The War Within

Houston police Captain Mark Aguirre fights his battles on many fronts.

From a battered office in the aging depths of the South Central Division's headquarters, under the large "Don't Tread on Me" flag that dominates one cheaply paneled wall, the stocky 45-year-old oversees 18 square miles of the city. About 90,000 people live within the borders of the area he and his 150 or so officers are charged with protecting, from the gentrifying yuppies lofting into Midtown and Montrose to the established urbanites around Rice University and outside Bellaire, to the more hardened city dwellers near South Main and the east side.

There are the additional tens of thousands who come each day to work or visit the Medical Center. There are the untold numbers of new and not-so-new immigrants in the Asian areas. There are the hundreds of former prison inmates who get dropped off each month at the downtown bus station.

There are hot-sheet hotels on OST. There are stores in the Third Ward selling empty baby-food jars to hold liquid codeine or jeweler bags to hold crack.

There's graffiti on Dumpsters and buildings. There are vacant lots filled with abandoned furniture or appliances or tires.

So Aguirre has plenty of battles to choose from.

He never thought his toughest one would be fighting his own department.

But the navy veteran, the guy who can't remember a time when he didn't want to be a cop, has managed to annoy, offend and exasperate both the police brass above him and the rank-and-file below. He has accused the police chief of perjury; he treats his officers "with total disrespect," according to one police union leader.

The department, Aguirre says, is "filled with political stooges and amoral careerists" who hate to work hard. "The ones that like to work hard, I'm their hero," he says; "the other half are malingerers, crybabies and whiners."

They can all -- the chief, the officers, other divisional captains -- take their place in the complaint line behind the City Hall staffers, the advocates for the homeless, the Greyhound bus company, the civic groups that don't have the proper volunteer spirit: everyone Aguirre has managed to piss off one way or the other in his 22 years on the force.

Aguirre couldn't care less what they think. He insists he knows what works when it comes to policing, and if the city would just listen to him, instead of taking up his time with petty-ass bullshit internal-affairs complaints against him, instead of forcing him to deal with butt-covering politicians in and out of elected office, he could damn well show the world.

He'll probably never get the chance, though. After three years of shaking up the South Central Division, and much of the rest of the Houston Police Department, he may just have had enough.

Aguirre doesn't know where his lifelong urge to be a cop comes from. "It's just always been an intrinsic desire, and as I grew older it just solidified," he says. "I don't know, maybe in a previous life I was an officer or something."

The urge certainly didn't come from the "gang-infested neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago" where he grew up. "Officer Hidalgo," the local cop in that Hispanic section, "was seen as a traitor to the neighborhood -- he was just real rough with people, and he was from the neighborhood originally," Aguirre says. "People always thought he was just going around settling old scores."

Aguirre ignored the temptations of the gangs -- again, he doesn't know exactly why, it just never seemed an option to be considered -- and headed for the navy after graduating from high school in 1974.

Serving as a signalman on a destroyer escort and an aircraft carrier, he spent two years in Japan and reveled in the discipline and order of military life. He got out in 1978, pretty much broke, and went to live with his parents. His father, a blue-collar installer for Illinois Bell, had by then taken a job with Southwestern Bell, and the family had moved to Houston.

Aguirre found he "loved the climate." He waited out the one-year residency requirement before joining the Houston force in 1979 as "a young skinny policeman" patrolling the Third Ward.

"It was everything I thought it would be," he says of those early days as a cop. "I didn't want to go home and take off my uniform at the end of a shift. I could really relate to baseball players or football players, people who get paid to do something they love."

The department was different back then, he says. It was about half the size it is now, and officers stuck together more. They cared about their jobs more, too; although, Aguirre says, "That's what everyone says when they get old -- 'The kids today aren't like we were.' People have been saying that since time immemorial, so I don't know. But it seems there was more of a sense of brotherhood back then."

He got married, but like a lot of police marriages, it didn't take. She was a college classmate of Aguirre's sister, but after three years, with no kids, the couple split.

"We worked better as boyfriend and girlfriend," says Aguirre, who still hopes to have children someday. "Her mom said we were two chiefs and someone needed to be an Indian. And it wasn't going to be me being the Indian, I can tell you."

Aguirre played a role in two high-profile task forces designed to clean up high-crime areas in Gulfton and the Stella Link/Loop 610 area.

