Tilman Fertitta Opens Back Yard to HPD and the Foundation
Unaware of Specialties
The same individual who turned a downtown fire station into the Downtown Aquarium Restaurant with his signature Ferris wheel loves turning his backyard into a fundraising venue for the Houston Police Foundation.
Fertitta, known for never undertaking any project with anything but full force and dedication, makes it clear that the foundation is his high-priority extra-curricular activity.
"The average citizen only meets the police officer when he looks behind him and sees the red light," Fertitta said in an interview with the Badge & Gun. "They don't realize how specialized their officers are and the training they go through to get those positions.
"What if you called and they didn't come? What would you do if you called and the police officers didn't show up? It's important that we keep them with the latest technology and training, ready to show up when needed."
Just like with Landry's Restaurants, the Kemah Boardwalk, the Aquarium, the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, the new Pleasure Pier and every other Fertitta venture, the foundation features knocked-out, awe-inspiring visuals.
Fertitta-inspired fundraisers have played up the well-demonstrated role of Mounted Patrol, HPD's helicopters, SWAT, the Dive Team and "the helmets and shields of the SRG guys."
One or more of these special HPD divisions are featured at the annual fall gala held, literally, in the backyard of Tilman and Paige Fertitta.
They do it to make a point, as the chairman of the Houston Police Foundation Board said:
"People don't realize how many different jobs there are in the Houston Police Department. There's the Dive Team, SWAT, Mounted Patrol and other specialized units. That's why we bring them to the gala so our guests can realize that.
"They love the horses, can pet a horse and meet the officers. Also, there are those that love the helicopter crew."
One could argue that every special guest at the Fertittas' gala (where blue jeans are the dress code) brings special benefits to HPD, which is experiencing tough budgetary times like every other police department in America.
Once exposed to helicopters, two or three different guests donated money for helicopter fuel. "They can send us money and designate it for, say, Mounted Patrol or Helicopters," he said.
Recruiting the Horses
When the Mounted Patrol edged into the spotlight, the Adopt-a-Horse program took a giant step. "We have 15 horses sponsored right now," Fertitta said, "and we're looking for another 16 sponsors at $5,000 annually."
Those following the Fertitta lead include such Houston stalwarts as Texans owner Bob McNair, Rockets owner Les Alexander, Silver Eagle Distributors owner John Nau, Lester Smith, John Eddie Williams, Michael Linn, Blake Tartt III of New Regional Planning, the Rolaine and Morrie Abramson Family Foundation, among other Houston notables.
In 2012, the foundation has provided enough horses to fill a stable:
By name, the sponsors and horses are:
- Pappas Restaurant - "Lil' Pappas"
- Downtown District - "Justice"
- Proler Southwest - "Scrappy" and "Billie Fay"
- Martin, Bode, Werner & Mann, PLLC - "Royalty"
- Quality Electric Steel Castings - "Johnny's Steel"
- Chevron - "Techron"
- Dupre Energy Services, LLC - "Nacho"
- Spirit of Texas Bank - "Spirit of Texas"
- Minute Maid - "Grand Slam"
- The Brown Foundation - "Izzy"
The backyard gala is the foundation's largest fundraiser of the year.
"What makes the gala special are the displays and the training exercises in my backyard," Fertitta said. "We have had SWAT, the helicopters, firecrackers and shootouts. It's a surprise what we're going to do every year. All the divisions of the police department come in.
"We had the K9s, Mounted Patrol, Special Response and the Police Museum, Air Support and the Crime Lab.
"Our guests are able to shoot a Taser. Guests wishing to confront the red man training officer can suit up and learn takedown techniques. The DWI group comes out to test the guests. After a few drinks, we see what they'll blow."
The next event is scheduled for Oct. 20.
"The nice thing is we showcase the divers in the pool and see the uniform they have to wear. The Bomb Squad comes out in full uniform. We see how heavy they are when they go pick up a bomb.
"It shows the police and our guests see what our police officers do."
And, yes, for one night there are "snipers in River Oaks." Police snipers. "A lot of people don't see them," Fertitta said, revved up over the excitement created by the demonstrations. "People love it."
Fertitta said that Tasers and the creation of the Police Foundation were two highlights of the Harold Hurtt years at HPD.
"Harold Hurtt set up the foundation," Fertitta recalled. "It was his brainchild, patterned after what he had done out in Phoenix. He put the whole deal together and everybody ought to be thankful for that."
