It’s about time! HPD’s pioneering Chicano Squad receives special recognition on its 40th anniversary

Tom Kennedy, Editor

If we’re not careful the public will fail to recognize the pioneering policing concepts offered up by the Houston Police Department this year and in the many years past.

One profound example is the Chicano Squad, which may have been in danger of being forgotten, given the changes in crime trends and community attitudes we are seeing today. Relations with Houston’s Hispanic community have not always been as open and constructive as they are in 2019. Forty years ago, the ever-growing number of immigrants from Mexico were causing innumerable problems for HPD investigators, particularly in Homicide. There was plenty of distrust and lack of communications with Spanish-speaking victims and suspects to go around.

In August 1979, one detective, Jim Montero, interacted with the higher-ups at the time, Police Chief Harry Caldwell, Homicide Capt. Bobby Adams and Lt. Chuck Lofland about how to solve this menacing problem. Their brainchild: the Chicano Squad, which consisted of patrol officers from throughout the department that had three things in common: devotion to duty, the ability to speak Spanish and knowledge of the local Hispanic communities from which they came.

The group of five was assigned to the Homicide Division, where Montero, now HPD Retired, served as everyday leader and mentor for the next 10 years. The original five officers – patrol officers with very little investigative experience – were Officers Cecil Mosqueda, Jose Selvera Jr., Joe De Leon, Robert Gatewood and Lupe Hernandez. A short time later, Officer Raymond Gonzales replaced De Leon.

Imagine the challenges these officers face – cynicism, perhaps animosity from Homicide detectives who were seeing patrol officers investigate murders and other violent crimes. This in the face of large stacks of unsolved cases, most of which involved shootings and knifings in cantinas on the east and north sides of the city.

With unexhausted spirit and worthy guidance, the Chicano Squad soon developed an impressive clearance rate and a rather large number of arrests of suspects in heretofore unsolved cases. As their success story grew, so did the public’s recognition. Over the 30 years after its creation, the squad grew in numbers and saw its work result in fewer unsolved cases, especially those that had been unsolved due to the language barrier.

We must point out that the HPD Chicano Squad was the first of its kind in any big-city police department in the United States. A national podcast producer is now considering a podcast series spotlighting this pioneering group from the Houston Police Department.

It also will be recognized by a special proclamation at the Aug. 20 Houston City Council meeting. Councilman Robert Gallegos has spearheaded the proclamation ceremony which recognizes the 40th anniversary of the squad’s formation. He also will ante up funding from his special District I fund to pay for a display case in the HPD Museum that will contain memorabilia that represents a more permanent recognition of this pioneering group.

Four decades ago, HPD consisted of only a small percentage of Hispanic officers who were bilingual. Today it’s a majority minority department that works with all of Houston’s diverse communities to address any crime problem, large or small. The formation of the Chicano Squad was a giant step in that very positive direction.

Congratulations to each of those brave pioneers who stepped up to the plate 40 years ago.