He was working at the jail in February 1990 when he got a call to help out on the Gulfton project from a supervisor who recalled his enthusiasm for the job. "It was in a moribund state, and I received a call from my captain to come over and get it off the ground," he says, "and that was very unusual, because I was not even working in that division at the time. I asked if I could bring some people with me, and we just went over there and made a tremendous, tremendous impact."

The project included assigning patrol units to stay in hot areas and crack down on loitering, public drunkenness and other offenses, coupled with drug raids and other aggressive actions.

The effects were "ephemeral," he says. Once the task force ended (federal funds had been paying for officer overtime costs), the crime returned.

And Aguirre went back to his climb up the HPD ladder, regularly acing the civil service exams. (He's a great reader, loving biographies of people such as Churchill, MacArthur, Napoleon, even noted socialist Eugene V. Debs. Some might say that's a list of monomaniacal fanatics, but Aguirre prefers to think of them as people "who speak to issues of leadership, how to get the most out of people and be true to yourself.")

Slowly, he says -- "like a frog being boiled alive without realizing it" -- things in the department began to change. The officers he came in with got enough seniority and began migrating to the plainclothes divisions. Not Aguirre. "Damn, I just love the street," he says.

But his gung-ho attitude began to grate on fellow officers. He developed a reputation as a by-the-book, balls-to-the-wall eager beaver genetically designed to be a king-size pain in the ass to anyone who had a more relaxed view of the job. There were no major incidents, just an ever more apparent disdain for those he thought were slacking off.

By 1999, he was in his fourth year working in the personnel section, and "champing at the bit to get back on the street."

He aced yet another civil service exam and gained his promotion to captain, and Aguirre finally got his chance. He was assigned to head the South Central Division, which included his old Third Ward stomping grounds.

The captain arrived at division headquarters -- a low-lying building, now slated for demolition, that squats beneath the Southwest Freeway and the Pierce Elevated -- and quickly saw how things had changed.

"When I came back, I was shocked at some of the things I saw. Open-air narcotics dealing…as well as the mounds of trash that were ubiquitous, absolutely everywhere, even across the street" from the police station, he says.

He began meeting with community leaders, church officials and business owners. A skeptical Julian Cortinas, president of the Second Ward Association, says he warned Aguirre of the problems he would be facing.

"All we used to get was lip service from [HPD] upper management," says Cortinas, a longtime community activist. Things like unlicensed cantinas in the East End had been neighborhood blights for years, but little had been done about them.

"We had years and years and years of government dragging their feet," Cortinas says. "I don't think [Aguirre] knew what the challenges were when he came over to the area. I told him, 'You have problems in the community, problems internally. You're going to have to modify every single area. It's a bear of a problem.' He was about to hit 20 years' service, so he had to decide for himself on whether he would be able to make the commitment."

Cortinas says residents had heard all the we-want-to-help promises for years. He asked Aguirre "whether his was going to be a real effort and a strong effort and not just a PR, BS program to hype the community, where you do it for two weeks and then hide under a desk."

The answer came quickly.

Never one to think small, Aguirre envisioned a five-point program, dubbed Operation Renaissance. It was based to a large degree on the tactics used by the earlier Gulfton task force, but this time Aguirre was determined to implement changes permanently rather than for a limited time. The language was grandiose ("Out of this desire to stem the tide of putrefaction, Operation Renaissance was born…a holistic approach in addressing the insidious plague which is devouring our neighborhoods"), but the details were down to earth.

Officers were to be divided up, with maybe one-third to a half of each shift assigned to the normal duties of cruising and answering calls. The rest would be part of "directed patrols" devoted to areas high in criminal activity; to a Division Nuisance Abatement squad dedicated to fighting public drunkenness, prostitution, loitering and other problems centered around the bus station; and officers assigned to getting rid of trash and graffiti.

As part of the plan, Aguirre ended what is called beat integrity. Under that traditional concept, patrol cars are assigned to a beat -- South Central has eight of them -- and stay within that geographic area. Under his plan, Aguirre says, "I don't make them adhere to any geographic boundaries because I send them to where the problems are."

It was "a new way of doing business," he says. "The officers complained, oh, vehemently."

That they did. The plan made perfect sense to Aguirre, but to patrol officers it seemed he was taking away the number of cops available to handle calls and assigning them to less important jobs.

"Officers think they're wasting their time," says a cop who wants to remain anonymous. "Operation Renaissance sparked a lot of heat because officers thought it was a useless thing. The main focus should be on answering calls, but with so many specialized units that don't have to answer calls, things start to stack up."

