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After Sam Nuchia took over as chief of the Houston Police Department in 1992, he continued the practice established by predecessor Lee Brown of conducting monthly meetings with representatives of the nine organizations representing HPD's uniformed personnel. Ostensibly, the purpose of those meetings is to give officers input into the chief's decisions. But Nuchia -- a former federal prosecutor and a future state appellate judge -- always held his power tightly and never relinquished a jot of control. During the polite affairs, Nuchia listened to the employee representatives, but in the end, he always made it clear that it was either his way or the highway. And until last August, it was always Nuchia's way.
But during that month's session, someone asked the chief a question about a committee that had been formed to tackle compensation issues. In answering, Nuchia expressed his irritation that the Houston Police Officers Union -- the city's oldest police-employee group -- had had the gall to criticize his boss, Mayor Bob Lanier. The compensation group in question included an HPOU representative, and, Nuchia noted, any HPOU connection would taint a request for a pay increase.
Most likely, that was the moment Hans Marticiuc (pronounced MAR-ti-chek) had been waiting for. The stocky, burr-headed 44-year-old had presided over the HPOU since the previous January, and in that time, had aggressively sought confrontation -- be it with the mayor, with the other employee groups or with Nuchia.
"I told him that Lanier had no credibility and that he didn't either," recalls Marticiuc proudly.
The heads of the other groups were appalled.
"I put my head down and said, 'Oh my God, he can't be saying all of this,' " recalls May Walker, president of the Afro-American Police Officers League. "It made us all cringe. I think the chief was shocked, too. You don't talk to your top administrator like that. I'm not going to say what he said, but he said some nasty stuff."
Nuchia declined to be interviewed for this story. But others at the meeting generally confirm Marticiuc's version of events. Their accounts differ only in the degree to which Marticiuc laced his comments with barnyard epithets.
The chief asked Marticiuc to leave the room, threatening to charge him with insubordination.
"I said, 'Well, you're probably right,' " says Marticiuc, savoring the memory. " 'I understand this is a breeding ground for Internal Affairs Division complaints.' So I left."
The tactics failed to impress Nuchia -- or Walker.
"Hans is a mental case," she says, "and you can quote me."
Marticiuc prefers to characterize his tactics as "aggressive." He's a man on a mission -- critics call it a kamikaze mission -- to improve the lives of Houston police officers. He believes that his organization -- and thus, he -- should be the sole voice of the department's 4,900 men and women when it comes to negotiating pay and benefits. And he doesn't care what points of etiquette he violates, or who he pisses off in pursuit of that objective.
Marticiuc appears to relish his image as a bomb-throwing bad boy. He tries to suppress a wry smile as he recalls his various run-ins, but it breaks out anyway. Even so, he professes to feel uncomfortable in the spotlight. His image, he claims, is merely a labor leader's tool. "You're not going to get anywhere by being a nice police officer, a good boy or girl," he explains. "It's not going to happen."
Marticiuc attributes his stubborn streak to his Teutonic heritage. He was born in Austria; his parents moved to upstate New York when he was four, and he grew up and went to college there. He makes his decision to be a police officer sound almost accidental -- and, tellingly, the product of impatience: "At college, Communications had a line out the door," he explains. "Criminal Justice had about 15 people."
He worked as a campus police officer for the University of Chicago and then as a special agent for Southern Pacific Railroad in California before moving to Houston in 1980 to work for HPD, when the understaffed department was struggling to keep up with the increase in crime brought about by the boom. He was assigned to the southeast patrol division, and has spent his entire Houston career working the evening shift. It's one of the few constants in his life. Three times married and three times divorced, Marticiuc has a 13-year-old daughter he calls "my most solid rock."
Marticiuc explains that he -- like every other HPD officer -- needs more money.
"For 17 years I've been working 70 hours a week and extra jobs so I can put money away for my kid for school, and for me to retire," he says. "And believe me, I don't live outlandishly. I don't want to be crying, but that doesn't mean we can't take control and shake things up a little bit."
As Marticiuc constantly points out, Houston's police salaries trail those of other Texas cities. For example, the base pay for a Houston officer tops out at $37,092 after 11 years; officers with the Pasadena Police Department reach the high end of their pay scale -- $40,644 -- in just eight years. In other words, Pasadena cops make more money faster. And so do cops in San Antonio, Dallas and the Harris County Sheriff's Department.