Master Police Officer

Tulsa Police Department, 1969-1996

The Tulsa Police Department was originally established prior to Oklahoma statehood. The town of Tulsa, which originally began as an indian trading post on the banks of the Arkansas River in northeastern Oklahoma, established its first City Marshal in 1898. The marshal replaced the Indian Light Horsemen and the U.S. Marshals that had to travel out of Fort Smith, Arkansas.  The first marshal, Wess Kennedy served only one year, then was replaced by Charles Wesley Robertson, the town blacksmith.

By 1900, Sam Blair became the first city police officer. He was later replaced by Bud Ledbetter, Heck Thomas, and eventually the famous "shootist," Bill Tilghman.  During the first few decades of Tulsa's frontier existance such outlaws as the Dalton Gang, Tulsa Jack, Cherokee Bill, Kid Lewis, Kid Wilson, John Brown, Jess Buck Snyder, Skeeter Baldwin and Dan "Dynamite Dick" Clifton, and the Rufus Buck Gang showed their presence in Tulsa and the surrounding communities. Law enforcement in those days could be a deadly and dangerous affair.

By the 1920s and 30s, such notable gangsters as Machine Gun Kelley, Ma Barker and the Barker Gang, and Pretty Boy Floyd came through or stayed in Tulsa. The bootlegger days and the "safe house" period for eastern bank robbers had arrived and lasted almost ten years. Several shootouts occurred during this period, and the state prison system expanded with a growing population as the cities grew in size, with their police departments following and trying to keep up with the population expansion and expanding city limits.

Tulsa currently covers over 200 square miles with a population of over 400,000 people not counting the surrounding communities and cities. The police department consists of approximately 600 officers.

Craig Roberts joined the Tulsa Police Department in August of 1969, graduating from the police academy on December 30th, (becoming the "First Class of 1970). Of the 25 officers in his class, five were recently returned Vietnam veterans, and the majority of others were military vets. These were the days that not being "draftable" was a big plus to get hired.

 

Tulsa Police Academy Class 1/70. Roberts is second row, third from left (seated).

Roberts' first assignment was to Patrol Division, working in the north Tulsa area which was almost 90% black. Roberts got on well with the local residents and was considered a fair and efficient officer. But by 1971, a new unit was formed called the "TAC Squad," which was Tulsa's first "SWAT" type special operations team. Roberts was selected for his Vietnam combat experience and his training as a sniper and with explosives. By this time he had attended Bomb Disposal School in Dade County, Florida and was one of three department bomb technicians.

 

First Commission Card photo in 1969, age 23.

The TAC Squad worked undercover, narcotics, stakeouts, special assignments, warrant service, and a myriad of other duties. It consisted of one lieutenant, two sergeants, and 12 officers, six per squad. In July of 1973, the state prison in McAlester, Oklahoma, rioted in the worst prison riot in state history. The TAC Squad was dispatched at midnight to relieve the Oklahoma Highway Patrol inside the prison to keep the prisoners contained. It was learned that the prisoners held fifteen prison guards as hostages, and the TPD officers were tasked with rescuing them as soon as the sun came up. The lights had been knocked out when the generator to the prison had been destroyed by the convicts, who by then had burned over 80% of the prison buildings and structures.

The orders to the TAC Squad was that when the sun came up and they could see down the cell block corridors, that they were to make a dead run, with fixed bayonets on their shotguns, and kill everyone who offered resistance. The object was to reach the guards in the mess hall before they could be executed. But when the sun illuminated the Rotunda where the the twelve officers held a thin line, the convicts saw that it was Tulsa PD officers and not national guard or prison guards that they faced. One look at the bayonets and the prisoners decided to surrender and give up the hostages. 

The TAC Squad was disbanded in late 1973 when federal funding ran out and the officers returned to field duties. Roberts worked "Short North" and other areas of Tulsa until 1977 when he was transferred to the Fugitive Warrants Squad. The Warrants Squad's mission was to track down fugitives who had arrest warrants out for them and bring them in. For the next two years Roberts and his partners served over 6,000 felony and misdemeanor warrants, plus several search warrants.

 

The Police Fugitive Warrants Squad in 1978. Roberts is on far right.

In 1978 Roberts transferred to Police Community Relations where he served for three years as one of the department's public relations officers, giving lectures to organizations and schools on everything from traffic safety, to drugs, to crimes against women. By 1981 he had become the department's "Press Release Officer" and had extensive contact with reporters from the media, both print and television. Also, during this time, Roberts served an additional duty assignment as the Academy Self Defense Instructor. Holding two black belts in the martial arts (Jiu Jitsu and Ishinryu Karate) and a brown belt in Judo, Roberts was instrumental in writing the first Police Self-Defense Manual for the Tulsa Police Department, and was one of the first 20 State certified police self defense instructors.

 

Roberts on left, with his Kan Duk Kwan karate instructor, Roger Green on the right.

 

Gunnery Sergeant (Ret.) Carlos Hathcock, one of the Marine Corps best known snipers, and Craig Roberts during training of Tulsa Police Department's Special Operations Team's snipers (1989)

 

On March 28th, 1982, the department's first police helicopter crashed, killing the pilot and a passenger. This was only ten days after the unit began operations. Roberts was asked by the chief of police to transfer to the helicopter unit and serve as its maintenance director when the new replacement helicopter arrived two weeks later. Roberts was the only FAA licensed Airframe and Powerplant mechanic on the department. A deal was cut by Roberts that "if I fix them, then I want to fly them." Already a licensed airplane pilot, it was a simple matter of transitioning into helicopters to become patrol operational in a matter of a few months.

From that day until March 31st, 1996, Roberts served as the Air Support Unit's chief of maintenance, maintenance test pilot and one of its patrol pilots. (See Helicopter and Airplane Pilot )

Master Police Officer Craig Roberts retired from the Tulsa Police Department after 27 years service, having accumulated over 3500 flying hours, with 2800 being in helicopters.

Being of Welsh/Norwegian descent, the famous Welsh song, "Men of Harlech," heard in the movie "Zulu", holds special meaning for Craig ("From a rocky place" in Welsh) Roberts ("Son of Robert" in Welsh/Scandanavian):

Rhyfelgyrch gwyr Harlech

Men of Harlech, march to glory, victory is hov'ring o're ye,
Bright-eyed freedom stands before ye, hear ye not her call?

At your sloth she seems to wonder, rend the sluggish bonds asunder,
Let the warcry's deaf'ning thunder ev'ry foe appal.

Echoes loudly waking, hill and valley shaking:
Till the sound spreads wide around, the Saxon's courage breaking:

Your foes on ev'ry side assailing, forward press with heart unfailing,
Till invaders learn with quailing, Welshmen never  yield.

Thou who noble Cambria wrongest know that freedom's cause is strongest
Freedom's courage lasts the longest, ending but with death!

Freedom countless hosts can scatter, freedom stoutest mail can shatter,
Freedom thickest walls can batter, fate is in her breath.

See they now are flying! Dead are heaped with dying!
Over might hath triumphed right, our land to foes denying:

Upon their soil we never sought them, love of conquest hither brought them,
But this lesson, we have taught them, "Welshmen never  yield."

Special words created for the film Zulu in 1964

Men of Harlech stop your dreaming
Can't you see their spear points gleaming
See their warrior's pennants streaming
To this battle field

Men of Harlech stand ye steady
It cannot be ever said ye
For the battle were not ready
Stand and never yield

From the hills rebounding
Let this war cry sounding
Summon all at Cambria's call
The mighty force surrounding

Men of Harlech onto glory
This shall ever be your story
Keep these fighting words before ye
Welshmen never yield

 

 

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