They compare it to the hated Neighborhood Oriented Policing concept, whose acronym some cops say stands for Nobody On Patrol.

"It can take hours and hours to answer some calls, and even days for nonemergency calls," one officer says. "And when we do answer the call, we're the ones who take the brunt of complaints and whining from the citizens about how long it took."

Aguirre sees it differently. "That's an issue they parade in front of citizens to create a groundswell of support to stop the program," he says. "In other words, a citizen says, 'What took you so long?' " and officers bad-mouth Operation Renaissance.

Officers, he says, had grown accustomed to "milking" calls. "What was happening was you had officers that were taking too long to handle simple calls -- let's say a loud-music disturbance. They're staying out at it for an hour, 45 minutes, when something like that should take five minutes."

Some of the front-line people see the problem as more serious than just a matter of calls stacking up.

"When you have just a few people running calls, it becomes an officer-safety issue in terms of the availability of backup," says Hans Marticiuc, president of the Houston Police Officers Union. "Operation Renaissance has been going on for a while, and thank God no one's been hurt so far."

Aguirre dismisses such talk. Officers "become concerned," he says, "because now they don't have two people in [beat number] 80, they might have one permanently assigned, and the other guy's roaming around between [beats] 70 and 40. So, you know, [they say] 'I'm afraid.' Well, if you're afraid, you shouldn't be a police officer anyway. And I tell them to look at the [Department of Public Safety] guys out there; sometimes they're the only rascal out there for a hundred miles out there by himself.

"And it's not like you're abandoned. I mean, we have the helicopter there, we got the radio, we're surrounded by [constable's] precinct six over here, the sheriff's over here -- it's a nonissue."

In other words, if you have doubts about his plan, you lack the physical courage to be a cop. That doesn't go down too well in the ranks.

"That's mighty brave talk from a guy who's sitting behind a desk," Marticiuc says.

Such talk, though, is Aguirre's way. "At roll calls he can be real demeaning," says a union official who gets an earful from his members. "He makes you feel like dirt, like shit…it's real demeaning, condescending, with a lot of yelling and cursing."

"His management style may be too brusque," says an officer who is an Aguirre supporter. "It's 'Whatever I tell you to do, if it's not illegal or immoral, I expect you to do it.' He's pretty much no-nonsense."

A City Hall staffer who has come in contact with Aguirre says he "shows no people skills that I am aware of."

Aguirre can be laid-back, but even then he seldom censors himself.

"Unfortunately, you have two groups of officers in the Houston Police Department," he'll begin. "You have the one group that grew up and knew they wanted to be law enforcement officers and this is a calling. Without exception, it's been my experience that these are the finest, most self-motivated, energetic officers that we have. And then you have the other mentality, the people who are doing it for a paycheck, and in that crew are those who do as little as possible and within that crew also are those who will do more work trying to get out of work than you or I would care to expend…Like everything else, not everyone is a go-getter, and unfortunately government jobs breed laziness."

With that sunny attitude in mind, Aguirre ignored the protests and implemented Operation Renaissance.

When it came to drugs, he threatened to foreclose on hotels, houses and stores where he thought the owners were encouraging illicit behavior. Working with the city's Forfeiture Abatement Support Team, South Central officers made cases against hotels on OST, six houses in the Third Ward and even a convenience store on McGowen.

The Indo Mart became the first store in Houston to close voluntarily for a set period in lieu of being foreclosed upon. The owner agreed late in May to close for five months and upon reopening to stop selling crack-pipe kits, small manila envelopes for holding marijuana, and other drug paraphernalia.

"It's like offering them six months in the hospital or sudden death," Aguirre says. "They say, 'I'll take the six months in the hospital and try to get well.' For the most part, they walk the line after this because they know this is a stopgap measure between losing their business and complying."

When it came to graffiti, he assigned one officer to deal exclusively with the problem, cruising the area, getting help from businesses, making cases on repeat offenders. And on weekends, Aguirre and others will regularly take up their paintbrushes or paint scrapers and tackle the problem more directly. "We knock out 15 locations in two hours; it's a lot of fun. That's a genuine feeling of satisfaction," he says. ("The sad thing is they'll come back in on Monday and half of them will be painted [with graffiti] again," an Aguirre supporter says.)

