Going on high-speed chases and nabbing criminals are things of the past for Denton police Lt. Tom Woods. After 35 years of service to the community, he is retiring.
When Woods moved to Texas from his home in New York in the 1970s, becoming a police officer wasn’t even on his radar, even though he’d grown up with family members on the New York City police force.
“I was a pool builder,” Woods said Friday afternoon in his near-empty office. “With the urging of my uncle who lived in Oklahoma, I came down to check out property here. We were going to build houses with swimming pools together.”
He thought about becoming an officer during the night to have some income coming in while he worked on pools during the day. It didn’t work out, Woods said.
“The economy tanked, my aunt died and my uncle didn’t want to continue our business,” he said.
After missing his chance to sign up for Plano’s police force, he tried Denton, and the rest, he said, is history.
Woods graduated from the North Central Texas Regional Police Academy in 1979 and went straight to work as a patrolman before moving up the ranks. He was promoted to sergeant in 1986 and then to lieutenant in 1996, where he finished his career working as commander of the Special Operations Division.
One of his memories from his days as a patrol officer was when he caught an armed suspect after a daytime robbery at the Denton Center shopping area — a “big adrenaline rush,” he recalled.
Woods said a man with a gun began robbing a clothing store on University Drive, not realizing a second employee was in the back of the store watching everything that was going on while talking to the police.
“I was at a traffic stop by Grandy’s, heard the call on the radio, and told the person I stopped that today was their lucky day,” he said. “I left and quickly went across the street to the area where the robbery had just occurred.”
Woods jumped from behind the suspect, pointed his gun to his back and shouted, “Don’t move.”
Woods said he tackled the man in the parking lot and it soon started “raining cops.”
“They came out from everywhere,” he said. “We got him because everyone heard that call on the radio.”
A self-described adrenaline junkie, Woods said he was always tied to bikes — especially those with motors.
“It’s funny looking back because that’s all I was about when I was younger. … I would pass a cyclist on the street and I think to myself, ‘Put a motor on it,’” he said with a laugh.
In fact, Woods became widely known as an advocate for bicyclists and for helping train hundreds, if not thousands, of police officers around the world about bicycle patrols. He even helped create the bike-to-work program for the city of Denton in the 1990s.
“I tried as recently as the benefit fair a few months back to get the program off the ground again, but there really wasn’t much interest,” Woods said. “Hopefully that will pick up again at some point.”
His career highlights include being a founding member and past president of the International Police Mountain Bike Association and working with Project Harmony, an organization that provides support to victims of abuse and neglect.
Working alongside these groups, he said, provided him an incredible opportunity, including setting up bike patrols in other countries.
“One of my most rewarding and self-fulfilling experiences was going to Kigali, Rwanda, after the genocide,” Woods said. “Walking through the war-torn country was heart-wrenching.”
During his August 1997 stay working with the U.S. State Department’s Rwandan bicycle patrol project, he said squatters had taken over people’s homes and infection was rampant.
“The malaria was so bad we had to be drenched in DEET our entire stay,” Woods said. “While going in, we were told we had the cream of the crop to create a new police force; what we got was a bunch of scared men and one woman.”
Many older Rwandan men had died in the war, so Woods said all 100 participants were in their late teens and early 20s.
“Nobody wanted to be there, and you could tell they wanted to know how they could be safe just riding around on a bike when they were used to seeing large trucks with bazookas as the police force,” he said.
Despite the problems, the mission was completed, he said.
“It’s something that makes you feel good to be a part of,” Woods said.
He remembers as a patrol officer helping capture a serial rapist, and being engaged in a high-speed chase that led officers all the way to Oklahoma before his partner shot out two tires on a Corvette.
He also credits other officers throughout his career for the work he’s been able to accomplish.
“It takes a team and I have worked with some amazing officers over the years,” Woods said. “Some have since left but others remain on, and I have confidence bicycling instruction will continue as a part of the department.”
Retirement will free up his time to travel with his wife, he said.
“We are baseball and classic rock music fans,” Woods said. “Not having to go into work will give us the opportunity to spend time enjoying things we love as a couple … maybe even attending Texas Rangers spring training in 2015.”
As he leaned in his office chair one last time, he reminisced about days gone by and his move down south so many years ago.
“Who would’ve thunk it?” Woods said with a smile. “Little ol’ Denton, Texas.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.