Tag Archives: Amarillo Police Department

Time of My Life, Part 41: Learning about police work

I spent a lot of years in journalism working with police officers. I reported on their activities and duties and I commented on them as well. I am proud to say I got it mostly right and that my relationship with police was mostly cordial.

However, I received two extraordinary opportunities while working in Amarillo that gave me a glimpse — and that’s all it was, a glimpse — of police work that gave me a better understanding of what our men and women do when they suit up to “protect and serve” the community.

Some years ago, I wrote a column for the Amarillo Globe-News that was mildly critical of the local police department. I don’t recall the issue at this moment. I do recall a phone call I received from a source — who also was a friend — at the Amarillo Police Department.

Jeff Lester was a captain on the force. He called me to challenge me to attend the Citizens Police Academy the APD puts on annually to acquaint civilians with some of the nuts and bolts of police work. I took up Lester’s invitation. I applied for the academy. The APD accepted me as a “cadet.” I attended meetings for a night each week; the course lasted 11 weeks. I learned about how the cops go about their duties.

I learned about drug interdiction, surveillance, hostage negotiation, crime scene forensics, the K-9 force, I got to participate in a ride-along with a beat officer, and got to shoot weapons at the firing range. We shot .38-caliber revolvers, 9-mm Glock semi-auto pistols, AR-15 rifles. To be honest, I had a blast shooting the weapons. I was able to shoot pretty good groupings with the revolver and with the AR-15. Indeed, the AR-15 felt much like the M-16 I was issued in the Army back in the day, so shooting that weapon triggered a form of “flashback” … no pun intended there.

All told, the Citizens Police Academy was an eye-opening experience I welcomed at the time. It filled me with a keen appreciation for the work that our officers do. And I damn sure learned first hand that there is no such thing as a “routine traffic stop.”

The second experience occurred years later. The APD was staging a series of simulated police encounters. The police invited several media representatives to take part. I was one of them.

We were armed with pistols loaded with paint-ball pellets. We would fire them in situations as they developed. We were given scenarios and given the options we could employ. Do we shoot? Do we hold our fire?

There was one situation involving a hostage-taking. The “bad guy” would take off and run in the opposite direction. I entered the room. My heart was racing. Adrenaline was racing through my body. When the moment arrived for me to decide what to do — to shoot or not shoot — I chose the former and shot the “bad guy” in the back as he was running away!

The police officers who were managing the scene told me — with smiles on their faces — that I, um, made the wrong decision.

These situations were intended to mirror real-life situations. I knew they weren’t. They are tightly managed. However, I learned in real time about the mental toughness and discipline required for good police officers to do their job while protecting you and me.

I will never take these men and women for granted.

Where are the cops when you need them?

I don’t like using this blog as a forum for complaining about municipal services … but I’ll make this brief exception.

The Amarillo Police Department needs to post a traffic officer at the intersection of Amarillo Boulevard and Soncy Road around, oh, 5 p.m. every work day. The huge medical center’s work force is heading for home about that time.

If you’re traveling in either direction along The Boulevard, it’s impossible to get through the green light — which is the signal for motorists to proceed.

Why is that? Because motorists who are southbound on Soncy are blocking the intersection because traffic has backed up north of Interstate 40. That’s why!

I’m looking out of the city’s financial condition here. There’s lots of revenue to be gained by police issuing tickets to those who block intersections, which I believe is in violation of city traffic ordinance.

I also am looking out for the peace of mind of motorists who get caught by fellow motorists who aren’t courteous enough to keep the intersection clear while they wait to proceed.

There. My rant is now over.

Jerry Neal took APD down a progressive path

I am sad at this moment, having just learned of the death of a man I considered to be one of the finest law enforcement officials I had the pleasure to know.

Former Amarillo Police Chief Jerry Neal is gone. My memory of his service goes back a good bit.

I arrived in Amarillo in January 1995 to take my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. Neal had been at his post for 14 years already, having arrived here from Norman, Okla., to rescue a police department that had fallen into serious disrepair.

Chief Neal retired in 2007 after 26 years as the city’s top cop. He modernized it immediately. He introduced a new level of professionalism and service He insisted that the PD clear up cases that had gone unsolved. On his watch, APD established its Citizens Police Academy to acquaint Amarillo residents with the myriad aspects of police work; I happened to be one of those who participated around 2003 in an academy “class.” I found it to be an invaluable education on the difficulties that police officers face every day they go to work on our behalf.

