Texarkana, Arkansas-Texas – Sunday, November 18, 1973
Texarkana has three black police officers
Being a police officer today is difficult and most people think being a black police officer only compounds the trouble. But in reality, in Texarkana there is no difference.
Texarkana has three full time black officers, one on each side of the city and one in Miller County.
The first black officer in the area was Norris Cooley, who went to work for the Texas-side police on July 16 1962. He now carries badge No. 1 and is the ranking patrolman.
Cooley, 39, six-foot-two-inches tall and weighing 265, is a native of Texarkana. He graduated from Dunbar High School in 1953 and was an all-district tackle for two years with the Buffalos.
He is a graduate of the East Texas Policy Academy and a graduate of the Dale Carnegie course on public relations and a police – related public relations course at Texas A&M University.
He spent five years in the Police Community Relations Division before transferring back on patrol duty.
While on patrol duty several years ago he was cited by the city council for bravery along with several other officers when they surprised burglars inside a building and arrested them.
Discussing how he joined the force, Cooley said he had been trying for about five years to join the force when several black and white citizens came to him and asked if he would be interested in becoming a police officer.
“I told them I would and soon I was hired,” he said.
“I thought I would have a bad time at first, but everyone took me in and I was one of the force like everyone else. About the only resentment I got was from the black community at first. After a short time that stopped when they found out I was there to enforce the law.
“At first people didn’t understand and would call me a ‘snitch’ or ‘white mouth’, which means the same thing,” he said.
“There was a little resentment on the force but they didn’t show it toward me. You could just feel it, but there was not near as much as I expected. Everyone was helpful and when I asked a question or needed help, everyone helped,” Cooley said of his early years
Why did he want to become a police officer?
“I felt like I could be of some help to the community and felt that a black officer was needed because he would understand the problems in the black community. I also enjoyed working with people and this is what I do every day now – work with people,” he said.
Cooley said he plans to stay in law enforcement, “It’s in my blood now.”
In the early years of his police career Cooley said he received few threats. “I would get telephone calls saying they were going to kill me. Of course, I wouldn’t know who it was and I guess they thought they would put a little fear in me because they thought I knew something I really didn’t,” he said.
“The threatening phone calls have long since stopped and now people call every day wanting to talk about their problems or get advice,” he said.
Cooley is married to the former Mary Elizabeth High of Texarkana and they have three sons and a daughter.
In August of 1969, Texarkana, Ark., hired its first black officer, Claude Wells of Texarkana.
Wells, 28, is a native of Texarkana and is a 1963 graduate of Washington High School.
He spent three years in the U.S. Army and returned to Texarkana to work for Smith-Blair.
“One day I was playing golf with a friend who was on the auxiliary police force. He asked me if I was interested in becoming a police officer.
I thought he was kidding and he told me that Texarkana, Ark., was looking for an officer. I went to talk with Chief Ed Smith and two or three weeks later I was in the Arkansas Law Enforcement Academy in Camden, Ark.,” he said.
Wells’ education didn’t stop with the academy. He went on to get his associate degree in Police Technology at Texarkana College and is currently going three nights a week to East Texas State university where he is working on his BS degree.
He also graduated from two police related schools, the Criminal Investigation School at Camden and a 40-hour course in Vice and Sex Crimes.
“Why did I join the department?” he said, “I guess I did it because I thought it would be a challenge. I didn’t know it would be as much of a challenge as it turned out to be. I found out that if you wanted to be a good officer you had to work at it, and work hard.
“I think being a police officer helps you become a man Because, an officer has to put up with things that other people never see or never have to put up with,” he said.
Asked about resentment from the black or white community, Wells said, “Blacks at first were not used to a black officer. There were a few who didn’t like me to have police power over them. All this is gone now. At first I had most of the resentment from lower class blacks and whites, but then they are the ones who usually don’t respect any officer, black or white.
“I was a little nervous when I first came to work. That first night I walked in and introduced myself. I felt some resentment but it was never shown toward me. I thought I would have a hard time at first but this was not the case Everyone took me in and I felt like one of the family
“To me officers have to stick together like a family. I think this makes a good department because you can’t have one with everyone pulling against each other. All in all I have never had a problem in the department because of my race,” he said.
Wells attributes most of his early – day police training to former police Capt. E. L, Brown. “Capt. Brown was the first person I worked with. He took me under his wing and taught me basic police work. Later on Chief John Butler, Capt. Danny Sewell and Capt. Walter Weir helped me a lot.”
In January, Wells was transferred to the Criminal Investigation Division as a detective. “I like detective work. There is as much difference between a detective and patrolman as there is between night and day. A patrolman works his eight hours and goes to the house. A detective works his eight hours and then might work eight more if the case warrants it. Crime and criminals don’t operate by the clock,” he said.
One of Wells’ loves is golf. He has been playing golf for the past 15 years and worked his way through school as a caddie. He has caddied for several famous golfers including Miller Barber and Byron Nelson.
He is married to the former Marguerite Gamble of Texarkana and the couple expect their first child any day now. Mrs. Wells is a teacher in the Texarkana, Ark., Public School system.
“Talking about Wells’ work as a police officer, Chief Butler said, “We are always looking for black officers of the caliber of Claude Wells. It takes a special kind of officer to work in the detective division. First there is no raise in pay and the hours are long,” he said.
The remaining black officer is a deputy on the Miller County Sheriff’s Department. He started work in 1969.
Ike Roberson, 39, was born at Odgen, Ark., and worked for a tire battery service before joining the department.
“I had wanted to be an officer for as long as I could remember. When I was a kid I wanted to be an officer. It was something I always liked and wanted to do. I love the job and enjoy working with people,” he said.
Married to the former Vera L. Pauley, the couple have five children, four boys and a girl.
“At first I had most of the resentment from the younger black people. This soon stopped when they found out that I had a job to do. All of that is way behind me now.
“There was no resentment in the department. I thought there would be, but soon found out there was none. Everyone helped me when I came to the department,” he said.
Roberson was also the first black deputy in the history of Miller County. He now works six nights a week from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and to daylight on Saturdays.
“When I first thought about going on the department, I told my wife and children. My wife told me if I wanted to do it go ahead. One of my boys, Ronnie, said he didn’t know if he wanted his daddy to do it or not. But soon he said he knew someone had to do jobs like that and would just as soon see his daddy do it as someone else,” Roberson said.
Roberson summed up all the black officers’ feelings when he said. “You know, being happy means a lot in your work. I plan to be happy the rest of my life if I can keep my folks happy.”