Secret Santa: Wow what a policing duty! Using probable cause to give away 50 $100 bills to citizens at Christmas

Tom Kennedy

When special unprecedented duty calls, HPD officers, both old and young, veterans and rookies, figure out the best course of action.

The old veteran Tim Whitaker felt awestruck, challenged and – really – blessed at Christmastime when HPOU President Ray Hunt tasked him and his PPO with the delightful assignment to give away 50 $100 bills from a “secret Santa” to Houstonians stopped for probable cause.

Being a Real Santa

Let’s get to the full story from start to finish. The 50 c-notes were consecutively numbered, brand new crispy versions one expects to receive in a special stocking hung by the chimney with care on Christmas Eve.

Adhered to the back of each new bill was a note that read, “Merry Christmas from Secret Santa.”

Hunt might know the person’s identity but don’t ask him to reveal it. “Anonymous donor” was the operative phrase. The Union president figured the most orderly manner of distribution was to entrust the entire stack to Whitaker and his training partner, PPO J. C. Rivera.

By the way, the rookie Rivera had been on the job only a matter of weeks.

“Ray just wanted one person to do it,” Whitaker recalled, detailing this great assignment. “He thought it could be done within one shift. As time went on, it got to be a little more complicated and difficult assignment. But that turned out to be pretty awesome as well.”

The two began at Westside and occupied the spots to pick up the “usual suspects” for equipment violations. The general plan was to stop a citizen who had a blinker out or the like and then tell them the real reason for the stop was to present them with $100, not even wrapping strings attached. Unconditional love from Secret Santa!

Initially, Fox News reporter Angela Chen and a cameraman accompanied Whitaker and Rivera on “about 40 traffic stops in 17, 18, 19 and 20 districts. Tim met his training partner, PPO J.C. Rivera at the Westside Station and off they went stopping traffic. Tagging along for a couple of traffic stops was Fox News reporter Angela Chen and her camera man.

Wait, that’s only 40 $100 giveaways.

“The other 10 contacts were an HEB parking lot, a Walmart parking lot, a Target parking lot, a motel and several apartment complexes and a bus stop,” Whitaker said.

Experiencing the Blessings

It was said Whitaker’s lieutenant doubted he could ever make that many traffic stops within the timeframe – based on experience. But Whitaker smiled and said he proved him wrong, although it did take several extra days.

Some people were upset at getting stopped until they learned they were receiving money. Then their demeanor quickly changed.

Rivera had to beg one “violator” to take the money when he was unsure what was going on.

“Every person given money was very, very grateful,” Whitaker remembered. “Several cried and told stories about how desperately they needed the money.

“One guy had been driving around listening to Christian radio and praying for some help when we stopped him.”

A smiling officer in Houston blue was the answer to his prayer.

“We chose people with equipment violations that looked as if they could use a little help at Christmas,” Whitaker said. “We didn’t pull over Cadillacs, SUVs and all that stuff.”

One gentleman with an obviously guilty conscious ultimately thanked Whitaker and Rivera when he determined that he wasn’t being arrested and wouldn’t have to use the $100 to post bond.

As one might expect, Police Chief Charles “Chuck” McClelland was fully approving the process. “We weren’t out there to put people in jail,” Whitaker said. “We were out there to bless them at Christmastime.”

And on with the blessings:

  • They stopped a van on Westheimer filled with two parents and a literal vanful of kids. As the van drove away, you could hear the kids laughing and yelling with excitement as they drove down Westheimer.
  • One lady on Beechnut glared a hole through the officers as she was stopped for an allegedly faulty head light. When Rivera hander her $100, her countenance reversed itself to the biggest smile the officers witnessed. “It was the happiest smile we saw,” Whitaker said.
  • One driver who was stopped had just arrived here from Michigan with nothing more than an empty gas tank, a television and a box of cereal. Then he got an unconditional 100 bucks. The “violator’s” girlfriend told him, “I told you God would bless you if you moved to Houston.”
  • PPO Rivera remembered presenting $100 to a family of six living in a small motel room. He said the small kids continually asked, “Are we in trouble?”

The Christmas season has been over now for a while and the mystery and intrigue surrounding the Secret Santa will go on and on, perhaps becoming a part of HPD Blue Santa Legend.

To quote Tim Whitaker:

“I have no idea who he is and am not sure the guy wants to be known. I would say to him, ‘Thank you for making those 50 people’s Christmas. For me and this officer who’s only been on the street for a week, we will remember this Christmas and look at Christmas a little differently because of your generosity.

“It’s not about me – it’s about others!”