No one knows better the danger that a tense circumstance can present than police in the United States. Constantly under pressure to control people who are guaranteed rights that provide them a wide latitude of no control, the scenarios that citizens can present range from the mundane to sheer terror, even for a trained professional. With that thought, we continue to reflect on moments in the history of law enforcement we wish we could get back, the sacrifices of those that have paid the ultimate price on our behalf.
Fort Worth & Denver Railroad Police
A sometimes-overlooked part of the US law enforcement community are railroad police. Railroad police came about in the years prior to Abraham Lincoln becoming President, when he was a lawyer for the Illinois Central Railroad. The reason for this, was that as the US aggressively pursued rail transport, the then federal agency charged with providing public safety to them, the US Marshals, were too far and few to cover the mission. President Lincoln implored Allan Pinkerton to develop a solution for guarding the exposed railroads from thieves, derailment efforts, and overall security of goods and people travelling on the railroads. This is part of how the Pinkerton National Detective Agency came about. Over time, federal law created the opportunity for the railroads to hire their own law enforcement agents, and later granted full peace officer status and authority to railroad law enforcement through Section 1704 of the US Crime Control Act of 1990. The need for police on the US railways has been clear in history, as it is today. From trespassing, to assaults, to murder, crimes that we would not think would stand a chance of opportunity occur on the railways, and usually issues of jurisdiction prevent local law enforcement from being to effectively investigate. By employing law enforcement officers through the various railroad companies, it alleviates jurisdictional issues, and provides timely public safety service to those that railroad crime affects. The Fort Worth & Denver Railway Company was one of those companies that adopted their own police service, after the Pinkerton Agency was outlawed from providing federal law enforcement service. Fast forward to the 1920’s, and “The Denver Road” as it was known, was providing full service in and out of numerous communities that the train served.
Special Officer William W. Garrett
Special Officer William Garrett had formerly served as the Sheriff of Hartley County, Texas, to this day a rural ranch community in the panhandle region, sitting at the border of New Mexico, south of the Rita Blanca National Grasslands. He was hired on with FWD Rail, and was working further south, in the North Texas region. On September 11th, 1927, he was deployed from the train he was assigned to, providing traffic control at a crossing in Wichita Falls, Texas, detouring vehicles around train cars that were unloading circus animals. A driver of a vehicle did not heed the directions of Special Officer William Garrett, and was hit by the vehicle, which fled the scene, leaving him for dead. The driver was apprehended later and charged with Failure to Stop and Render Aid. Special Officer William Garrett was taken to the hospital in Wichita Falls, suffering a broken back and severed spinal cord. The next day he died from the injuries.
We will continue to provide memories of officers who face peril in performance of their duties, but one theme that has stuck out to us in re-documenting these tragedies is how many railroad police officers have died in similar circumstances, and how minor the charges are for the accused. You will see for yourself as we continue writing, and may draw similar conclusions as we discuss these very avoidable tragedies. Special Officer William Garrett has no online tributes to his name, save for the briefings given on the ODMP and NLEOMF websites, which give spartan accounts, much like ours. But hopefully, by bringing light to past, immediate or far, we can raise awareness to all too common themes that should be accounted for and stopped. We owe it to Special Officer William Garrett.
In memory of Special Officer William W. Garrett.