When it came to trash, he also assigned HPD's only officer dedicated solely to garbage. And the city's solid waste department has two garbage trucks at that officer's disposal.

Cruising the neighborhood with Officer Michael Frazee is definitely not a typical HPD ride. For one thing, he talks in italics, and for another, his streets are made mean by such things as the inability of citizens to know exactly when heavy trash day is.

"I write tickets for trash; I take people to jail for trash. I don't have a problem with that," says the effervescent Frazee.

Sometimes the offenders are contractors who drive their trucks into blighted neighborhoods to dump loads on vacant lots. Frazee recently caught one such crew that didn't realize it was doing anything illegal. The boss asked what the problem was; Frazee says he simply replied, " 'Two days.' And he said, 'There is no way we can get all this stuff picked up in two days,' and I said, 'I bet you can.' And I tell you, two hours later they had a huge Dumpster out there and everybody was out there, even the head construction guy, and they were loading it up. So, you know, don't tell me it's impossible."

Aguirre got two companies to donate goods and services so that 20,000 calendars -- featuring shots of local well-kept homes and individualized with the heavy trash dates for each neighborhood -- could be distributed. Lots of times, though, people don't want to wait for that once-a-month pickup, Frazee says.

"You're trying to change the way these people think, and it's very hard," he says. Frazee says he was writing a ticket to an illegal dumper recently when he noticed "a 98-year-old woman" watching from her porch across the street.

"I walked up to her and said, 'Ma'am, as long as I am out here doing the position I am doing now, you will not have to look at that.' And she said, 'That's normal.' I don't want my grandmother out on the porch having to look at trash all day long, so why should you?"

Frazee spends much of his time trying to figure out who owns the vacant lots where trash, or dozens of used tires, has piled up. "My job seems kind of easy, but believe me, it keeps me very busy just because I'm trying to track a lot of these owners," he says.

One thing he doesn't do, for the most part, is answer the standard patrol calls.

"I don't answer calls in service unless it's a code -- something in progress," he says. "If I'm in the area, of course, I'm going to go by and help out. But I don't run regular calls."

That causes some grumbling. "You get all these specialized units and they don't have to respond to calls unless they want to do it out of graciousness," one officer says. "And that just means calls will stack up for everyone else."

Aguirre also took officers off the beat to deal with what he saw as one of the biggest problems in the division: the Greyhound bus station at Main and Gray.

He hates the fact that newly freed convicts from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice hop on the bus in Huntsville and get dropped off in his turf, usually with nothing to do before reporting to a halfway house the next morning. Taxi drivers, he said, are lined up all day "drinking, shooting dice, smoking weed, taking people to do drugs and meet prostitutes."

The drivers, he says, would refuse to take elderly residents from the nearby condo building to the Medical Center because the fare would be too low.

There is security at the station -- off-duty HPD and sheriff's department officers -- but Aguirre is unimpressed. "These guys are hiding in a damn closet in there, they're not doing anything. See no evil, hear no evil. I guarantee you, every time I've gone in there they've got a little office, that door is shut."

Aguirre and officer Ken Wenzel, who's on the team assigned to the bus station area, want the facility moved to the north end of downtown next to the Amtrak station. "You could have state-of-the-art security, airport-stuff type of security," Wenzel says.

Dallas-based Greyhound would consider moving if adequate real estate were available and affordable, a company spokesperson says, but it also doesn't care for the characterization of its passengers. "Crime in that neighborhood is a neighborhood issue, not a bus station issue, and we think our customers deserve to be in an area with less crime," Lynn Brown says.

She says the station generates a lot of police calls partly because it offers a 24-hour-a-day phone that can be used to report crimes that happen off the premises. "Ninety percent of the arrests made there are of Houston residents," she says, not travelers from other cities.

And the recently released inmates? "We prefer to see them as people who have paid their debt to society," she says, "and the vast majority of them are going home, not stopping in the area."

Aguirre's tussle with Greyhound -- he has accused the company of "breaking its social contract" by ignoring problems -- has raised the ire of some City Hall staffers, who don't like to see a large corporate constituent offended. Greyhound's "intention is to work with the neighborhood, but all they've heard from him is that he wants to drive them out," one says.

"That's the last thing in the world we want to do," says Wenzel.

"Some politicos have been downright hostile" to his efforts to clean up the area, Aguirre says. He's uncharacteristically shy about naming names -- "Because I'm going to have to go back to the trough" for support, he says -- but he's been known to contact staff people and city councilmembers directly to plead his case.

