Green and Gold in Houston Blue

by Tom Kennedy | October 17, 2019

Six Baylor alumni are working hard to keep America’s fourth largest city safe.

Baylor alumni are well known for being at the top of professions connected to law and the judiciary, medicine and medical research, businesses from oil to publishing, and let us not forget preaching and the Lord’s work.

A new calling has emerged in this, the second century of Baylor’s alumni endeavors. It entails shootouts with drug dealers, saving watery Houstonians from Hurricane Harvey, kicking in the doors of violent suspects and arresting and convicting those who violated the commandment, Thou shalt not kill.

Six of the high-ranking members of the Houston Police Department are Baylor graduates. They make it clear that much of their job satisfaction comes from using all that green and gold wisdom to enhance the Houston Blue. HPD has Baylor Bears in SWAT, Homicide, the Dive Team, and Narcotics.

The Dive Team Bear led the rescue of 3,000 Houstonians from their flooded homes in the devastating disaster we call Harvey. One of the Bears in Narcotics was undercover when a drug dealer tried to take his money, forcing a shootout. The Bear in Homicide recalled the thrill of “chasing the bad guy at night.”

Who are these good guys?

Like most of his Baylor mates on HPD, Commander Larry Baimbridge (1992, History) knew from the git-go that he wanted to be a police officer. “Many of my friends at Baylor were surprised to learn I intended to be a cop,” he recalled in between SWAT forays. “More than a few asked why I spent so much to go to Baylor to become a police officer. My answer then, as it is now, is that I wanted a great education from a Christian university. I had wanted to be a police officer since I was a little boy. I had a friend whose dad was an HPD sergeant. I always loved and respected him and it stuck with me.”

Higher education has an ever-growing partnership with law enforcement. Baylor now offers a Criminal Justice minor and HPD, for example, boasts that two of every three officers have college degrees. Commander Baimbridge admitted that the Baylor education enables him to stay better focused and lead the division that also includes the Dive Team, the Bomb Squad and the K-9 Patrol Unit.

He describes Dive Team Bear as the “rock star” of many Bayou City flood victims. Edward “Eddy” Godwin (2001, Anthropology) holds the sergeant rank. Sergeant Godwin, whose grandfather graduated in 1942, found an influential mentor in Dr. Susan Maki-Wallace in Anthropology, who helped to pioneer BU degree plans in Forensic Science. Maki-Wallace’s lab sessions served as the “CSI Baylor” inspiration for Godwin’s police ambitions.

Godwin, like Commander Baimbridge went literally from a Baylor graduation to the HPD Academy the following month. “Of all the positions I’ve had,” he said of his HPD career, “I think I am using my Baylor education the most on the Dive Team because we conduct a lot of recoveries in the water. It has been very helpful to know body compositions and crime scene processing to give investigators a better understanding of how someone or something ended up in the water.”

HPD Narcotics Sergeant Mark Newcomb (1983, Sociology) always had two goals – earning a Baylor degree and becoming a Houston Police Officer “because this is my hometown.”

“Baylor University taught me about service, compassion and hard, work, not only through the university but also from my brothers in the Sigma Chi fraternity,” Newcomb explained. “I remember joking about the ‘Baylor Bubble’ when I was there and how isolated the university seemed from the realities of the world. After 34 years of seeing the worst in society, I have come to appreciate it more than ever.”

Newcomb’s leader in the HPD Narcotics Division is a Baylor journalism graduate. Lieutenant Dirk Bogaard (1989) transferred to Baylor in 1986 and undertook the study of public relations. “A requirement for a class taught by Dr. William McCorkle was to ride-along on an evening shift patrol with a Waco police officer,” he said.

Working in Houston, he was summoned to serve on a criminal court jury hearing an Aggravated Robbery case. “During the trial, the responding Houston police officer testified about his involvement in the investigation,” the lieutenant said. “I immediately recalled the enjoyment of my ride-along with the Waco Police Department and thought, ‘I could do that.’

“Since I was already considering a career change, the day after the trial ended in a hung jury I went to HPD’s recruiting division and submitted an application.” Bogaard graduated in 1991 and now serves as a leader in one of the most dangerous duties on the force – apprehending and arresting drug dealers. He survived an undercover assignment that resulted in a shootout. The wounded drug dealer took three of Bogaard’s bullets and later got 50 years.

“In a way,” he pointed out, while taking time out from assessing reports from Newcomb and others, “a police officer’s job is similar to a journalist’s in that both seek to determine the Five W’s – Who, What, Where, When and Why. And then write a coherent report – or article – that tells the story. Although I did not realize it at the time, studying Journalism at Baylor University helped to prepare me for a career with the Houston Police Department.”

As with most good police stories, where would we be without Homicide? Sure enough, Houston’s Homicide commander is Michael Skillern (1988, Business). Like Sergeant Godwin, a family member influenced him toward Baylor. Skillern “always wanted to be a policeman” but figured he should get into a higher-paying occupation with “a higher level of prestige or social standing.” Or so he thought.

He became what turned out to be an unhappy commercial real estate appraiser. One Baylor buddy whose influence then entered the Skillern picture was Dirk Bogaard, already with HPD. “I decided that if he could do it, I could too,” crediting the lieutenant as the primary influence in changing his career direction.

The leader in the pursuit of every homicide suspect in the nation’s fourth largest city said he loves a job that over the years has included 16-hour days, tiresome extra jobs and absence from many family events. “From the early days of chasing bad guys at night, to even now as an administrator, I have loved my time here and this has been one of the best decisions I have made.”

We well know why Baylor became the five-year home for Commander Craig Bellamy, head of South Gessner Division, which covers the vast population of Southwest Houston. Baylor chose him as a 1989 football recruit. Redshirted, Bellamy played on the Grant Teaff-coached teams of the mid-1990s as an interior lineman and tight end.

Bellamy (1994, Sociology) drew glowing praise for his leadership in the policing aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, a natural disaster that brought flood waters that perhaps only Noah could have foreseen. He was tasked with putting together 16-hour shifts for his officers, who wound up spending most nights at the station.

Bellamy wasted no time rallying his troops. He used his own credit cards to buy food and successfully bargained to get enough on-site refrigerators and deep freezes to accommodate what amounted to a makeshift Army barracks and café. The commander even helped to scramble the 12 dozen eggs and fry the 12 pounds of bacon needed for the daily breakfast crews. Before each of these meals Bellamy led those present in prayer.

Reflecting on his decisive actions, which drew praise from the communities served by his division, Bellamy recalled his experiences under Grant Teaff. “He exemplified service. He took care of his people and encouraged you to be better. He pushed the education as well. He wanted the individual to get better.”

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