Police chief discusses childhood, faith

Houston police chief Charles A. McClelland Jr. speaks to students in the University’s criminal justice class.

Houston Chief of Police Charles McClelland Jr. visited the University Nov. 8 to speak about his life and career to students in both a government and criminal justice class headed by Professor Craig Ferrell, J.D.

Ferrell, who teaches both courses at the University and worked in the police department for 34 years, asked the police chief to give a first-hand account of policing and spur interest in a criminal justice degree centered around Christian ethics.

“Criminal justice here would be ethically based,” Ferrell said. “The chief said he would do anything he could to get a Christian-based criminal justice program up and running in Houston. He feels that it’s desperately needed.”

McClelland’s desire to connect policing and pertinent moral standards was made clear that he based his work life around faith.

“I keep a Bible in the right-hand of my drawer, tabbed to the 23rd Psalm,” McClelland said.

McClelland, a tall, slender African-American man, was born in Center, Texas in 1955, a time and place where Jim Crow laws still segregated black and white populations.

“There were signs everywhere that said ‘white only’ and ‘colored only’,” McClelland said. “At such a young age, though, I didn’t even realize how in depth racial disparity was and where it came from.”

McClelland said that a particular incident in which his grandfather refused to buy him a meal from a drugstore that only served blacks from a window in a dirty alleyway defined his stance on equal rights.

McClelland added that these and other conditions of his childhood, including being one of the first blacks to attend an all-white school, pushed him to excel.

“Those childhood experiences prepared me for success in the Houston Police Department,” McClelland said. “I had been trained to never let challenges or obstacles be a crutch.”

After graduating from high school, McClelland earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of Houston-Downtown and joined the Houston Police Department in 1977.

He steadily rose in the ranks until assuming the role of police chief in 2010, tasked to command over 7,000 active duty officers and support personnel.

“Our main goal when we wake up is to protect 2.5 million people spread across 700 square miles,” McClelland said.

He then held up a dollar-sized coin, one side depicting the Houston police badge and rimmed with “Houston Police Department, Order Through Law, Justice Through Mercy.” The other side features a bronze imprint of the Houston skyline and Police Memorial. “Honor, Integrity, Respect” is engraved at the top.

McClelland said he requires each officer to carry this coin in remembrance of their duty.

“When I hand this out, it reminds me that I’m carrying the core values of the police department in my pocket,” McClelland said. “It reminds of the way and manner that I need to conduct myself as a leader. And that philosophy has to permeate down to the lowest rung of employees that we have.”

Senior Martin Chagolla said he enjoyed learning how McClelland’s past influenced his leadership.

“He was certainly against laws that he would have experienced while growing up,” Chagolla said.

As for McClelland outside of the classroom and uniform, Professor Ferrell said that the police chief remains just as cordial and friendly.

“He is just a normal guy,” Ferrell said. “A normal good guy, somebody you’d love to go to dinner with or watch the Superbowl with.”

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