The chief was a progressive police officer and administrator who worked hard to bring his department into the modern age.

As the Amarillo Globe-News reported: “Chief Neal helped modernize and shape the Amarillo Police Department into what it is today,” Cpl. Jeb Hilton wrote in the news release. “He is remembered as a fair boss, a great leader and a good friend. His legacy at the Amarillo Police Department lives on through his son Officer Kent Neal. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Neal family.”

I want to share a story about Chief Neal that I’ve repeated many times over the years.

In 2006, the Ku Klux Klan obtained a permit to demonstrate in front of Amarillo City Hall. I thought it would be worth attending this event — with notebook and pen in hand — to witness whatever might happen. Amarillo PD, along with the Potter County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety, had set up a huge security perimeter in front of City Hall to ensure minimal contact between the Klansmen and the public.

That was a good call.

Chief Neal was there, dressed — and I use this term cautiously — in full battle gear: blue uniform, flak jacket and all the hardware that police officers wear when facing potential hostility.

I was chatting with Chief Neal when a Klansman walked up and asked Neal, “Uh, chief, may I ask you a question?”

Neal’s offered a classic response. “No,” he responded tartly. “Now … get away from me.”

Oh, how I wanted to high-five him at that moment. I didn’t. His intolerance of a reviled hate group spoke volumes — and I told him so later, in a private moment.

Jerry Neal was a great cop who took seriously his oath to “protect and serve.”

Keep the cameras on duty

My request of the Amarillo City Council is simple and straightforward.

It should agree to expand the deployment of red-light cameras to other troublesome intersections in Amarillo.

Council members are reportedly ready to make a decision. They have targeted a half-dozen intersections where motorists are prone to running red lights. The city already has cameras keeping an eagle eye on lawbreakers; the camera snaps pictures of those who run through the lights and the city sends fine notices to the registered owners of the motor vehicle that has been used in the traffic infraction.

The cameras have worked so well at one intersection — Coulter and Elmhurst — that the city is considering disconnecting the cameras at that location.

The council has received some disturbing news at one level. A lot of the fines the city has assessed have gone unpaid. The count is more than 11,000 of them issued in 2017. Of course, the city cannot let those unpaid citations go unaccounted for.

Council members have learned that the Traffic Department has improved signalization at several intersections with the money collected from the red-light cameras. That, I should add, is how the Legislature stipulated the money must be spent in cities that deploy the cameras.

While some cities have cratered under criticism of this technology, I am delighted to see that Amarillo is staying the course … at least for now. My hope is that it stays the course for the long haul.

Motorists need to be aware that intersections are being equipped with this technology. The more the merrier. The cops cannot be everywhere all at once. The city has taken a proactive approach to dealing with a problem that has caused considerable misery, damage and grief because motorists choose to disobey the law.

My hope is that the City Council proceeds with an expansion of red-light camera traffic enforcement.



Chief Drain: first-class hire for Amarillo

Terry Childers’s name pretty much is mud around Amarillo, Texas.

The one-time interim city manager came aboard after Jarrett Atkinson quit — and then “distinguished” himself by getting into a major-league snit with the city’s emergency response program in a case that became known as “Briefcasegate.” Childers misplaced his briefcase at a local hotel and then berated a dispatcher for not acting — in Childers’s mind — quickly enough to resolve his issue.

Childers lasted a year on the job, then quit — after calling a constituent a “dumb son of a b****” — and high-tailed it back to Oklahoma City.

But he did make a significant hiring decision while he was here. He hired Ed Drain as the city’s chief of police; Drain was hired initially as a temporary chief, then got the permanent job.

I want to salute Childers’s decision to bring Chief Drain to Amarillo, hiring him the Plano Police Department, where he served as deputy chief.

Why the salute? Because the chief is reinvigorating an important police program that was allowed to go fallow during his immediate predecessor’s time as the city’s top cop. Chief Robert Taylor didn’t think much of “community policing.” He let it go.

Chief Drain thinks differently. He is bringing it back. To his great credit. What’s more, community policing carries great potential for increasing the APD visibility in high-crime neighborhoods while building good relations between beat officers and the citizens they take an oath to “protect and serve.”

Community policing is aimed at exposing officers to residents on an interpersonal level. Officers work with community organizations, seeking to build relationships that build trust. And better trust creates an environment for residents to be more vigilant and to report to police when they suspect someone is doing something illegal in their neighborhood.

Former Police Chief Jerry Neal moved the community policing concept forward. His successor, Taylor, had a different view; Taylor didn’t do a bad job as chief, but I wish he had maintained a program that Neal had started.