Another effort that has engendered controversy involved the homeless. Aguirre set up a squad to deal with what he calls "the so-called homeless" population in the Midtown area.

"We weren't messing with anyone merely because of their status, I want to stipulate that," he says. "But these people were engaging in nuisance crimes."

Other vagrants, he said, were wanted on felony counts across the United States. "We found out a lot of the so-called homeless are not harmless."

Aguirre's officers rousted loiterers, following them on a "relentless march" through their various gathering places. "My officers are willing to get their hands dirty," he says of the unit involved. "A lot of these [homeless] guys, they defecate on themselves, they use drugs and have needles in their pockets; it's not a glamorous job. However, it is something that needs to be done, and they do it without complaint."

Aguirre's efforts haven't enthralled advocates for the homeless. "There are experts on dealing with the homeless, and Captain Aguirre is not one of them," says Sandy Kesseler, executive director of the SEARCH facility. "These are people, many of them are mentally ill, and he's trying to make them understand civility by being forceful…When you have this forceful no-tolerance attitude with the homeless, they just become better at hiding, and they become more fearful."

Aguirre, of course, is not apologizing for anything. The homeless effort "was the centerpiece, the crown jewel of our program," he says, "because that's what got us started."

Operation Renaissance has drawn rave reviews from local businesses and residents. "Citizens love it," says City Councilwoman Annise Parker.

Aguirre has the statistics: In the 27 months it's been in effect, he says, there have been 180,377 arrests or tickets handed out; 8,268 illegal dumps eradicated; about 2,300 used tires removed. The numbers dwarf those of other divisions, he says, even bigger ones (HPD discourages comparisons between divisions and even individual beats because of the varied demographic makeup of the areas.)

"Crime has plummeted," Aguirre says.

In the first three months of the program, he says, aggravated assaults dropped by 80 percent, and robberies were cut in half. Since then, "we began competing against ourselves, so to speak, and it was a question of how low can you go. We've had a series of spikes up and down."

HPD stats show less dramatic cuts in crime than Aguirre claims.

Changes in population, such as the gentrification of the Midtown area of South Central, can also affect statistics from year to year. Citywide, the crime rate has been increasing as the booming economy has slowed.

Others are not convinced about Operation Renaissance. "He does have pretty good stats, and he gets his support from his statistical outcomes," says union chief Marticiuc. "But statistics can be manipulated to say anything."

Even HPD spokesman Robert Hurst mentions "the success or perceived success of Operation Renaissance." (He quickly adds, "Don't get me wrong, Captain Aguirre has done a wonderful job, and the citizens and businesses support it.")

Arrest numbers may not tell everything. "The only thing I'm unsure of is that you shouldn't have to be doing the same things over and over again," says Parker. "If there's illegal dumping, figure out who's doing it and get them, don't just write ticket after ticket. Whether that's the case is something I don't know."

The only sure thing is that Aguirre's efforts have roiled the division.

"I've paid a price, genuinely," he says, "because [opponents] use our department's internal-affairs process to slow me down."

News reports show he was hit with a 15-day suspension in 1998 for failing to follow proper procedures. Aguirre was accused of allowing one of his lieutenants to give special work privileges to a female sergeant, even though he was aware that the two staffers were in the midst of a romantic relationship. Two years earlier, the captain received similar disciplinary action for not adhering to department regulations involving a sexual harassment complaint lodged against another of his lieutenants.

Aguirre says he's been the subject of many anonymous internal-affairs complaints. The most high-profile one came last year after one officer secretly taped portions of a staff meeting where Aguirre reamed out his command officers. He denied the allegations of several staffers who said Aguirre told them he'd "grind them into dog patties and stomp them into pancakes." The captain admitted using some profanity to emphasize his points, saying the intent was "to chew ass -- pure and simple."

The complaint centered on what some officers perceived as threats, as well as his rough language, thus displaying an Emily Post-like quality to HPD that had been heretofore kept discreet.

Police Chief C.O. Bradford testified in the hearing on Aguirre's appeal that a suspension of a few days had been recommended for the captain, but Bradford reduced it to only a written reprimand, presuming that it would be adequate to teach the captain the error of his ways. After Aguirre's defiance, the chief said that in retrospect he wished he had pressed for the suspension.

