Police chief takes young girl battling cancer under his wing. Changes her life, then lays her to rest.
Posted by James E. Lewis | Dec 17, 2019
The words overwhelm, overwhelmed, or overwhelming are usually used in a bad context. But in this case, when talking to this police chief, his police officers, and visiting his police station, I can’t help but be overwhelmed with a sense of overwhelming good.
Freeport Texas Police Chief Raymond Garivey, Jr. oversees the police operations in Freeport, one of the southernmost towns in Brazoria County, 50 miles or so south of Houston. Freeport is known for two things, mainly – being the original location and headquarters for Dow Chemical, and being really close to Surfside Beach. Now, Freeport has two more notable mentions – Chief Garivey and Officer Abigail. More on Abigail in a minute.
Freeport Texas Police Chief Raymond Garivey, Jr. and Abigail.
In speaking with the chief, his officers, community members, and a nice lady who owns a wildlife ranch in Sweeny, Texas, it is obvious that the chief is forging relationships through old-fashioned police work, faith in God, and a love for his community.
There are 52 total employees with the Freeport Police Department and 33 sworn officers serving a town of 12,195 residents – nearby Surfside and Jones Creek spills over the Freeport city limits, and there’s a constant ebb and flow of traffic through the town, be it tourists headed to the beach or Dow employees going to and from work.
Freeport has changed significantly in the past few years. I was raised mostly in nearby Lake Jackson and graduated high school from West Columbia, about 15 miles from Freeport. It was well known back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s that not much good came out of Freeport, and that wasn’t where well-intentioned people went to hang out. I was just there the first weekend of this month and was amazed at how the city looked – clean, respectable, and well-kept – like a community that had a renaissance. A renaissance A renaissance in the true measure, and most are saying that Chief Garivey is to “blame” for the improvement.
Chief Garivey was born and raised in Richmond, Texas and began his law enforcement career as a Harris County (Houston) Constable in 1991. He moved to the Pasadena Police Department where he served just over 15 years, being promoted to detective, and joined Freeport PD as a lieutenant in 2011. He was promoted to captain in late 2014, and appointed Chief of Police in September 2017.
I conducted a lengthy interview with him and have rarely encountered a more humble leader. Everything he does and everything he says is based on God, duty, and community. He has established and improved upon school programs, outreach to the elderly, and community policing efforts – like a recent occasion where a local donut shop dropped off extra kolaches and donuts at the department and he knew just what to do with them. He took them to the local Valero station where many kids hang out after school and passed out the treats.
He just hosted a “Pancakes with Santa” last weekend for the community.
When he became chief, he asked his officers to observe and interact – if they saw some kids scrounging up change to buy a coke and a bag of chips to share, he’d have his officers buy the group cokes and chips all around, and submit the receipt for reimbursement. It only took a few weeks until his officers stopped asking for reimbursements and began acting on their own.
I asked him about Freeport’s previously well-known drug and homeless problems – he explained that he can reach out to the adults through the children. Influence the children and gain their trust, learning from good examples set by his officers and they’ll also come to an officer when there’s a problem. The kids also talk to the adults and influence them – the department can reach troubled adults through their sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews.
Chief Garivey was thrust into the national spotlight, quite reluctantly, I’m sure, when he befriended Abigail Arias. He explained that he is still in awe of the power and influence that little girl had on the city, county, state, and nation – and most especially the police community. Abigail was diagnosed with cancer, and she was just 7 years old when he met her – he didn’t realize that making her an honorary Freeport police officer would change her life, but in a much more drastic way, change his life and the lives of the police community members.
She was sworn in as an officer in February 2019 – Officer #758. He became her “tour guide,” so to speak, accompanying her on television appearances, to a Houston Astros World Series game where she met Jose Altuve (see photos), and quite a few other notable events.
I noted that llamas were a common theme at the department and in the chief’s office (see photos), so I asked around and was put in contact with Star S Stables owners Pam and Bob Scantlin in Sweeny, Texas. Someone had given Abigail a stuffed llama and she and her new friend were inseparable. The chief and Abigail had a friendly ongoing argument with the chief saying that real police officers don’t play with llamas. She playfully argued the point. On one television appearance, the chief issued a challenge to Abigail involving a survey by the TV station – if he got an overwhelming number of votes saying that cops could play with llamas, he’d kiss a real llama on the lips. The response was immense, and now he needed a real llama.
Pam and Bob Scantlin met with the chief and arranged to have one of their llamas brought to Freeport for the magical kiss – Abigail loved the llama and wanted one for her very own, but living in downtown Freeport without and enclosed yard, and not knowing much about llamas, Abigail’s parents didn’t think it could happen.
The Scantlins pitched in with a few others, and travelled to Seguin, Texas – and brought a llama back with them. They’ve kept him at their ranch in Sweeny, and she visited continually, and his name is Cookie Monster, since he likes cookie treats. He’ll stay with the Scantlins from now on.
Abigail’s Reach is a foundation started by her parents, with the help of the chief, and assists the families of other children battling cancer.
We lost Abigail Arias on November 5, 2019 – there were more than 700 police officers involved in her funeral procession and service. A huge effort was made to have police officers and community members get “Abigail #758” tattoos in honor of her, and many tattoo shops donated proceeds to her charity foundation.
A Tribute to Officer Abigail
I can tell that her death crushed the chief, but his attitude and spirit haven’t waivered – his mission each day is to help many other children in the community in around the state with a big heart and great intentions.
Abigail wasn’t the first child the chief impacted – shortly after his involvement with Abigail started making the rounds on Houston news channels, he got a call from the mother of a girl named Kay Kay. 10 years before, while serving in Pasadena, he found out this girl was a classmate of his daughter’s and was dealing with cancer. He worked with the community to raise money and collect Christmas gifts for Kay Kay. The mother’s recent call thanked him again and reminded him that he’s still handing out blessings.
America’s youngest “police officer” passes away after a long battle with cancer
As I visited the Freeport PD office, one of the first things I noticed was the giant pink and blue llama out front, mixed in with Christmas decorations. I was given a tour by Sergeant Chris Bryant – an outstanding example of professionalism and bearing – I saw pride in the man, and you could tell he was part of something incredible. Sgt Bryant showed me the chief’s office – I’ve certainly never seen one like it. Most police chiefs have a few awards or a commemorative sword or plaque, but not Raymond Garivey. There was memorabilia from his journey with Officer Abigail, but also things from other lives he’s touched. I was surprised to see two fluffy chairs in front of his desk – they’re turquoise and have llamas all over them.
Can you imagine being called to the chief’s office for a reprimand for some misconduct and you sit in a turquoise soft comfy chair upholstered with llamas on it? Just asking. I’m not saying we wouldn’t all take it seriously, but things can’t be all bad if you’re sitting in a llama chair.
A chair covered in llama’s – Abigail’s favorite animal – sits in Garivey’s office.
The chief has implemented several plans for community interaction – joining national programs like McGruff, the Crime Dog, Blue Santa, and the National Night Out. Chief Garivey told me that when they first started the National Night Out, they had about 40 people show up. Now, the number is closer to 400.
I asked him about his future plans for Freeport, and once again, I got focused humility from him – he said he’ll just center on children, talk to people, and treat everyone with respect. He said it really takes nothing special – “just be good cops and build community trust and support – we have a bridge to and through the community.”
I think he’s built something a lot more special than he’s taking credit for – like I said, everything he said revolves around his people –
“Be humble, work for God, help to mentor, save people, instill hope. We have been sworn in to help others – be role models. Be willing to give your life for strangers. Make them friends.”