This is my way of wishing the current chief, Ed Drain, well as he reinvigorates a progressive policing environment in Amarillo.

APD returns to community policing

Terry Childers didn’t exactly distinguish himself during the year or so he served as Amarillo’s interim city manager.

Childers did, however, make one stellar personnel decision in 2016: hiring Ed Drain — an assistant police chief in Plano — as the interim chief of police when Robert Taylor retired as Amarillo’s top cop. Then he took the next step when he named Drain as the city’s permanent police chief. Not long after that, Childers quit and returned to Oklahoma City.

Drain, meanwhile, has distinguished himself in his few months on the job in Amarillo. Mayor Ginger Nelson brought out some key points regarding Drain’s tenure in her State of the City speech, noting some improvements that I want to look at briefly in this blog post.

One of them involves the return of community policing.

Former Police Chief Jerry Neal introduced to the city the notion of police officers making themselves more visible in the neighborhoods they patrol. He deployed bicycle patrols and instructed officers to engage in greater outreach to the communities they serve.

Then Neal retired. Taylor assumed command. Community policing disappeared. Then Taylor retired. In came Drain. Community policing has made a return.

As Nelson said Tuesday morning, the police department has instituted community policing programs in five neighborhoods. The program includes police substations where officers are able to do paperwork and perform other duties required of them.

The city has transformed the old North Heights YMCA into a community center now called the Charles Warford Center. It will include a police presence and will, according to Nelson, “provide a safe place for neighborhood children.”

It’s interesting to me that all this has occurred during Chief Drain’s time as head of the Amarillo Police Department.

I happen to be a big fan of community policing. It has worked in cities all across the nation. It puts police officers in more direct contact with the neighborhoods they serve. It helps remove the Us vs. The Man stigma that occasionally infects police relationships with the communities they serve.

Crime statistics suggest the city has work to do, according to Nelson, who said Tuesday that she intends to remove Amarillo from the list of “most dangerous cities in Texas.” She intends to make Amarillo known as one of the state’s “safest cities.”

I believe the mayor has a tremendous resource at her disposal in the form of Police Chief Ed Drain.

Top cops bristle at POTUS’s call for rough treatment

I haven’t talked to Amarillo Police Chief Ed Drain about this subject, but my hunch is that he likely has joined other chiefs of police in their opposition to a law enforcement policy pronouncement by the president of the United States.

Donald John Trump Sr. has suggested that police officers need not worry about being “too nice” with individuals they arrest. Police have been fighting a serious public-relations battle in recent years caused by the actions of some officers who’ve been accused of brutality against the citizens they are sworn to “protect and serve.”

That doesn’t bother Trump, or so it would seem. His remarks in New York this past week suggest that it’s OK with him if cops decide to rough criminal suspects up. Police chiefs sought to put immediate distance between themselves and the president.

As the Washington Post reported: “Some police leaders worried that three sentences uttered by the president during a Long Island, N.Y., speech could upend nearly three decades of fence-mending since the 1991 Los Angeles Police Department beating of Rodney King ushered in an era of distrust of police.

“’It’s the wrong message,’ Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told Washington radio station WTOP while speaking of the trust-building work that departments have undertaken since King’s beating. ‘The last thing we need is a green light from the president of the United States for officers to use unnecessary force.’”

Let’s circle back to Amarillo’s police department for a moment. Drain took command of the department a few months ago and immediately announced plans to reactivate the PD’s community policing policy, which encourages greater interpersonal contact between officers and the communities they patrol.

That kind of policy doesn’t lend itself to the sort of rough-stuff rhetoric the president espoused.

I’m going to stick with the cops on this one. They have a tough enough fight on their hands trying to maintain the trust of the communities they serve. The president’s message — if acted upon — makes the police mission virtually impossible.

Police risk their lives daily … if not hourly

I had a chance this week to renew an acquaintance with a member of Amarillo’s police department. He’s now a captain, but when I first met him more then a decade ago he was employed as an officer on bike patrol. He rode a bicycle around high-crime neighborhoods as part of the city ‘s community policing effort.

I won’t tell you his name, because he doesn’t know I’m writing this blog.

The young man had some nice things to say to me about the work I did back in The Day, when I wrote for the Amarillo Globe-News.

But I want to take a moment here to restate what I’ve noted already, which is that police officers have no greater fan or friend than yours truly.

