Thin blue line stretches from LA to Rose City

Thin blue line stretches from LA to Rose City

Several Los Angeles police officers, prompted by news coverage of Hurricane Harvey and the flooding in Houston, banded together and ended up in Southeast Texas.

“This really started with me watching the news and then seeing what was happening out here in Houston,” Capt. Jonathan Tom explained. “We saw that poor sergeant who died in the line of duty,” referring to Houston PD’s Sgt. Steve Perez found drowned Aug. 29.

Tom is the commanding officer of LAPD’s south traffic division with 130 officers working under him.

Several other LAPD organizations started collecting funds for the Houston Officers Association and raised about $11,000, he explained, but then they saw that other organizations had donated already. They looked for smaller agencies that needed help, and the larger counties and cities they talked to pointed them in the direction of Rose City, a small town of about 600 with a three-officer department.

“We felt like we could come out and we could really make a difference for them,” Tom said.

Bonnie Stephenson, Rose City’s major, said only three homes in Rose City did not flood, according to the last report that she received.

“It’s varying degrees of water. Some’s 2, 3 feet, some’s up to 10 or 12 feet,” she said. “Our city hall was damaged; we had about 3 feet of water in it, and it was built up high. Our water plant is out of commission. Everything.”

One officer reserve vehicle flooded in the parking lot, along with other vehicles residents parked at city hall to avoid rising waters.

“Several people had moved their vehicles, in fact my granddaughter was one of them, … and had parked them there thinking it was higher ground,” Stephenson said.

The eight LAPD officers all paid their own way and used vacation time to fly into Houston, Tom said. They came to Rose City on Sept. 7 and helped officials set up a disaster command post.

Although his officers have dealt with other disasters, the damage from Harvey is unprecedented, Tom said.

“Nothing like this — nobody’s ever seen this,” he said.

Tom’s group purchased two generators and new uniforms and equipment for the Rose City officers to replace the items that were damaged by flooding.

“They say you can’t fall in love overnight. Trust me, you can. These guys are great,” said Rose City Mayor Bonnie Stephenson. “We love them to death.” 

“We outfitted all three marshalls with three sets of uniforms, two pairs of boots, equipment belts, six pairs of handcuffs,” Tom said.

Tom explained that the LAPD’s philosophy is that uniform appearance is part of command presence, which Tom defines as “the authority that you exhibit when you look the same, when your uniforms are clean, when you look sharp, all the gear is the same, it presents an appearance that you know what you’re doing.” “That’s what we want for them,” he said. “When they’re out patrolling, they’re gonna know that’s a Rose City marshal.”

Rose City is a moderate to low income community, Mayor Stephenson explained, but she thinks the town will rebound.

“These are good people. I’ve known some of them all my life. I went to school with some of them. My kids grew up with their kids.”

Sister city Vidor has taken the town “under their wing,” she added. “I’ve got my kids, and my memories, and I’ve got my town.”

Other groups from Illinois, Mississippi and Michigan passed through and offered assistance, Stephenson said, but the LAPD team stayed and supported the recovery efforts in a lasting way.

Tom said that he thinks his team has benefitted more than the city because they feel they are helping those who need it. He said it’s “the most rewarding thing.”

“We all fell in love with her and with the city,” he said.

“I love Texas,” he added. “They’re very reluctant ... to even ask for anything because I think Texans are really proud, but they’re strong and they’re resilient.”

Tom wants to come back to Rose City after the town recovers and go hunting with Stephenson’s son.

“They’re family to us now,” she said.

“I want to retire to Texas,” Tom added.