As one of the nation’s largest urban areas and ports, Houston is home to the 68th highest crime rate in the U.S. The Houston Police Department is the primary police force in the Houston area. In 1841, the growing crime issue in Houston necessitated the creation of a police department. HPD purchased its first automobile in 1910.
During World War I, Houston was home to two military bases, Ellington Field and Camp Logan. Northern trips had difficulty with segregation in the South and a riot ensued after a black soldier was arrested for interfering in the arrest of a black woman. Sixteen whites (five of whom were police officers), several black soldiers, two white soldiers, and one Hispanic soldier died in the riot. Mayor Moody eventually needed to call for federal troops and established martial law to put a stop to the riot.
In 1918, HPD hired its first female officer and Eva Jane Bacher was the first detective in what would become the Vice Division. In an effort to modernize, HPD installed its first traffic light in 1921. The department continued to modernize throughout the 1920s and 1930s by creating substations, a Homicide Division, and its own school to train new officers.. HPD received FCC licensing in 1936 as one of five police departments in the United States to be licensed. The 1940s brought fingerprinting and a doubling of the police fleet—the fingerprinting of officers led to the termination of fifteen officers for having criminal records. The 1950s and 1960s brought about even more changes to professionalize the force including new admittance requirements, for instance new applicants were required to have a high school diploma or pass an entrance examination, height requirements of 5’8” to 6’5” tall, and be 21 years of age. Texas Southern University experienced race riots on May 17, 1967. These were in response to elevated racial tensions and the Vietnam War. Nearly 500 students were arrested and one officer was killed.
In 1982, HPD appointed its first African-American chief of police, outsider Dr. Lee Brown. Brown would later become the city’s first African-American mayor in 1998. His papers and manuscripts can be found at the Woodson Research Center Special Collections & Archives in the Fondren Library at Rice University. Mayor Kathryn Whitmire made history again when she appointed Elizabeth Watson as the first female chief of police in HPD history. Watson served Houston for two years as chief before moving on to the Austin Police Department.
The HPD headquarters building was completed in 1967 but it was then known as the Entex Building. In 1994, the City of Houston purchased the building to become the headquarters of the Houston Police Department. In 2007, HPD opened a museum, gift shop, and officer memorial in the street-level floor of the building for visitors. The building is home to a “three-floor crime laboratory, a 20,000-square-foot fitness center, a 5,000-square-foot voice/data room, a 10,000-square-foot 24-hour emergency tactical command center, and a fingerprinting laboratory.” This is where the Houston Police Department headquarters is today in 2015 where it serves over 2.2 million Houstonians. It also has nineteen storefronts throughout the city to provide more prompt service to its citizenry.