HPD’s oldest and wisest offer their candid time-tested advice

Tom Kennedy

The April 22 luncheon honoring the six HPD officers who are at least 70 years of age with at least 30 years of Houston policing experience called special attention to the importance of mentoring and setting examples for younger officers.

Each of the six expressed his unending dedication to the Department’s goal of thwarting wrong-doers, saying in their own individual way that over the decades they seldom if ever dreaded coming to work and getting the job done.

 The Badge & Gun interviewed each of these great honorees and asked them the same question: In light of your experience, what advice would you provide younger officers.

Herewith, their answers:

Ben Norman

Sgt. Ben Norman (Major Offenders) is No. 1 in HPD seniority with 57 years on the force. Sgt. Norman said:

 “Be patient but more than that don’t jump to conclusions. I’ve seen a couple of times when I was very certain a person was guilty and it turned out I was very wrong. I think that’s happened to all of us.”

In the context of his 57 years, the sergeant said it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long since he can still vividly remember his first two or three days. He with in K-9 and worked in Burglary and Theft when he was promoted to detective, which later became the rank of sergeant.

What became the Major Offenders Division was formed in 1976, known then as “the Fence Detail” with four detectives. Today, the division has 80 people and Fence is only one unit in a whole division.

John Pohlman

Sgt. John Pohlman (Internal Affairs) has 47 years with HPD. Sgt. Pohlman said:

“I would tell them to enjoy their job as opposed to fighting against it. I guess the thing I’ve learned more than anything is that there’s always another side of a situation, another way to look at an issue.

“My view is my viewpoint is not the only one there is. I think the best thing that ever happened to me was going back and finishing my college education. I learned the variables – that there’s always something that would everything.

“Nothing is written in stone. My perspective is certainly not the only perspective there is. As police we think ours is the only perspective, and it’s not.

“Upper management is not always wrong. The lower we are on the totem pole the more propensity to think upper management doesn’t know.”

Pohlman said his perspective changed when he became a sergeant. He realized that a sergeant works at a different level and sees why things can’t be done exactly the way street officers want.  “Lieutenants are working at a different level with a different input and look at it in a different way. The same way with captains, assistant chiefs and the chief of police.”

In short, when looking for solutions to everyday policing problems and their solutions – “maybe it’s not what I think. It is ‘maybe there’s more to it.’ ”

Ralph Yarborough

Sgt. Ralph Yarborough has 44 years, many of them spent battling sex crimes. He currently serves as the administrative sergeant in the Homicide Division. Yarborough said:

“Think about who you would want to be a supervisor, what qualities you would want in the supervisor you would want to work for, and then show them those qualities in yourself.

“It gets down to what you do and what you say, your mannerisms, your professionalism, your approach. You as a police officer, no matter what rank you are, are responsible for training your supervisors.

“If you want them to be all you want them to be, you will have to act and walk and talk the way you want them to be.”

Joe Falco

Senior Police Officer Joe Falco has 40 years on the job at HPD. Before graduating the Academy in 1975 he served five years with Bellaire PD and three years with Harris County, giving him 48 years overall in policing. Falco said:

“My message (to the officer) would be to do a good job. Treat those people like you would want to be treated. Give them a safer place in Houston to live. Watch what you do and keep yourself out of troubled and you’ll be to make 40 years on the force.

“Also, our main objective is to suppress the crime and take offenders out of the community. Remember, our main objective is to help people. We do that.

“I’d like to see it keep going on. It’s a great feeling to be with some colleagues who were new when I got on the force and be able to work with over these years. It’s good to be together. Time goes by so fast, it’s hard to believe we’ve been there this long.”

Wilbur Robertson

Sgt. Wilbur Robertson serves as the relief sergeant in Internal Affairs. A 35-year veteran, Robertson said:

“What would I tell them? The same thing I tell them all the time: Two things that are really important around here if you want a long career. Nothing you do is more important than searching a prisoner. Everything else you do wrong you’ll be able to fix. You may not be able to fit that one.

“Truth is sacred in this department. No matter what you do or what happened, you tell the truth. If you receive some sort of punishment for that, you take it and move on down the road.”

Charles Davis

Sgt. Charles Davis has 33 years with HPD but pointed out that he served seven and a half years in Chicago law enforcement before coming to the Bayou City. Davis, a Patrol sergeant at South Gessner, said:

“Always do the right thing. Attempt to solve as many crimes as you can and do a thorough job.”

As a law enforcement veteran before he started with HPD, Davis knew problems facing new cadets and acted to help establish solutions. He found that new cadets had no place to stay (“I found one cadet sleeping in his car.”) and had little money for food.

He helped to set up a program where utility and credit union representatives spoke in an early seminar at the Academy to help cadets establish enough credit to be able to afford food and a place to stay.

“I had been through these problems earlier in my career,” Davis said, “and knew what these younger people were going through and wanted to help them get through the Academy with food and a place to sleep.”