My very first full-time reporting job was back in Oregon, at the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, which was a small-town afternoon daily newspaper that published five issues each week, Monday through Friday. I would start my day before the sun rose visiting police department dispatchers, collecting information about the calls that came over the past 24 hours. I would look for possible news stories to report on for that day’s paper.

I developed good relationships over the years with cops, with chiefs of police, county sheriffs and dispatchers. I came to understand early about the dangers these folks face every time they report for work. One sheriff scolded me once for writing the words “routine traffic stop,” and he informed me that “there ain’t no such thing as a ‘routine stop.'” I got it.

Did I encounter some bad actors along the way? You bet. One sheriff’s deputy in Oregon City was caught stealing drugs from the evidence property room. A sheriff I knew — also in Oregon City — got entangled in a controversy involving arms deals in southern Africa. One officer in Amarillo detested me because I wrote editorials critical of the police association’s efforts to get a dramatic increase in pay.

But the vast majority of officers and their bosses did their jobs well, with dedication and with honor.

I was given a bit of an up-close look at police operations as a member of the Citizens Police Academy. I had written a column that was mildly critical of something I witnessed involving a police officer. The young captain I saw this week reminded me of that column and of the time we first met while I was attending those academy classes. One of the senior officers at APD read my column, then called me out, telling me in effect that I needed to get a more detailed look at police work. He invited to apply for the Citizens Police Academy; I did and got accepted.

Yes, I read news stories about police officers acting unprofessionally. I understand fully the anger among some communities about cops who harass citizens needlessly, or who demonstrate racial or ethnic bias against citizens. Many of these incidents end tragically and I generally am sympathetic with those who call for reforms within various departments.

However, my support for police remains resolute. My admiration for those who do their jobs well is as strong as ever. I’ve had the pleasure and the honor of knowing many of them over many years in journalism and, yes, I understand the inherent tension between cops and the media.

My professional experience with police in my chosen career has loaded with many pleasant memories of what I’ve witnessed. They have earned my undying respect.

Response times in APD chief’s sights


Amarillo Police Chief Ed Drain is a commanding individual.

As someone told me the other day, you know when Chief Drain walks into a room.

Thus, it is with that context established that Drain is setting out to fix what he believes is a potentially serious problem with the department. Response times need to be reduced, he says, and he plans to implement strategies to accomplish that goal.

Did I mention that he’s a commanding individual?

A study the city commissioned found that response times for APD were roughly double the length of time for other comparably sized departments.

That cannot continue.

Drain, who recently took over as the permanent chief after being appointed to the interim post by interim City Manager Terry Childers, wants to implement other improvements to the department. They involve possibly using more civilian personnel and tweaking the emergency call center operation, which already has undergone some significant overhaul over the past few months.

I’ve already commented favorably on Drain’s decision to re-deploy bicycle patrols in higher-crime neighborhoods, emphasizing community policing techniques that had been abandoned under the tenure of former Chief Robert Taylor, who recently retired.


Yes, the response times need improvement, as the study indicates. Someone in need — or in potential danger — must be able to rely on quick response when the call goes out.

Chief Drain strikes me as someone whose very presence can bring along those under his command to implement the changes he believes he needs to make.

By all means, let’s shorten those response times.

‘Interim’ city manager going to stay?


I cannot shake this feeling that Amarillo’s supposedly “interim” city manager is in it for a longer haul than he or the Amarillo City Council is willing to acknowledge.

Terry Childers announced a big hire the other day when he appointed Ed Drain as the city’s new chief of police. Drain had been brought aboard as “interim police chief” from the Plano Police Department.

Drain took some recommendations offered to make the Amarillo PD a better unit and enacted them. Perhaps the most notable reform has been a re-emphasis on community policing, namely the use of bicycle patrols.

Good deal, yes? Of course it is.

Back to Childers.

The police chief appointment is a major obstacle that the city manager has just cleared. Does he just pack up and leave the administration of the city — and its appointment of the city’s top cop — to someone else? My gut tells me no.

My gut — along with my occasionally reliable trick knee — also tell me that the City Council is quite happy with the way Childers is running the city.

Recall that the city embarked on a city manager search. It collected some resumes from a nationwide job posting. Looked them over — I am going to presume — and then tabled the search.

Am I the only one inclined to think the City Council is decidedly less interested now in looking for someone other than Childers to operate the city’s government machinery?

I’m wrong more than I’m right.

Something, though, tells me that Terry Childers is here to stay a lot longer than he and/or his immediate employers are letting on.