Aguirre fought the charge (see "HPD Blue," by George Flynn, May 30), and during the civil-service hearing Aguirre attorney Terry Yates asked Bradford if he had ever called an assistant chief a "motherfucker." Bradford said no; the assistant said yes. And Aguirre asked the Harris County district attorney to investigate Bradford for perjury.

"Nine times out of ten, when the chief says he doesn't curse, are you going to make a big deal out of it?" asks Burt Springer, an attorney who represents many HPD officers.

"It's unfortunate, but I didn't make that man do it. He did it to himself," says Aguirre. Bradford, through a spokesperson, refused to comment on Aguirre or Operation Renaissance.

Aguirre says he's used to being arrayed against other officers. "If I know I'm doing the right thing, I don't care if they love me or not," he says.

Talk to officers about Aguirre, and often enough one will mention the 1995 incident when he crashed his city vehicle at 3 a.m.

Aguirre was in the Northwest Division at the time, but he says his attitude toward work had already alienated some officers. "They were out there at that accident scene looking for beer cans or bottles and even fingerprinting them," he says.

Aguirre was never charged with driving while intoxicated, and he says he reimbursed the city for the damage. He says he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a fence at a dead end near the Heights. "I believe the air bag knocked me for a loop…but the other guys wanted to believe I was drunk," he says.

He admits he had been to a bar earlier that evening, but had then spent "six or seven hours," mostly sleeping, at a friend's home. A half-dozen witnesses verified his story in hearings, and he received only a written reprimand.

He says he has always been the source of rumors. "I'm a drunk, I'm a womanizer, I'm a gambler, that's what you hear, but none of those things are true," he says. "It stems from people wanting to whittle you down to their size because they're envious…It's the destructive, idle, unbelievable bullshit they're always engaging in to destroy people's reputations over here."

He's aware, he says, that some officers would be eager to catch him screwing up somehow.

So, he claims, he merely plays pool and reads in his off time. "I do not hang around with anybody [from HPD]; there is not one individual from the Houston Police Department that I hang around with, because they are all gossips," he says. "Why hang out with someone so they can put my business on the street?"

It's evident that there's not likely much of an HPD career ladder left for Aguirre. One HPD veteran said his troubles began with the 1995 car crash. "He wanted to be in the group that was politically connected enough to become an assistant chief, but he got in that accident just about the time Bradford came on as chief," says the officer. "Once you get that screw-up tag, you never get back in management's good graces."

"Captain is as high as you can go in the civil service; from then on you can only get appointed or anointed as [assistant] chief," says attorney Springer. "And Aguirre is always going to be stuck at captain under Bradford."

City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado, like others, has heard rumors that Aguirre might be transferred. Aguirre would love the chance to take his Operation Renaissance theories to other divisions, and eventually citywide, but he says he realizes it would likely meet too much resistance to be adopted. And it's clear he's as fed up with the department as some of the department is with him.

"I think it's counterproductive when they start dinging me for what anyone other than my police department would say is petty," he says. "The petty stuff, we can pay attention to that, but meanwhile Rome is burning, we're not going to address that; that we have officers out here who are taking too much time for service [calls]…We're not going to address supervisors not supervising…[or] that some people are lazy and ought not to be here. What we're going to address is the perception they have of you that you're rude."

The more he talks about it, in fact, the more depressed the usually cheerful Aguirre becomes. "I genuinely love what I do, I can't stress that enough, and it hurts me that some people would not respect that or see that for what it is and use me properly," he says. "Yes, use me. I think that I'm a good ambassador for the police department."

Several days later, he's even more emphatic.

"I'm almost gone. I'm gonna finish the year and that will be it," he says. "It's gotten to be too much. I don't see staying in a profession that does not reward excellence. If they're going to mess with you and make it intolerable to do what you have to do, why stay? I'll go to the private sector, where you're rewarded commensurate with your effort.

"I love doing this, but at what health cost to me? I'm the only one rowing the boat here. I've only got one oar, and I'm going around in circles."

Some will be sorry to see him go. "Captain Aguirre, whether he stays in office or whatever road he takes, he's delivered something to this city that will never be forgotten," says Second Ward activist Cortinas.

Others will be more dry-eyed. "There wouldn't be a lot of tears," says one officer. "But I'll believe he's leaving when he actually leaves."

If Aguirre turns in his badge -- and that's a big if for someone who loves being a cop as much as he does -- the ramshackle halls of the South Central Division will be much quieter.

Far less certain is how quiet the streets beyond those walls will be.

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