Dedicated to HPD
He pointed out that the foundation, formed in 2005, is "so totally different" from the 100 Club of Greater Houston, which takes care of individual law enforcement officers and firefighters in tough times following a line-of-duty death.
The Houston Police Foundation, on the other hand, is totally dedicated to the Houston Police Department. It raises funds to buy equipment that really doesn't fit into a tight budget. Its official purpose is to serve as a non-profit corporation to "leverage private resources to fund high-priority law enforcement needs for the department."
Fertitta stated, "We put together a very strong board of people who made an initial contribution and took it to another level with our annual bike ride, which was set up to raise awareness in the community.
"This will be the fifth year of the gala, the leading fundraiser. We currently have 10 people who give $25,000 a year. And we've had the Police Week breakfast over the same period."
The breakfast recognizes the department's top officers, police administrators, lifetime achievements and civilian employees and administrators in what has become the most outstanding police recognition ceremony of its kind in Texas and the Southwest.
This year the Police Foundation, which also relied on special support from Chevron and the Houston Police Officers' Union, made the event a fundraiser for the first time ever. Held at the Hyatt Regency on May 14, the breakfast not only featured Houston's Finest but Mayor Annise Parker, Chief McClelland, master of ceremonies Dave Ward of KTRK/Channel 13 and opening remarks by none other than Tilman Fertitta.
Foundation Executive Director Charlene C. Floyd reported that the event raised $95,000, a great amount for an event designed as a fundraiser for the first time.
Floyd believes the gala, the breakfast and the annual Houston Police Foundation Bike Ride have raised the foundation's community profile but - like any executive director of a charitable crusade - always wants to be sure that the people benefitting know the details of the benefits.
Floyd enjoys working with the police officers to help them obtain the equipment needed to keep them safe. She is fortunate to have a volunteer, Stephanie Abernethy, wife of Officer Tim Abernethy that handles the Houston Police Foundation Gift Shop at 1200 Travis. Floyd said Stephanie "also handles the online website orders and assists with our fundraiser."
Floyd said, "Stephanie is always looking out for the police officers as she lost her husband in the line of duty four years ago."
Robots to Vest Covers
Over the last seven years the foundation has raised more than $2 million that is 100 percent dedicated to providing equipment and training to the Houston Police Department. Floyd loves it when you ask for specifics, so here goes:
- Recon robot used to search for suspects
- Breaching equipment used to safely breach doors without having to stand in front of the door.
- Fifty-caliber sniper rifles to protect hot spots from possible terrorist attacks.
- Scuba masks with communications systems (Buddy Phones), which allows officers searching for underwater explosives to communicate with surface bomb technicians, greatly enhancing officer safety.
Warrant Execution Team
- Safariland Level III Body Armor for officers that execute high-risk warrants, such as homicide, aggravated robbery or aggravated sexual assault arrests.
Special Response Group (SRG)
- Protective gear for officers responding to large-scale events that may impact public safety.
- Riot gear that includes helmets, face shields, forearm/elbow pads, shin guards, padded chest protectors, protective eyewear and galvanized barricades.
- Tactical Medical Kits used when an officer may be injured and losing blood at a life-threatening rate at a location where emergency medical personnel may not be able to enter the scene.
These equipment purchases do not begin to tell the Houston Police Foundation story. It also raised the funding necessary to pay for the following:
The Tactical Fire Shoot House at the Police Academy, the first purchase the foundation made for HPD.
- The portable weight scales HPD uses to get the heavy trucks off the road.
- The bait cars used to thwart auto thieves.
- Vest covers for undercover officers who sometimes must act quickly to identify themselves as police officers before making an arrest.
- The flashing arrow boards needed to divert traffic around accident scenes or dangerous policing locations.
Fertitta clearly displays a studied response to HPD needs in the same manner he might see to the design of a Ferris wheel at Kemah or the kid-friendly rides at Galveston's Pleasure Pier.
At the Heroes breakfast during Police Week, this great business entrepreneur and policing advocate remarked that "95 percent" of the HPD budget goes for personnel, leaving only five percent for much-needed equipment, strongly indicating that the man knows what he's talking about as well as his priorities for leading the foundation.
"Right now, we just got a list of priorities from the chief of things they're asking for, their top priorities," Fertitta said. "From the gala and the Heroes breakfast, we will find the funding necessary to provide them."