Policeman's grandfather wore the number, too
By MOISES MENDOZA
Dec. 7, 2009, 7:25AM
Houston Police Officer Carl Black still remembers getting ready to fight the hulking 6-foot-6, 280-pound thug who was threatening him about 17 years ago.
The suspect readied to attack as he ripped off his shirt and shouted “You're not going to take me to jail!”
Then he looked at Black's uniform, fell to his knees and gave up.
After putting him in his police car, the young officer asked why he had surrendered.
“I ain't fighting the devil,” the man said.
The suspect had caught a glimpse of Black's badge number. It was 666.
Black, now 41 and a 20-year veteran of the force, is in the unusual fraternity of police officers who have worn the mark of the beast on their uniforms — the number in the biblical book of Revelations that signifies the ultimate evil.
Though Black insists the number has no real meaning, the shield seems to have a mystical power to intimidate even the brawniest of suspects, who don't want to mess with the man some colleagues call the “white devil.”
Got strange looks
Despite the number's disturbing connotations, police departments around the country have freely given it out in the past. An officer in El Paso, for instance, recently retired with that badge number. And Black's own grandfather was a Houston police officer who wore 666.
Black specially requested the number out of respect for Loyd Black, who was an officer from 1943 to 1978 and died when his grandson was 13.
But Black didn't think of its significance until he announced his number at the police academy and saw people move away and look at him strangely.
When Black graduated in 1990, it was his grandpa's old badge that got pinned to his uniform. Black's superiors thought the number request had been a joke, and he didn't get his new badge until he had been working the streets for a couple months.
To police officers, few things are more important than their badges. The shields, which in Houston are finished with a precious silver-colored metal called rhodium, become part of an officer's identity.
At the Houston Police Department, an officer only loses his badge number when promoted or leaving the force. Even then, because of the sentimental significance, former officers keep them as mementos.
“The number means a lot,” said Doug Elder, a Houston Police administrative sergeant. “It's the number they're going to be associated with throughout their career.”
Usually officers receive badge numbers in sequential order of when they joined the force, although numbers are sometimes reissued. New officers today are likely to get numbers in the 8,000 range. Officers can also request the numbers of family members who have left the police department.
Grandmother didn't like it
Black's grandfather died long before his grandson joined the force, and family members aren't quite sure whether his unusual badge number troubled or helped him.
But everyone remembers how Carl Black's grandmother tried to dissuade her grandson from taking the burden of 666.
“It was because of the reference, because of what the number represented,” said Black's father, Charles Black, who also worked as a Houston police officer. “She didn't want him to have it.”
But the younger Black insisted.
He and his grandfather were close. Today, Black keeps his grandfather's old badge in his bedroom.
Black, who works monitoring sex offenders in the department's Juvenile Sex Offender Registration Unit, is a bit of a cult celebrity in the 5,000-man department.
Useful and amusing
Many officers have the reaction of Black's partner for the last three months, Ricardo Rojas-Garcia, when they learn about his badge.
“What the hell?” Rojas-Garcia first thought as he wondered whether he should hold up a crucifix or get a priest to bless him.
But it can be both useful and amusing working with someone who wears 666.
There are, for instance, the occasional suspects who admit wrongdoing as soon as they see the number.
Then there are the reactions of deeply religious people, like the pastor who once spotted the number and asked Black to step out of his church.
Black maintains that his badge has no special powers. But he notes he's been shot at at least two times and was never hit.
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