A team has formed to reinvigorate the HPD Museum and bring its vast assortment of files to become more user friendly, not to mention the great exhibits that portray Houston’s police history.
The volunteer-intensive effort is being call the Legacy Project and has highly ambitious goals, not the least of which is a thorough going-over of HPD’s line of duty deaths.
Senior Police Officer Johanna Abad, a longtime member of the Public Affairs staff, said the inspiration for the long-term project came from Officer Jason Knox (EOW: May 2, 2020), a history buff noted for his restoration of vintage HPD patrol cars.
An Ambitious Project
Abad, a 22-year veteran out of Academy Class No. 175, knows the importance of details, especially when inquiring minds want to know the history of the department. She sought to learn the same sort of minute details Knox used in his restoration projects to present in an organized, state-of-the-art manner. This won’t be an easy project, the same fact Knox learned in his restoration projects.
“Jason loved the history and loved to make the department look good,” said Abad, who worked with Knox in Public Affairs before he went to Fox. “This is something I can do to bring it to the history to the next generation.”
Abad is no lone wolf. She knows about “buy in” and enlisted a respectable list of partners, stressing that the project is a joint venture of Public Affairs and the Museum. She has the blessings of the man at the top, Chief Troy Finner, as well as administrators up and down the line at 1200 Travis – site of the current HPD Museum – and the L. D. Morrison Police Academy, the museum’s former location and where an estimated 900 boxes of files are being stored.
Not only does Abad have support from the brass, but she has also joined current HPD Museum director Howard Thevenin alongside former directors Denny Hair and Charles Williams. She said she also was inspired for the project by immediate past director Steve Duffy’s hard work on the historic Chicano Squad exhibit at 1200 Travis.
This team concept is something new for the museum, which began decades ago when then-Police Chief Harry Caldwell named Hair as the first-ever museum director. Hair retired as an HPD officer earlier in the new decade. He lived and breathed HPD history and set up numerous exhibits and conducted countless tours when the museum headquarters was at the Academy.
Abad is excited to have Hair on board to regurgitate every piece of history he has stored inside him.
“I wish Denny could write everything he knows about each item in these boxes,” Abad said. “We need the stuff Denny has in his head. Last week we got approval to buy a video camera. We intend to record him hours on end. What better way to tell a story than to narrate it.”
Just to digitize the mounds and mounds of files will take at least three years, a process Abad said has fallen into the laps of willing and eager volunteers.
“We really couldn’t do it without our volunteers and their support,” Abad stressed. Her volunteer coordinator is a reliable HPD/HPOU supporter, Jeanette Einkauf. Einkauf recruited volunteers from Houston Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association (HCPAAA).
The digitizing takes place two or three times a week with volunteers opening boxes to either scan or photograph the contents.
The Current Status
This thankless undertaking comes in the context of a police museum whose current condition can be considered in dire need of rejuvenation. Besides the need to digitize files, Abad and director Thevenin put their heads together to determined other current conditions at the HPD Museum. And they found:
- Due to the pandemic, there have been no museum visitors. “It’s the perfect time to get in there and see what needs to be done,” Abad said.
- Files and exhibits are split between 1200 Travis and the Academy.
- The Academy shut down all tours and exhibits pioneered and developed by Hair and Williams to emphasize a “storefront” at police headquarters downtown. “There is other stuff (exhibits) at the Academy but it’s not visible to the public,” Abad said.
- The museum has not taken any donated memorabilia for more than a decade.
As a member of the Public Affairs staff for 15 years, Abad said she was looking for more ways of promoting the department in exciting, innovative ways when she saw what was needed at the museum. She started with Finner’s buy-in and proceeded to get the go-ahead from Academy Commander Chandra Hatcher.
“She’s fantastic,” Abad said. “She values history and the information we used to get from the museum. Officers had access to it.”
Public Affairs stands behind the Legacy Project all the way. Abad said her Public Affairs partner, Josephine Jones, also participates in the growing efforts to digitize.
“We’re going to get this done,” the senior police officer said. “We’re excited. I haven’t been this excited about a project in a long time.”
There is reason for excitement. As part of the digitizing goal, Abad and Thevenin and their volunteers are in the process of reviewing newspaper files and other resources to learn all they can about the line-of-duty deaths in the Houston Police Department.
Of course, their primary source is the vast knowledge and printed records produced by retired HPD Homicide Lt. Nelson Zoch, author of Fallen Heroes of the Bayou City, accounts of HPD’s fallen officers, a bold history Zoch is in the process of updating.
Officially, the history of the Houston Police Department began in 1841 when it became known as a “police department.” Abad’s volunteers discovered the death on duty of a “city constable” in 1839, opening the door to fascinating questions. Should a “city law enforcement officer” be put on the rolls of HPD heroes?
“No one yet knows the answer to that question,” Abad said. “We will have to wait further study that will produce more information. I have to say that questions like these make this Legacy Project a fascinating undertaking.”