangements for a place to sleep that night, then go out and meet the policemen and have them take us out to meet the business people. There’s a lot of grassroots work that went on.
LM: Were any reprisals taken against you for your activities prior to the passage of the bill?
EM: No, not prior to the passage. By and large, the ’49ers were disorganized as a group. They had a Texas Municipal League—or a League of Texas Municipalities it was called then. They had an organization of politicians—city managers and the like, administrators. It was highly disorganized. So in 1947—while they appeared against our legislation, it was spasmodic more or less—a mayor from one town, a city manager from another, but no group. But after the law was passed, in the session of ’49, they had begun to organize the League of Texas Municipalities a little better. They put up members to gain funds; today Houston pays a tax in the Texas Municipal League based on the population of Houston, but nowhere in the city budget can you find this item. It’s taken care of somewhere else. The League became financially strong to the extent that they hired an ex-city manager and gave him a paying position and called him the executive director. He was a very talented man, you might say. He put together the League’s offensive voice. From 1949 on, the city fathers have been pretty well represented by the League.
LM: 50:31 It continues today?
EM: It continues today. The League speaks with a loud voice in the legislature. They’ve spread through to the grassroots type of support that we originally used. They go to small towns and get the business people to say that the civil service is hamstringing their control of the fire and police departments. Every time we have an amendment to help out, they have a dozen to take away. The situation today is the exactly the same way. Proposals are on now to amend 1269M that would take the meat out of it—literally wreck it. The League will propose these changes in the next legislature. Whether they can pass some of the amendments or not remains to be seen.
LM: Did the passage of the law have an immediate effect with regard to job security, demotions, and promotions?
EM: It wasn’t so immediate. We tried to get over to the members here that their jobs were now secure—mind it that the law doesn’t make it mandatory on the city to participate in the civil service law—all the law did was set out the rules and regulations which are virtually the same as the city civil servant. The rules themselves were about the same. The difference was it was state law, and it could only be put into effect by a vote of the people. So the law provided an election be held in each city. The campaign for and against the election was pretty strong, for or against civil service. Once it was voted in, then it had the strength of a state law. We tried to convince the members here that they were secure in so long as they went about their business properly—enforce the law—that they were secure. Promotions would be fair, with eligibility lists, examinations. They didn’t buy it right quick—policemen don’t buy these things site unseen—they wait and see. So we held elections here in February—the last day in February 1948, and the law was to be effective on the second day of March after a weekend. On that weekend, the mayor promoted 27 people to high rank positions—captains, lieutenants and sergeants—so that we had an oversupply of supervisors, which kept this department pinned down civil service-wise until 1949. It was some 1½ to 2 years later before we had the first examination we ever held under state civil service.
LM: I assume that when the law went into effect, men were frozen in positions, correct?
EM: 54:03 The law provides that those holding a position would have tenure, whether they were qualified or not; you had to do that. We couldn’t wipe out everything and start over, so the grandfather clause prevailed. Those were politically employed or promoted got to have their jobs under civil service.
LM: Police are under state civil service, what about their pensions?
EM: State civil service really has nothing to do with retirement. We have our own, but we had to pass it the same year we got civil service. In ’39 , you see, we had no retirement of any kind. Now, during the year of ’39, they passed a law that would create a municipal retirement system. I didn’t know about it at the time, but the law was to become effective after the city had set aside a certain sum of money to finance it. So in 1943, Houston came under the Texas Municipal Retirement System.
LM: Is this under state auspices?
