The Woman Behind the Badge: Metro’s First Black Female Chief of Police

HOUSTON – It has been said that, “Dynamite comes in small packages” and METRO’s first Black female Chief of Police, Mrs. Vera Bumpers is no exception to that rule. Girdled with 32 years of service to the METRO Police Department, an humble, gracious and God-fearing personality, Bumpers has made history within the agency. However, her journey and entitlement was not one that was effortlessly achieved.

She was one of four children born unto Eula and Percy Bumpers in Mobile, Alabama. However, at an early her parents relocated their family to San Antonio. During an interview, Chief Bumpers described she and her family’s experience with the grim and dark era of segregation. “I remember our family being pulled over and all of our stuff being thrown alongside of the highway. My dad would pull into several restaurants and convenient stores to ask the owners if we could use the rest room. A stern NO’ is what he was constantly told. I would always ask my dad, ‘Why don’t you say something – why do you let them treat you like that?’ He would always say there are just ignorant people in the world and you just don’t understand.”

During her primary educational years, she remembers being so traumatized by the bouts of racism and discrimination that she wrote a paper on the subject. She recalled the disdain and disgust she felt about the ill-treatment imposed on her family. “It was at a point and time in my life that I really didn’t comprehend the issue of racism and color, because at that age children don’t see or interpret color the way that adults do.” She never forgot the big red “A” that she earned on the paper and how proud her teacher told her that he was of her, because she put her emotions into it. She explained that the paper was written after one of those times that her father had taken their family to about three or four places and they would not let them use the rest room.

Eventually, the police got behind them and warned that they needed to get out of town. Although it’s been years ago, the experience was one that she never forgot. “To this day, I can’t recall the exact town but I do know that it was somewhere between Alabama and Louisiana. They were following us around everywhere we stopped. My dad said y’all just have to wait and that was one of those points in my life that it opened my eyes to something I wasn’t familiar with” Vera shared.

Over time her mother enlightened she and her siblings, by telling them the things that she witnessed in her early adulthood. Being a student at Alabama State University, her mother was apart of the marches and sit-ins during her college years. Nonetheless Vera suggested that, “Knowing about that history helps you appreciate your present, be excited about your future and teaches you how to deal with people regardless of – the things that I experienced as a child were true life lessons for me.”

As the years passed, she would go on to graduate from Sam Houston High School in San Antonio. From there she enrolled into Texas State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree. She later pursued a Master’s degree and graduated from Prairie View A&M University. With a mind and the drive to succeed, she went on to the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, where she graduated in the 230th session.

After graduating, she vividly reminisced how she was working in San Marcos. She befriended a fellow classmate that graduated with her by the name of, Ed Harris. She revealed that he’d secured a job with METRO as the assistant chief. She recalled how she received a phone call from him asking her if she wanted to come to Houston to work. With no attachments and nothing holding her back, she made the decision to go. Once she made her arrival, she was hired the same day which would serve to initiate decades of service towards a career at METRO. Currently, Mr. Harris is with Austin Police Department and over the Support Operations as a civilian. To this day, she still considers him a dear friend and is grateful of how he pushed her to reach her full potential years ago.

Since that time, she has been the first female in every rank at METRO Police Department and has served in a supervisory capacity for over 25 years. While rising up the ranks, she had leadership responsibility for various units from Patrol to Homeland Security. Her current entitlement as METRO’s Chief of Police calls for the leadership role of her supervision in a department of 185 sworn personnel and 70 non-sworn personnel. She was promoted to this position in November of last year.

As it relates to transitioning into her newly elected position, she shared that it really has not been difficult. She stated, “I’ve always been the type of person that’s out front, wanting to learn, talking to people and wanting to stay engaged – so transitioning into this position was not hard at all.” She further explained that, “I pretty much know everybody that’s been hired here. There are those of whom we have had our disagreements with and there are those who are very supportive of me and I call them my ride or push friends’”. Chief Bumpers deciphered the meaning of her “ride or push friends”; which are friends who ride with you when you have gas and push with you when you don’t.

She said, “I have had that good network of support and friends who are going to be honest with me. Then there are those friends that are outside of here and they undergird me and keep me covered with prayer, as well as my family. So I have been very blessed throughout this transition period. I knew the system, I knew the players, the different department heads and they know me. A lot of bus drivers here I know, so no matter what level, I have had some engagement and it’s been a good thing for me.”

Chief Bumpers acknowledged her direct supervisor, Tim Kelly who was once the Chief and Tom Lambert who is the Chief Executive Officer now, who was also once the chief. “They are still here and their doors are always open for me to run things by them and they’ve been very supportive” she said. Since settling into her new position, Chief Bumpers has laid a foundation for her staff. That anchorage rests on the basis of, 3 C’s: communication, cooperation and commitment. She clarified the reasoning behind each one by sharing the following. “I told the staff that, we are going to communicate with one another, the community that we serve, our internal and external customers, we are going to cooperate no matter what the situation, regardless of whose fault it is and we are going to be transparent and honor our commitments. We are committed to the people we serve, we serve a community that will hold us accountable and we have to remain committed to provide them with the best service that we can and always remember that, professionalism is the rod that everything else hangs on.”

She also informed her staff in her first meeting as chief that, collectively all of them made up the team. The chief used an analogy of an airplane of which each of them has a boarding pass. Though, “some of us may be in coach, some first class, some are pilots and some flight attendants – you have to understand that if this plane goes down we all go down at the same time” she said.

In regards to advice to the community and general public, Chief Bumpers rendered the following, “If you see something, say something.” She continued, “It will never get old and it’s the best advice that we can give the community, our children and our seniors.” She further emphasized that, “It’s very important to tell somebody when you see something happening, don’t be the silent one – saying that it’s someone else’s job.” Even if something appears to be insignificant, she still encourages those she comes in contact with to, “say something”! Accordingly, Chief Bumpers believes that this simple thought can work in more than one way – be it positive or negative.

When asked about encouraging words to women that may be aspiring to positions of authority, Chief Bumpers said that it’s always important to remember that, “all things are possible; don’t let anybody dictate who you are – you have to be confident in yourself and realize that if you have a dream or a goal, you can achieve it.”

One of her role model’s is Harriet Tubman. Chief Bumpers said that Harriet Tubman always inspired her because of her unselfish nature of, “going back to bring others out.” She declares that she has developed a theory from Tubman’s experience, “Though we live in the light, we have to war in the darkness, in order to get to the light.” Therefore, even when people throw rocks, are nasty, hateful and talk about you, she motivates that one should, “take those rocks and build a bridge for others to cross”.

Chief Bumpers has one brother, Lee Bumpers who is a deputy at the Harris County Sheriff’s Department for over 25 years and two sisters. She is married to Rodney Pentecost, who is a Chief Deputy for Fort Bend County’s Precinct 2 under the administration of Constable Ruben Davis. She has two children and one grandchild.

She is an active member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, where she holds the office of Houston Chapter President and the Chair of HCC Police Academy Advisory Board. She is also a member of: International Association of Chiefs of PoliceTexas Police Chiefs AssociationDelta Sigma Theta SororityLinks Incorporated and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Chief Bumpers is a God-fearing woman who is a member of the New Light Christian Center Church. At the conclusion of our interview she finalized her statements by saying, “I understand that this is not about me and you have to be careful because you never know whose life you can touch. I’m not ashamed of the fact that I love God and I tell people all the time that I want to make God proud. No matter where I am I try to be that light that draws others to righteousness and be that salt that gives flavor.”