BC’s first police chief recounts early years
Time may have moved on, but crime has always been an issue for local police. Wilson Roberts, 74, the first Bridge City police chief, kept his officers striving to make the city a better place to live.
Wilson became the city’s first chief after working as a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy. While working for JCSO he became a part of what is infamously known as the “Sugarland Express.” The young deputy was involved in the longest car chase in Texas History. The incident occurred in May 1969 when 22-year-old Robert Dent and his wife kidnapped a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper. The 399 mile trek ended with Dent being shot to death in a town near Sugarland.
Bridge City initially had a City Marshall system, but Wilson convinced the city council and attorney, H.D. Pate, to revise the city charter. Wilson was then appointed to police chief. At first he only had one other officer, Don Hartfield. Over the course of the next few years, his staff grew to include seven officers, a secretary and a warrant officer. At first, the police calls were radio dispatched through the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Tax revenue later would enable them to acquire their own radio system and the secretary’s job would be extended to include dispatcher.
He wanted his officers to look professional while being safe and decided to copy the uniforms of a Colorado police force. The Bridge City officers didn’t wear the typical
uniforms but were dressed in blazers and dress pants. Ties were optional especially during the summer, but Wilson had a rule that their weapons were not to show.
According to Roberts, his officers were college graduates, but not always in law enforcement. Some had studied business or were Certified Public Accountants. Each officer was very dedicated to their jobs. Roberts recalls an event when Officer David Hamlett, was called out to a residence where it turned violent. Hamlett was stabbed twice in the abdomen but still managed to arrest three people and then drive himself to the hospital.
When suspects were arrested they were taken to the Orange County Courthouse to be arraigned by James Stringer.
“We kept him busy day and night,” Roberts said.
During the 70s, officers solved crimes in a much different manner than by today’s standards. Instead of DNA, officers used fingerprints and blood type samples to find their suspects.
“We did our footwork and stayed on it until it was finished,” he said.
When not on patrol, officers worked public relations by visiting area businesses one day per week. The police force fingerprinted children to give to their parents, held annual self-defense classes and would go to area schools to eat lunch with the children.
According to archives, in 1972 the officers worked 134 traffic accidents, 90 burglary cases and able to clear 23 all while writing 407 citations. Also during this time, there were 103 arrests for narcotics violations, drunk driving, drunk in public, theft, assault and more.
It was said in local papers, Roberts was capable and his performance will prove his department was “primarily concerned with enforcing the law.” However, Roberts said it was the area children’s safety and welfare which was very important to him.
Wilson continued to run the police department until May 1977. In a statement submitted by Roberts he said, “ I have dedicated my my energies toward molding a police department that would be efficient, capable, free of politics and a department we could all be proud. The first objective of any police department is to its’ citizens by enforcing the law.”
Roberts also said, “ Even though crime has been constantly on the increase nationally, our small department has been able to cope effectively.”
Following his time with BCPD, he worked as an investigator at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. He would leave there to become an arson investigator for many years to come. He would also work at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office but by 1983 the lawman would become the police chief of Kountze.
When not working he liked to relax by canoeing and fishing. Now days, he is simply enjoying his retirement. But, like many who dedicated their lives to law enforcement, he keeps an eye on the community he loves.