EM Let me take that back. That’s the wrong name. The city came under its own retirement system for all city employees. That’s Article 6243 of the Civil Statutes. So we were in a city retirement system—except for firemen, they had their own—the garbage workers, street and bridge, clerks and the like. Then we began to realize that it was ineffectual retirement system that didn’t provide for reasonable benefits or service requirements. During ’45 and ’46 particularly, we got in touch with other police associations, and we found out what kind of retirement system we need to be separate from other city employees. So in the same legislature of 1947, we introduced a bill that would separate the Houston policemen from the city employees. Since that date, we’ve had our own retirement system. Others in the state—other police departments are in the Texas Municipal Retirement System. Still others are in the city retirement systems with their own particular service requirements, age requirements and benefits. Pensions have no real connection to civil service; however, civil service had a lot to do with pensions. After becoming acquainted with the other cities—what they had and what they desired—between 1947 and 1949, we realized that we should, possibly, have a statewide police retirement system. We tried to pattern it after the firefighters. So in 1949, we organized the Texas Municipal Police Association, and the sole reason for it was to bring policemen together to establish a standard set of benefits and requirements that would satisfy all so that we could get a statewide system. The reason for that was to try to get financial support for the state like the firemen were receiving. So the sole reason for the formation of the Texas Municipal Retirement System—bringing all the cities into a statewide group—was retirement. We fought that battle in legislation in 1951, ’53, ’55 but we were unsuccessful trying to set up a statewide retirement. There were many reasons for it. As of today, we all have separate retirement systems.
LM: 58:51The firemen remain the only ones that have that?
EM: Firemen have a statewide—the League here—if I can regress a little bit in time—in 1935, the firefighters passed a statewide retirement system. They were quite active long before us. In this law, they provided that all fire insurance companies providing fire insurance in the state of Texas would be taxed 2 percent of their gross revenues to be paid to the state firefighter pension system. This passed. Of course, it was attacked in court. After it went through, the Supreme Court held that no one group of people could be taxed directly to support of another group. So that part of that law was declared unconstitutional. But in 1939—’37 or ’39, I’m not sure—firefighters changed that law to where they received no tax money from fire insurance companies, but they passed another law separately that taxed fire insurance companies2 percent of their gross revenues to be paid to the state general fund. And in the fire pension law, it says each year annually the legislature will appropriate an amount of money to the state firefighters’ pension equal to 2 percent revenue of the state of Texas. And that’s the law today. Then in 1941, the session following—I’m sure that some politicians realized that other people would be after the same type pension—which we really did—we didn’t know about it. In 1941, the League of Texas Municipalities sponsored an amendment to the state constitution—that’s Article 51F of the State Constitution—saying that the legislature shall have the right to enact retirement systems affecting municipal employees and so shall be constitutionally valid. However, the state shall never appropriate any money toward financing. We didn’t even know about that as late as 1949 and that passed in ’41. In ’49 and ’51, we tried to have a state police pension. We were looking at a tax on insurance companies—possibly on burglary insurance, collision insurance—the work of policemen affects this business—for the amount of property we’ve recovered, the amount of burglaries we prevent, amount of accidents we prevent directly relates to these insurance companies—so we figured if the firemen could get the fire insurance, we could get whatever money out of the state for these other forms of insurance. Then we found out that Article 51F says that legislature can never appropriate it. So it’since then, the legislature does not directly appropriate money to the state firefighters. But they have found a way of doing it. The state firefighters’ fund gets an amount of money every year. For that very reason, we didn’t pursue the state pension. What we need is a growing source of revenue; the only place to get it is from the state, but unless the constitution can be changed first, the legislature can’t give it to us. So there’s an asterisk on there today—provide a growing source of revenue for police pensions, a source of revenue that grows with the organization—a growing source of revenue. This has to come from the state. It can’t come until the constitution is changed, so the effort is on to change the constitution. Other than proving that policemen do enforce state law, we do bring revenue into the state coffers—fines and the like. The state gets a $2 and a half-cent tax off of every ticket we write on the streets. Every speeding ticket, the state gets $2 and a half-cent. While we bring revenue into the state, we likewise should be able to get a little financial help out of the state for a retirement system—one of the last concepts where we want to try to change the constitution of the state sometime when we are strong enough to do it.
LM: 1:04:32 The legislative lobbyist—which legislators have you found—I don’t need their names, but their background, their philosophy—have you found to be most willing to support police reforms, or—?
