We were told several days prior to landfall that Houston could be looking at catastrophic flooding with upward of 50 inches of rain.
The command staff of the Houston Police Department began to prepare.
Officers were told we would begin 12-hour shifts, and to make sure that all arrangements for our families were made.
There was a real chance we would not be able to go home once the storm hit.
The storm made landfall as a category 4 near Rockport, Texas and we started seeing torrential rain in the Houston/Harris County area.
By Saturday morning we saw flooding in and around Houston. Officers expected to report for the 6 AM roll call were having trouble getting in.
Things were going from bad to worse very quickly. Every officer who was willing was asked to report to our downtown location.
I, along with about 10 officers who had worked the night shift, reported at 7AM to our central jail where we boarded a high-water rescue truck.
We were taken to the city’s public works facility where they had many dump trucks waiting for us. We took the tailgates off the trucks and then headed out to do rescues. We went into the flooded neighborhoods and took people to shelters.
By Saturday night the Houston Police Officers’ Union had already begun to cook for officers who needed a hot meal. This around-the-clock meal serving at our offices continued for 15 straight days.
Sunday and Monday ran together in a blur as we continued with rescues in high water vehicles, dump trucks, and boats.
The community response was incredible. We had hundreds of private boats helping in areas that we could not access with trucks.
Even police officers had to be rescued, including from one of our stations that was submerged under five feet of water inside.
After several days the brutal and dirty work conducting the rescues began to take its toll.
Making matters worse, we got the devastating news that Sergeant Steven Perez had drowned when he hit high water on his way to work.
For many of the officers who hadn’t slept or eaten, the loss of Sgt. Perez· was almost too much to bear. But they continued to push on. The rain let up but the work was just getting started.
There were areas in the city that didn’t flood, but due to overwhelming amounts of water up stream, levies and dams had to be opened to release the water.
Stories began to come in about officers who had lost their cars and homes in the flood waters but continued working 24/7 to make sure the city was safe. We began to ask the public for assistance and the support we received was overwhelming.
With the help from our citizens, the Houston Police Officers Union fed every officer and first responder who came into the building as well as officers at every station for the next two weeks.
There were no less than 50 businesses in the Houston area that brought us food and supplies.
The Houston Police Officers Union became the central hub for activity in and around the city for first responders.
We also set up a makeshift store with necessities for officers who had not been home yet.
Community members and groups continued to step up in a very big way.
We received donations from everywhere around the city. People were bringing in home-baked goods, toiletries, blankets, and towels. Some people even offered to wash our uniforms since we had been wearing them for days.
Cook teams from all around· the country drove to Houston to help prepare food for our officers. We had two groups from Louisiana, another from Alabama, and one from Tennessee. They not only provided meals, but helped with rescues.
Officers from Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, Pflugerville, Grandville and San Antonio came. They helped run calls with our officers for over a week. The Brotherhood was still alive and well. It was a great blessing for us to have those guys down here.
As the word spread about officers losing everything but still coming to work to protect the neighborhoods hardest hit, we received even more support.
At some point we had to tum food and clothing away because we had nowhere to put it.
We began to work with several .of our community shelters to get food, clothes and water distributed to other flood victims in the area.
We filled up two warehouses with socks, underwear, under shirts, rain boots, water, and tons of toiletries.
We also had groups of off-duty and retired officers come down from New York, Detroit, and other areas to help officers remove damaged property at their homes.
It was incredible how the groups of officers, who we did not know, responded and helped any officer who needed to demo their property after the waters receded.
The “Assist the Officer” chapter here in Houston began to receive donations.
The Assist the Officer board had an emergency meeting and decided to help all first responders in the Houston/Harris County area.
The applications for assistance began to roll in and we are currently at over 600 first responders who have damage to their homes or lost property in the floods.
Donations are continuing to come in – 100% of the proceeds are going directly to first responders in the area.
I cannot explain how blessed we feel at the Houston Police Department and the Houston Police Officers’ Union.
The multitude of officers and agencies that stepped up to help us was amazing. We are also grateful to all the people who sent care packages, donations, clothing and gift cards. It has been a humbling experience.
Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers, especially for the family and friends of our brother lost, Steven Perez. I must also commend the Officers of the Houston Police Department for the outstanding professionalism and courage that was on display for the entire country to see.
I am honored to represent the members of this great department.
Douglas Griffith is vice president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union. He authored this article which first appeared in American Police Beat.