The sometimes slow-paced steps leading to the exciting new PRAY FOR POLICE campaign began a few years ago.
Those slow and careful steps were initially taken by men of faith who happened to wear the blue uniform of the Houston Police Department.
Evolution of PACA
Over the last generation HPD has developed relationships with pastors from the African American and Hispanic communities. It’s fair to say that they were generated in the wake of conflicts between arresting officers and minority suspects.
The steps began moving at a faster pace within the past 10 years.
And now they are evenly paced and certainly not uphill.
One individual at the center of the stepping stones has been – and continues to be – Senior Police Officer Barry Curtis, a 25-year veteran and graduate of Academy Class No. 138 and a devout Christian who practices his faith in all that he does while on or off duty.
Another prime mover careful in the recent stepped-up prayerful pace is HPD’s ever-ready and reliable chaplain, Monty Montgomery.
Now let’s cite a bit of background information.
Houston Ministers Against Crime was formulated in 1976 in response to police-related conflicts such as the Jose Campos Torres event. The program involves ethnically and denominationally diverse ministers who participate in crime prevention activities in support of HPD. The group used religious influence, including prayer, to diffuse touchy policing situations. Membership basically consisted of African American pastors.
Over the past decades similar groups emerged. They included the Police and Clergy Team (PACT), the Hispanic Ministers Against Crime, the Asian Ministers Against Crime and the United Ministers Against Crime (primarily Caucasian ministers).
One prime mover was Capt. Bruce Williams when he headed Fondren Division in 2006. With the assistance of Curtis and Montgomery, Williams developed what became known as the Police and Clergy Team, or PACT. Then-Police Chief Harold Hurtt then directed Lt. Mattie Provost (now assistant chief) to take PACT citywide to all the patrol divisions in 2009. Curtis recalled, “It was multi-faith, multi-ethnic and a multi-Christian denominational and non-denominational group. The PACT model and its diversity helped to lay the ground work for a key merger of police/clergy groups.”
In 2012 Police Chief Charles “Chuck” McClelland saw the need to merge the five groups into one and directed current Assistant Chief M. C. Provost to get the job done. Provost assigned Sgt. Chris Baltazar and Officer Curtis to work with HPD Legal to develop guidelines and policies that paved the way for the creation of Houston PACA or Police and Clergy Alliance. PACA’s participating pastors now number about 120 ministers of multi faiths, ethnicities and Christian denominations. They carry their own badges and engage in frequent ride-alongs and other activities that enable them to learn about Houston policing problems.
“I believe we’ve seen a unifying spirit in last three years amongst different ministers,” Curtis explained. “It’s been a great experience to see the ministers from all different parts of the cities and cultures and denominations.”
Curtis and Chaplain Montgomery took the lead in organizing the quarterly PACA breakfast session with Chief McClelland. These meetings were mandated by PACA guidelines. Curtis said that these type of activities has enabled the pastors to maintain enhanced relationships between the ministers and police officers across the city and especially Chief McClelland. Montgomery serves as a prime motivator for these volunteers, cheering them on and inspiring their work.
As an obvious offshoot of this organization, Curtis said he and Montgomery “batted back and forth” the idea of prayer partnerships and bracelets that would connect community activists and individual police officers. At times they sought the help of Christian radio station KSBJ for the possible funding of these bracelets.
But the idea never actually took root.
A Tragic Event
Then came the tragic Aug. 28 shooting death of Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth, a wanton crime deemed by many politicians as the result of the anti-police atmosphere resulting from events in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.
Curtis and Montgomery immediately knew that what men and women in uniform and the members of their communities needed was prayer!
They were still thinking in terms of prayer bracelets and resources. Their own prayers were for law enforcement officers, not just for their fellow HPD officers but those in Harris County and everywhere else.
They went to the Houston Police Officers Union, led by president, Ray Hunt, himself an ordained minister.
Curtis and Montgomery asked for and received a meeting with Union leaders. The group included Hunt and vice presidents Doug Griffith and Joe Gamaldi. The late Bishop Floyd Lewis, an HPD auxiliary chaplain, had started a “thumbs up” campaign and the Union leaders felt this would be the perfect fit to have citizens give an officer “thumbs up” while displaying their PRAY FOR POLICE wristband.
“The Union requested that PACA be in the middle of that,” Curtis said. “The Union’s been sponsoring these quarterly breakfasts with the chief for three years now. These meetings also have been the impetus for in-service training for clergy volunteers to keep their badges current. It also keeps the relationship current and enhances the relationships among the community. For myself and other clergy liaison leaders across the city it has enhanced that relationship as well.”
The meeting at the Union saw all good things start working together for good.
“Barry and Monty deserve all the credit,” HPOU 1st Vice President Doug Griffith said, attributing their heartfelt vision as the catalyst for the many good things that have happened in the PRAY FOR POLICE campaign. “Clear Channel Communications gave us 20 billboards,” Griffith said, citing another exciting result. “I’ve already had people call me and said they’ve seen the first one. We don’t have to pay for anything. They’re doing it all.”