EM: Country folks. At first, we felt like the city senators and representatives were our friends and the strongest because we did have that situation here. Any political candidate responds to the group that has the largest number of votes. While our local association was pretty strong locally, we—the fact that our senators and representatives were on our side—this wasn’t the case in other big cities. It was the country boys that gave us everything we had. Since then, however, federal guidelines and representation has been changed—cities have been allocated more representatives and more senators based on population—so the balance of power in legislature is gradually changing to an urban power rather than suburban, but that hasn’t happened yet. Suburban senators and representatives are still in power.
LM: 1:06:07 Let me clarify this. The reports that you received then from legislators that had passed this State Civil Service Bill—were these from the rural areas or from the city or was it a mixture at that time?
EM: That passed the law?
LM: That passed the law.
EM: Well, there are 150 representatives and 31 senators, and the majority of those were from the country. They all passed it—I mean—they had to vote for it or against it—the legislature itself has to pass it. It was a preponderance of some country legislators and representatives that was responsible for us passing this. It gets down to the small numbers of people, the committee that studies the proposed bill—it’s one of the hurdles you have to get over—this is only a 21-man committee. So I said this earlier—before, not on this tape—the Speaker of the House appoints committees, and if he’s for a bill, he can put it in a committee where his people are a preponderance. If he’s against, he can put it over in another committee where it can’t pass because he knows the parties of that committee. So in a 21-man committee, if the majority of them are friends, well then you may pass a bill. If it’s evenly balanced, then that’s another type of procedure. If the majority of them are against you, it’s still another type of procedure. So now you can kind of see the trend. And that’s when the chairman of the Private Corporations Committee of the House was Joe Salas, the representative from Crockett, Texas. He happened to be a policeman’s friend and he was chairman of the committee. So if he had some people on his committee that was against us, he wouldn’t let them pass their bill unless they voted for us. It’s pretty cutthroat. But he’d wheel and deal until we had enough strength on that committee to get our bill out of committee and put it back on the floor. After it’s on the floor, then you have 150 people dealing—you have those for and those against you—if they can trade out with each other—you vote for my bill and I’ll vote for yours. We finally had a majority of votes so they passed it.
LM: Did Carlton Moore piece together—play an important—?
EM: Very strong. Carlton Moore was one of our strongest advocates. He was a policeman’s friend from the word ‘go’.
LM: 1:09:13 Let’s touch on the formation of the statewide Police Officers Association. Mention that.
EM: I’ve already mentioned that in 1949, the clamor of policemen was to get a better retirement system. They wanted one equal to ours or better than they had; some—most of them—had none. So in effort to try to get a retirement system, we did form a state association.
LM: Were there any associations—statewide associations—at that time?
EM: Oh, yes. The Texas Police Association—I think—is one of the oldest in the United States.
LM: Was it effective? Did it represent the—?
EM: In my opinion, no. I was a member of the Texas Police Association for a good many years—the dues were only $2 a year—we sent in our dues. But when they had a meeting only the police chiefs attended, and they never really accomplished anything. The association is in existence today, and they still don’t accomplish anything. When they have a convention, they go first to that city to seek contributions to help to pay the expenses. They have a few speakers that just get up and speak—we want to do that, and this is what we need—and that’s the end of it. So for quite a few years, we watched them operate, but the final break was in 1947 with the civil service. We wanted the strength of the Texas Police Association to help us pass it. We set up a meeting in Austin of our committee and their committee so that we could try to sell them on the passing civil service. They were afraid—I think—to meet with us. They had a date set, and our committee went to Austin; then they didn’t show. It turned out that they’d met the day before and decided that they didn’t want any part of civil service. The strength of the Texas Police Association is in Dallas. Dallas still is not under 1269M. This is the police chief there that wouldn’t allow his people to even talk to us.
LM: Oh, the one that locked the doors on you?
EM: Right. So Dallas controls the Texas Police Association. If they weren’t for us, then we weren’t for them. So we severed our connection. They still have a meeting every year—no new speakers, no new people come to talk, and that’s the end of it.
