Special recognition of Bacher helps to cite policewomen’s progress

Under a massive oak tree in full bloom at the site of Houston’s largest cemetery, about 50 people – many in HPD dress uniforms – gathered to pay extraordinary tribute to policewomen everywhere and one of them in particular.

Detective Eva Jane Bacher was the Houston Police Department’s first-ever female officer, serving in a post-World War I era when chiefs and practically all male officers had little use for the feminine touch where crime in the Bayou City was concerned.

In Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery – where 21 HPD officers who died in the line of duty are interred, the praises heaped upon Bacher were as strong as the ever-sturdy oak, whose shade stressed an autumnal tinge to the occasion. The tribute started at mid-morning and the expected September heat had just started to rise.

The Union was represented by HPOU President Doug Griffith and Executive Director Ray Hunt.

Police Chief Troy Finner praised the women on the Houston force, pointing out how special and value their contributions are on a daily basis. Finner said policewomen have come a long way but expressed hope they would continue to play even more important roles in HPD’s policing assignments.

HPD records currently show the department has 401 female police officers, 264 senior police officers, 148 sergeants, 45 lieutenants, 13 commanders, and three assistant chiefs. While the national average is 13 percent, HPD’s policewomen comprise 7.8 percent of the force.

The ceremony actually commemorated the installation of a plaque to Bacher’s headstone there under the oak tree on what was designated National Policewoman Day across the nation.

Those present included not only Carol March of Dallas, Bacher’s great granddaughter, but Kym Craven, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE).

Craven referenced NAWLEE’s stated goal of 30×30 – that is, to see 30 percent of American police officers are women by the year 2030. She took time out to demonstrate the progress of the movement by introducing Chief Vera Bumpers of the city’s Metro Police Department. Craven said the effort to increase police presence of one minority group – women in America – would serve to diversify PDs of all sizes with representation of other minorities as well.

The plaque unveiling was sponsored by Houston Police Retired Officers Association (HPROA), which include retired HPD Assistant Chief Mattie Provost, who is now chief deputy of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department, and the event’s emcee, retired HPD Sgt. M. D. Beale Jr.

Craven cited Bacher as a dedicated trailblazer for every policewoman commissioned since she served on HPD, while March delightfully recounted stories from her father – Bacher’s grandson – was literally taken on duty at a downtown Houston department store when Eva Jane arrested shoplifters as a store detective following her HPD service.

“My dad, Robert Newell Bacher, was born in Houston,” March explained. “When Eva Jane Bacher was a store detective she would be going to the store to work and catch shoplifters.

“She would take her grandson along with her just like she was going shopping. I guess it turned out to be a great adventure for him. He must have been about 6 or 7 at the time.

“I know he did it more than once. It was sort of his favorite thing to do with his grandmother. Most kids bake cookies. But not them. They went on stakeout.

“I remember him telling it as a fond memory. He wanted us to know she was not just your everyday grandmother. She was doing something special.”

HPD with Eva Jane’s family at ceremony

Retired Sgt. Beale, once a member of the vaunted Park Place Rangers, made sure the audience knew Bacher also stood out4 as something special in her earlier years when she was first an officer, then the department’s first-ever female detective. The woman worked days that lasted from 7:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. and even later. She took her job the full nine miles, as evidenced by Beale’s detailed research that he says matches the gritty determination of an old-time HPD sergeant.

“She was a true street cop,” Beale said. “She worked long hours and worked hard.  Twelve-hour days were the norm and eighteen-hour days were not unusual.  She got to know as many of the ‘working girls’ as was humanly possible for one person.

“She put the people in jail that needed to go, men and women, and helped take care of their children, even taking them home with her for a short time when necessary.”

Finner said Bacher well deserves to be remembered and cited a special HPD Museum exhibit at 1200 Travis that has been in the works under the direction of Senior Police Officer Joanna Abad.

Abad presented March with copies of pictures and research information about her great-grandmother, a move March said was greatly appreciated by the entire family.

“This attention brought on our ancestor Eva Jane Bacher has really brought her to life for all of us,” March explained. “She had been just a name in the past. Now she’s a person in the flesh with personality.

“We now understand her difficulties as a single mom becoming Houston’s first female detective.  A lot of our family have become more interest in Eva Jane and our family history. Honestly, we knew she took my dad by the hand as a child to help her arrest shoplifters.

“We really didn’t understand the impact she had. But we do now.”