Under this leadership, the wristband idea finally took off, dedicated to see that Deputy Sheriff Goforth would never be forgotten but also strengthening the bond that prayer brings between law enforcement officers and the people in the community that support them. Everyone at the meeting – and later the HPOU Board of Directors and elected officials throughout Houston embraced the idea and couldn’t wait to see it put into practice.
The Sept. 8 press conference at the Union’s Breckenridge Porter Building debuted the wristbands and officially launched a 24-hour prayer vigil on the parking lot outside. KSBJ graciously agreed to broadcast many hours of live coverage. During that period Houston police officers and PACA members passed out the blue bracelets and spent time praying with Houston citizens who stopped by to stress their undying support of officers and the often life-threatening jobs they perform.
The event was the antithesis of many rallies held by police critics everywhere who emphasized the natural rift between officers and minority communities.
“We had people there and we had chaplains coming there after the 24 hours of prayer,” said Curtis, who spent many of the day-long campaign on-site. “They were still praying for Houston, Texas and the nation. They were lifting us up to God. This was not a selfish prayer for police only. It was for the community as a whole and just for a great awakening.
“For once we see that we’re not really in control. We have to acknowledge that there is somebody, Almighty God, who has control over all this earth. We need to acknowledge Him and continue to acknowledge Him because we never know when it may be our last day. Romans 10:1-13 and Ephesians 2:8-9 can be a great starting point for acknowledgement and peace, because when we take our last breath on this earth, our eternal destiny is sealed, be it up or be down.”
For Curtis it was yet another of his personal acknowledgements of God before and after he joined HPD. He said, “I do believe God has put me here for a purpose and I can make a positive difference. I want to see peace and unity across the city. I want the people to know who we are. We are the good guys.”
Curtis believes God has played the key role in bringing a native of central Illinois – whose father chose the U. S. Air Force as a career – to Houston. He got to the academy after a series of life events. When his dad retired in 1973 the family moved to Corpus Christi for a few years before coming to Houston, where Curtis graduated from Sharpstown High School in 1978. He attended the University of Houston and worked his way up the ladder at Sears, ultimately becoming an assistant manager in a division. Then he spent a few years in the family’s insurance business.
But he didn’t feel he was in the right groove of life.
“I felt like God wanted me to do more in my life,” Curtis remembered. “I felt like He was calling me into the ministry. I sold my share of the insurance business to my dad and went to Sears part-time and to Westbury Baptist Church part-time.
Deliverers from Evil
“While working there I heard that small voice that kept hitting me with law enforcement. I couldn’t figure out why I was getting it. It wasn’t a career aspiration as a child. But the thought kept sticking with me. I stepped out on faith, contacted HPD and said: ‘Are you hiring.’ ”
The timing was perfect. The Academy had been closed in the administration of Mayor Kathy Whitmire and the department was eager to recruit as many qualified cadets as possible. Curtis started there in December 1989. “I had never shot a pistol until I got into the police academy,” he said. “I stepped out on faith and felt like God pulled me through the academy by my boot straps.”
The new officer was greatly encouraged by “one of the toughest field training officers by reputation,” an officer named Sonny Wright. Wright worked closely with Curtis and ended the training period by telling the new officer, “I just want to tell you that there were those made to be police officers and those made not to be police officers. And I want to tell you that you were made to be a police officer.”
This tribute gave Curtis confidence, encouragement and confirmation.
Curtis trained at Westside and served in Beechnut Patrol four years before serving 10 years in the DARE program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) and spent two years at the Command Center before Capt. Williams requested his assignment to Fondren in 2006 to be community liaison, which eventually translated to “clergy liaison.” In 2010 Chief McClelland decided to merge clergy liaison with Public Affairs. This is Curtis’ current assignment.
Curtis believes he’s serving where God wants him to be.
He can recall stories that emphasize the presence of God throughout his career. He was a friend and colleague of Officer Guy Gaddis, who was killed in the line of duty Jan. 31, 1994. Curtis served as a pall bearer at Gaddis’ service. He found that he couldn’t get to the cemetery from the church because his shop’s battery went dead when he forgot to turn off the headlights as part of the traditional lights-on tribute to a fallen officer.
Curtis believes God led him to hitch a ride with a member of the Peacemakers, the police quartet who sang at the memorial service. Curtis’ wife Debbie was on the verge of delivering the couple’s first of three children (one son, two daughters) when he was paged while en route to the cemetery. This was before cell phones and Curtis thought Debbie might be on the verge of delivery.
The officer/pall bearer thought he might have to request his ride to let him off the freeway to call his wife and possibly scrap the plan to serve his friend Guy Gaddis.
Curtis smiles as he recalls that the Peacemaker member was one of the few HPD officers equipped with “a bag phone,” one of the earliest mobile telephones available. He called his wife from the car and determined that it was false labor and he could continue his mission. His daughter was born a week later.
Curtis believes the PRAY FOR POLICE campaign will bond HPD with the community like never before and that an increasing number of Houstonians and Americans will realize what police officers do for them. He is sorry that it took the tragic death of Deputy Goforth but chooses to put together the proper perspective.
He quoted Second Baptist pastor Ed Young’s application of the Lord’s Prayer to police officers everywhere.
“Police officers,” Young said, “are the guys standing in the gap to deliver us from evil.”
Curtis said he’s glad to be staying in that gap alongside the rest of HPD.