LM: Since the Texas Police Officers Association has been active, what major legislation have they supported?
EM: 1:12:22 We’ve done quite a bit with criminal legislation. We’ve amended quite a few laws, penalties. We’ve been responsible for some changes in the Code of Criminal Procedure. It’s difficult to try to recall all that we had a hand in but we originated the false report law that makes it a violation to falsely report a robbery/burglary for insurance reasons. The same law extended a little farther to turning in a false fire lock—anything falsely reported which would result in an act by an agency of the government. We had a siege of people—especially at Internal Revenue time—of burglaries reporting many thousands of dollars of stuff stolen—false reports, false hijacking, false robberies, false auto thefts—a person would run over a pedestrian, park his car and call in and report it stolen—all such things. So the false reports law was one, fleeing from a police officer was another, ex-convicts carrying a pistol was another. There’s just been a number of them down the line.
LM: Any laws to improve the quality of law enforcement?
EM: We started the campaign a good many years ago to have a certain few qualifications—qualifications, now—for any police officer in the state. These were based on the requirement—say a barber or a plumber or any number of other people—to have a state license. They have to first be an American citizen, not an ex-convict, not a member of a subversive group—about 7 or 8 qualifications—we were unable to pass this for several years because they couldn’t agree on qualifications. Each mayor wanted to be able to hire the people he wanted to hire. We were trying to regulate the quality of the people. But that effort grew into what’s now the State Commission on Law Enforcement Standards that trains—that sets out a minimum number of hours of training and police academic work. There’s still no requirement that a man has to be a citizen of the United States. There’s no state law. He can be a subversive, a homosexual, can be an ex-convict. There are no state requirements.
LM: It leaves it up to the establishment.
EM: It leaves it up to the local civil service commission to establish it. While our area is fine—we have a background investigation into criminal history or subversion—there’s no state requirement.
LM: Before concluding this interview, I think we left the gambling situation dangling back there somewhere. Perhaps we should clear that up. Was there any legislation passed to eliminate the gambling influence for law enforcement?
EM: 1:16:12 Yes there was, and I’m kind of proud of that. It extended from the local situation relative to gambling. We found that this—more or less tainted money—controlled politics. Among these things was slot machines, punch boards—all of the other various gambling devices. The strongest of all was the slot machines. It extended from the one-armed bandits to the marble tables—so called one-ball tables—one-ball parlor tables. They all had money they posted, or in free games which was the exchange of open money. Well, in 1951 we introduced—and after a whole lot of difficulty—finally passed what they called the slot machine law that makes it a felony to possess a slot machine. That one law I think—this is a personal opinion—but I think that one law did more to take illegitimate money out of political campaigns than any other one thing we’ve ever done.
LM: Did the association actively support this legislation?
EM: Oh yeah, we sponsored it. I’m not at liberty to say who wrote the law, but we had it written because we didn’t know how to write it to do the job. We had it written—it was written for us—we introduced it and got the sponsors that caused the House investigating committee to investigate organized crime in the state of Texas—to pinpoint names, people, places, judges, whatever—to get enough strength to pass. Same year, we had two laws—amendments on policy writing—policy gameture—one of the most financially rewarding of any of the gambling devices because it preys on the minorities—the nickels, dimes and fifteen cents playing policy. The policy operators were among the largest financial contributors to politicians. In 1951 the slot machine law and the policy—that was the law that we passed that was most effective to take gambling out of politics.
LM: But there were gambling laws before the passage of this.
EM: Oh, yeah. Yes.
LM: What was the effective provision that made these laws more effective than the past laws?
EM: It’s always been a violation to play dice and shoot craps. But who does this? People who go to parties, really. They like to play dice and play card games, but that’s not really gambling. So in those days if you looked at gambling law arrests, that’s where it was. If they needed a few arrests to build a record, they’d just go out and knock off a few dice games, and get 50 or 100 cases filed. But the big money was in slot machines.
LM: There were no laws before this against slot machines?
