Early in my career running dealerships, the first one I worked at was in a somewhat rough part of town in Dallas. There were only two dealerships on the street where the dealership was located: the Ford store I worked at and a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership next door that eventually closed.
We had more than our fair share of thefts, so typically when I had to call the police, our beat officer, Jerry, came to take the report. Jerry and I became very good friends. One of the first lessons he taught me was that in Texas, there were no police officers, they were all the po-lice (po-lease). I suspect it is still that way today.
The year was 1979 and the Dallas Police and Firefighters were upset over their lack of pay and were at odds with the Mayor and City Council. They gathered enough signatures to get a 15% pay raise on the ballot for the citizens to vote on. The city establishment fought them tooth and nail, buying ads and billboards encouraging people to vote no.
At the time, I was doing some writing for a local newspaper called the Suburban Tribune. I got permission to do some ride-alongs with Jerry as well as with the fire department and wrote about my experiences. I saw many things that most people never knew went on.
I was very vocally in support of the pay raise and made a lot of friends with the officers in the area. The election came and the voters approved it. I was elated for them, they deserved it. As a side note, now almost 40 years later, they still haven’t collected all the back pay, but as recently as this month, the City of Dallas agreed to pay out 235 million dollars, but I digress.
One day Jerry called and told me the Dallas Police Southeast Division Police Chief, Don Stafford, wanted to see me in his office at 3:30 one day. My mind raced, wondering if I screwed something up when I was riding with Jerry. In actuality, the Chief wanted to give me a plaque for helping and they presented it to me during a shift change, so all the 3rd shift officers were there for the presentation.
I found the police work to be very rewarding but loved the car business too. Jerry suggested I apply to go through the Dallas Police Academy and become a police Reserve officer. I did that and graduated later that year. It was a great experience. I stayed on for 10 years until I just didn’t have the time for it.
I got a reputation for taking care of Dallas Police Officers’ vehicle needs. Police are clannish; if you take good care of them, they tell everybody. If they get screwed, they tell everyone as well, maybe even more people. I sold hundreds of officers’ cars. When I would go to report for duty as a reserve officer, just about every vehicle in the parking lot was a Ford I sold.
At the next dealership I worked at, many of them followed me there. One evening as I was coming around a Dallas freeway, a motorcycle officer pulled me over. I wasn’t worried about it, this had happened several times. I kept my driver license under my badge holder and took plenty of time digging for it, just to make sure he saw it.
Officer Ron was about 6’5” and much to my surprise, he started writing me a ticket. In amazement, I said: “are you writing me?” to which he simply said: “yep”. I asked around about him and everyone said he’d write his own mother a ticket and I felt better. The Chief of Police in charge of the reserve officers called me a few days later just to talk, and I told him that Ron wrote me a ticket. Somehow the ticket magically went away.
Several years later, a 6’5” guy walked into my office. He said: “I’m Ron, I understand you take good care of the po-lice.” I recognized him, but he didn’t remember me. I said: “Oh, I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for years!” Yes, it was the Ron who wrote me the ticket. I helped him and we became really good friends and are still today. I helped his ex-wife a couple of times, and then he married another Dallas officer and I have helped her with a number of vehicles.
I made a lot of Dallas Police friends over the years, and with the help of Facebook, I’ve kept in touch with many of them. I have a special admiration for these guys and gals. My experience as a reserve officer gives me a realization that they put their lives on the line every day. Of course, like people in the car business, doctors, engineers, and all other professions, there are good and bad. As I always ask, what do you call the student who finishes last in medical school? A doctor.
As a Reserve Police Officer, we wore the same uniform as regular officers. If a bad person was going to shoot, he or she was as likely to shoot me as the officer I was working with. For that reason, I wisely chose the officers I worked with.
One of my favorites was named Ron Baker (not the one who wrote me the ticket). I learned a lot from Ron. He had a cool head, I never saw him abuse anyone, and you could tell he had compassion in his heart. We made a good team. Ron was only 24 but seemed to have the experience of an officer on the job for 20 years or more.
On May 1, 1983, Ron came to me to get a new vehicle. He and his wife Laurie were expecting their second child, Heather. I got him fixed up, and while he was in the finance office, he had my finance manager page me to his office. Ron said to me: “I don’t need this credit life stuff, do I?” I said: “Ron, you’re a cop with a baby on the way, and it’s a couple of dollars per month. If something happens, the car is paid off.”
On May 2, 1983, I was scheduled to do a shift with Ron, but I wasn’t feeling well and begged off. That day, Ron conducted a traffic stop, was overpowered, and shot and killed with his own gun. If that was not bad enough, the murderers backed over him with a van, then ran over him again. They later died after a shootout.
The haunting question for me was always and still is, whether things had been different if I had been with him. Would he still be alive, or would we both be dead?
The following day, Laurie called me and asked if she could bring the new car back, that she couldn’t afford it. Ron had not explained that he bought the credit life insurance.
All I said was: “Don’t worry about the car, the next thing you’ll see is a clear title”.
Photo Credit: Victor Moussa/Shutterstock