'Forged in El Paso': Police Chief Greg Allen remembered for dedication to city
El Paso police Chief Greg Allen was remembered as a leader with a "clear moral compass" who was fiercely dedicated to protecting his hometown at a memorial ceremony at the Downtown convention center.
Allen was El Paso's first Black police chief and the city's longest serving chief, being at the helm for nearly 15 when he died unexpectedly on Jan. 17. He was 71.
The tribute Thursday evening was attended by what city staff estimated was 1,500 people, including scores of current and retired law enforcement officers from throughout the area and a who's who of current and past local political and civic leaders.
"The foundation of the walls of El Paso Police Department shook upon news of his death," El Paso police Sgt. Victor Vela, acting president of the El Paso Municipal Police Officers' Association, said during the tribute ceremony.
Allen's funeral Mass and burial are planned for Friday.
Allen was a chief “forged on the streets of El Paso,” who whether mentoring or scolding officers helped build a solid foundation for the Police Department, Vela said. There is a responsibility to continue teaching new generations of officers, Vela added.
“Chief Allen loved this phrase, ‘A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle,’” Vela said.
More:El Paso police Chief Greg Allen has died. Here's how city leaders reacted to his death.
The event began when more than two dozen police motorcycles with red-and-blue flashing lights escorted a hearse carrying the chief's casket to the Judson F. Williams Convention Center from Sunset Funeral Home-Americas on North Loop Drive in the Lower Valley.
A police honor guard with bagpipers escorted the flag-draped coffin into the convention center walking between lines of saluting police officers.
The casket was followed by mourners led by the chief's widow, Rosanne, her right hand on the arm of her brother, retired police Cmdr. Patrick Pelletier, and her left clutching the white-gloved hand of a female honor guard member.
Allen was a husband, a father and a grandfather to eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, his obituary stated. He also loved animals — he had two dogs, Willis and Angel, and 11 turtles — and one of his proudest achievements was creating the Animal Cruelty Investigation Unit in 2017 to ensure someone was fighting for animals who could not speak for themselves, his obituary and speakers at the ceremony said.
Honors and memories
Belen Robles, longtime El Paso community leader and former national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, attended the memorial to pay her respects to Allen, whom she described as "a man of integrity" dedicated to service to others.
Those in attendance included: Jaime Esparza, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas and former El Paso district attorney, current El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks, current and former members of City Council and numerous retired and current police officers, sheriff's deputies and federal agents.
The bagpipers of Bel Air High School, where Allen graduated in 1969, took part in the commemoration.
A carenza, a martial arts dance with a sword in honor of a fallen warrior, and a bow-out ceremony recognized Allen's accomplishments as a teacher and respected martial artist of nearly 60 years.
The city's iconic Star on the Mountain on Thursday and Friday was lighted in memory of the chief "in celebration and remembrance of his life's service of the El Paso community. Though his watch is ended, his impact will remain forever," the Office of the Mayor and El Paso Chamber said in a statement.
One of the convention center rooms was set aside where the public could leave handwritten messages. Many of the messages thanked Allen for his service.
'A Policeman's Prayer'
Funeral memorial cards with Allen's photo on the back featured "A Policeman's Prayer."
"When I start my tour of duty God, wherever crime may be, as I walk the darkened streets alone, let me be close to thee," the prayer begins.
El Paso County Commissioner and former El Paso Police Chief Carlos Leon knew Allen for decades. Leon joined the police force in 1974, four years before Allen joined in 1978. When Leon retired as chief, he was replaced by Richard Wiles (now El Paso County sheriff), who was then replaced by Allen.
"He didn’t get to get one day of enjoyment of his retirement, that just goes to point the dedication he had to his job, to his community," Leon said after the ceremony. "I don’t think I ever saw him one day out of uniform. He was always in uniform and that speaks volumes of how proud he was of the uniform, which represents the Police Department."
As police chief, Allen often shunned the spotlight. In a bit of irony, his funeral — live streamed online by the city— was one of the largest in recent El Paso memory.
Allen wasn’t one of those police chiefs who went to the scene of major crimes to speak to news reporters. He rarely granted interviews and his attendance at press conferences became uncommon in recent years.
Chief Allen knew the importance of communicating with the news media and the public. Still, he didn’t seek attention and felt the focus should be on the work of officers, detectives and investigators, Sgt. Robert Gomez, a police public information officer, said.
"Nothing about his personality or leadership style was about him," Gomez said. "It was always about the officers that he, as he put it, he worked for them."
Plain talk, conviction
El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez told the audience that when he first met Allen in 2014 that he was "impressed by his plain talk and his direct approach." The chief "was not bashful" about his focus to improve the Police Department and increase staffing, he said.
“From that first meeting to today, I’ve been inspired by this man. A man of conviction who despite changing social trend and view remained consistent in who he was, steadfastly committed, exemplifying a life of service to our community, that was our beloved chief," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez added, "Greg was truly a good man. I told him that once. I wish I had told him that more often."
"Greg saw very clearly the difference between right and wrong," Gonzalez said. "He was not afraid to say it out loud or to disagree to those who wandered into the gray area of life. He was a staunch defender of the law and cutting corners was just not in his DNA. ... We’ve lost an incredible leader. He fearlessly spoke when injustice occurred regardless whether that stance was popular or politically correct."
"Greg used to always say 'bye for now' when we would talk face to face or on the phone. I always thought about that. I even asked myself, 'You should ask, Why do you say that?' But I never did. But today I know what he meant because we will see him again," Gonzalez said, his voice cracking with emotion.
"To Greg, our friend, our brother to many, a husband (to) Rosanne, a mentor and leader in our community. Bye for now."
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: El Paso police Chief Greg Allen honored at Downtown memorial