EM: 1:20:06 There was laws against gambling on a slot machine or gambling on a pool table but no law against pulling the lever and getting money out of the machine. So we passed the law and made it a felony to even possess one. Needless to say, we ran into a whole lot of opposition—Veterans of Foreign Wars, Eagles, American Legion—all of these people financed their operations from slot machines for their members.
LM: Were there any laws against the policy games prior to the passage of this?
EM: There were some and I’m not really qualified to say what they were or how strong they were. The laws that we took up there in ’51 were given to us by some people that were crusading against gambling. That’s the reason I said I wasn’t at liberty to say who wrote the laws. A lot of it I didn’t understand because I had never worked in vice operations, gambling operations. I didn’t know why they couldn’t make cases or why they could. I was simply the representative up there, and they said these are what we want so we got them passed.
LM: Looking back with the perspective we have now, from 1945 to the late ’50s, what shift did you see in law enforcement or police work?
EM: The change over the years—let’s say a more intelligent approach—to law enforcement and more interest in education, more courses created in police administration, in actual administration, scientific criminal investigation, statistics—the quality of the policemen is certainly a lot better than it used to be.
LM: Is police work in Houston approaching professional status, do you feel?
EM: I have mixed emotions on the answer to that. We—for years—went on the premise that we were promoting professionalization, that law enforcement was a profession as well as doctors or lawyers or any other so-called profession. We needed to improve the quality of the men or the results of their work to prove professionalism. However—I say this, but I believe that policemen themselves are the greatest deterrent to professionalization. They don’t abide by a philosophy if financial gain is on the other side—I refer to these extra jobs. A policeman who will go out here and work in a beer joint as a bouncer is not being professional, I don’t think. In an effort to raise the standard of living—I don’t think the pay scale for policemen is very bad, yet it could be improved—but we could live on it. But the opportunities are here for them to make many more dollars. They can make more money working extra than they can on the police job. We have many men in this department that take home every week more extra money than their actual salaries, which leads us to a position of a man living beyond his status in life. A patrolman—of course—should live at a certain level of comfort, and if he progresses to sergeant, lieutenant or to captain and adds more money he—of course—wants to increase his status of living.
We have patrolmen today—it’s an effect of the times—but they’re living out of houses that are well beyond their status in life. If they are employed with extra work, they are lowering the dignity of policemen—I think—by doing this. So I have some reservations about whether policemen will ever be professional. We try to set a standard—say a standard of pay—not like a doctor or a lawyer would, for sure—now at work, if one policemen needs to go cut the rate that his buddy is working for so he can get the job—so it gets to the point—like I’ve discussed earlier—where a dollar gets in the way of your goal. I couldn’t live in a class that some of our patrolmen do today because I absolutely will not work an extra. I could make $25 an hour—if I wanted to go out here and work three hours this afternoon, I could make $75 before I go home, and I absolutely won’t do it.
LM: In police-related work?
EM: Correct. The calls come in here all the time—the demand for police services in this city are so great, and the ability to do it all on city expenses is completely impossible. And yet, its citizens require it, demand it, and they pay for it. It’s beyond all comprehension. I don’t believe I can get it over to you, the enormous amount of it that’s going on. When I see these policemen that are willing to take time away from their family or civic duties or whatever just to make a dollar, sometimes I doubt whether they want to be professionals. So in the matter of professionalization—I’d like to think that they are professionals but personally you have to sacrifice something.
LM: From the time that evolved from when we began, what you’re saying—correct me if I’m wrong—the goal was to achieve professionalism?
EM: Right. We wanted to be recognized as professional people, to uphold ethical, moral standards, and push our position on the economic ladder a step or two higher than it was. You can’t do that if the men are still willing to work below.
LM: Before we conclude, do you have any more remarks that you wish to make—any issues to discuss which I haven’t covered, please feel free to do so. If not—
EM: I probably said too much already. (chuckle) If anything I have said—or anything I’m able to say later—you could prompt it with the right question—
End of Tape