SAN ANTONIO — National Police Week is underway across the country paying tribute to law enforcement officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
Here at home, some of our very own San Antonio police officers are using their voices all year round to honor fellow fallen officers but also to find special ways to build a relationship with our community.
With 19 years on the force, Sgt. Kelly Bender is no stranger to responding to calls. But, this call to service has a different tune.
“They said they were going to start a police choir. And I thought, well, that's interesting,” Bender said. "That was it. I was hooked. "
"We're more than just what you see on an episode of Cops,” said Sgt. Brad Westmoreland.
They are cops who like to sing. Just ask Officer Nick Soliz.
"Guys come in and are like hey officer, you know this song? And I'm like yeah then we start busting it out,“ Officer Soliz said.
Belting it out inside SAPD headquarters, you’ll find the Blue Line Choir. A group made up of 13 sworn San Antonio Police officers led by the UIW Chairman of the Music Department, Professor William Gokelman who volunteers his time.
“Honestly, it was I thought about how could I give back? How could I serve? You know, the police officers serve every day, they're out there doing the work. And this was a way to just sort of give back is to say thank you.”
For Patrolman Steve Albart, it’s a life long passion. He grew up singing.
“I came out of college with a music education degree and then went right into policing after that,” Albart said. “This is my way of contributing back to the community and enjoying it.”
Officer Robert McDonald says he too grew up singing but enjoys the fellowship that is part of the police force.
"I enjoy the camaraderie and the fun that we have," Officer McDonald said.
"It's just a getaway,” For SAPD Detective Kristeena Rodriguez she enjoys the music and the break, “You know, for me, from the force, from being a mom."
And Officer Gloria Belcher agrees adding with laughter “It's a warm feeling. So I like all these nerds.”
The Blue Line Choir was started 10 years ago. Sgt. Brad Westmoreland says it all began with a conversation between Police Chief William McManus and another Sergeant.
“He was at a get together with our Chief McManus, and our chief leaned over to him and said, Hey, do we have a choir? And he said, no. And he said, build me one.”
Soon after Westmoreland said he was recruited by another founding member.
"My buddy Steve Abbott would say, hey, let's go do this, because he knew like we would go and sing karaoke together and so it was like the rest was history."
Abbott continued to find talented officers on the force including Rickeesia Moore.
She says he challenged her during the training academy.
"He said I bet you won't sing while you're getting tased,” Moore recalls. "Since it was a dare, I was like, well of course I will. While I was physically being tased and he was like, wow, that's great. By the way, we have a choir,” laughed Moore.
Sadly a few years ago, the team lost Abbott to cancer but they continue his legacy.
"Oh, people are amazed,” Moore said, “People don't expect a whole crowd of police to come into a space and then to stand there and start singing. That's not what they're expecting when they see a big crowd of police officers,”
They perform at memorials, Spurs games and even sing Christmas carols at childrens’ hospitals.
On their off-duty hours, they get together and rehearse twice a month in the evenings. The group says it’s a big commitment. They’re usually booked for the entire month of December performing at different public events.
“Just to be able to kind of just bring music to children who are unable to exit the building for whatever reason, we kind of bring the music to them. And so it's just a really neat experience.” Albart said.
Leaning on their talents and using the voice behind the uniform to build a relationship with the community.
"I think it just shows a different side of police officers,” Sgt. Bender said. “You know, we're not out there just arresting everybody like we are humans, too. We have individual unique gifts and talents that we bring to work."