Ed Drain | Provided by the City of Plano

The distance between the Amarillo Police Department and Plano’s is approximately 361 miles. When it rains in Amarillo, as it did on the morning of Friday, January 17, dark clouds descend over the typically coarse and sandy West Texas terrain, and the journey to Plano takes over six hours. Such was the path Ed Drain and his wife traveled that Friday morning. 

Drain, Plano’s new police chief, was scheduled to appear before the media. It was to be a chaotic day, a series of successive 10-minute interviews during which he would be asked, “How does it feel to be home?” approximately every 10 minutes. Not that Drain is unaccustomed to days like these. In addition to an impressive military career, he has over a quarter century of law enforcement experience, and much of that time has been spent in the upper echelons of the Plano and Amarillo police hierarchies. Days like this were easy. 

Still, the gloomy Friday weather offered a portend of the calamitous day ahead. His flight to Dallas was cancelled, so Drain and his wife rose even earlier than expected to make the drive to Plano. 

As he strained to see ahead on a fog-shrouded Route 287, Drain thought about the day ahead and the many days in his rear view. Weather aside, the typically stoic Chief remained optimistic. 

Ed Drain was coming home. 

_____________________

The new chief started his career in law enforcement in 1994. He was a military man on active duty in San Antonio, and had heard very little about the Dallas suburb called Plano. At first, the 33-year old veteran applied for the academy out of pure necessity. 

“I wanted a job,” he says. “A lot of guys I knew were going into law enforcement, and it seemed like something I might like.” 

Drain’s recollection of his time in the police academy diverges slightly from the picture his peers paint. The lawman likes to be humble; his fellow law enforcers are more apt to praise him. Bruce Glasscock, who was chief in 1994, remembers a fresh recruit who quickly distinguished himself. “It was always clear Ed was a sharp, bright, up-and-coming officer,” he says. “He’s the kind of individual who became known quite well as a leader.”

Drain was president of his academy class, and earned the class’ top physical fitness score. Any reservations he had about law enforcement quickly evaporated. 

“I can’t lie; I questioned my choice to join early on,” he says. “Sometimes you think, ‘Do I want to go into law enforcement?’ Because it’s not a job; it’s a profession, a career. So I questioned it. But once I completed my training, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do.”

Drain entered the force as a deep night patrol officer at a time when the department was under-resourced and the city was overwhelmed. According to Glasscock, Plano police lacked in numbers and were poorly equipped in key areas like technology and communications. A citywide drug crisis only exacerbated these issues. 

Beneath a veneer of affluence and idyllic suburbia, Plano was being ravaged by heroin abuse. 

Drain’s police tenure began as the city was seeing the first signs of what would later be deemed an “epidemic.” He still remembers the sobbing mothers, the lives left in shambles, and the community meetings where parents huddled into school gyms and rec centers, all of them worried, all of them scared. Most of all, he remembers the confusion. The drug of choice was black tar heroin, a mix of heroin and a sleeping aid. 

“Kids would start smoking it, and some didn’t realize it was heroin until they needed more of it,” Drain says. “Then they turned to the needle.” 

In early 1996, two Plano residents in their early 20s—21-year old Jeff Potter and 22-year old Matt Shaunfield—died of heroin overdoses within three weeks of one another. Soon after, 14-year old Victor Garcia was found in a church parking lot, dead from an overdose. As this magazine reported in a 2017 retrospective, “Hospitals all over the area began to see spikes in patients coming in on the brink of death from heroin; more often than not their friends dumped them on the steps of the ER and drove off to go use again.” 

Greg Rushin, then Plano’s Assistant Police Chief, remembers a sense of fear threatening to incapacitate the city. “It was scary, because we had never faced anything like this before,” he says. “We knew we had to do something.” 

By then, Drain was a few years into his tenure as a Plano policeman, and was serving on the force’s SWAT and narcotics units. “Our team would make deals with drug dealers, then storm into the house to make an arrest,” he says, describing blood-pumping assignments with the same calm others have when they recall their breakfast. While Drain was the boots on the ground, Rushin, Glasscock, and the District Attorney’s office formulated a strategy. 

Texas state law does not allow the district attorney to file charges against the drug dealer who supplies the fatal dose. But federal law does. In tandem with federal investigators, Plano police targeted the area’s major dealers, tied them to a death, then arrested them on drug dealing charges that could have landed them life in prison. This strategy had an influence on Drain, who was steadily rising through the department’s ranks. From 1994 to 2006, he advanced from officer to sergeant to lieutenant. 

When Glasscock retired and Rushin took on the mantle of chief, Drain was appointed the new assistant chief. Rushin says the decision was a no-brainer. “You want someone at the top who can be the face of the organization,” he says. “And that’s Ed. 

Drain’s 22-year tenure with the Plano police force gave him a front row seat to massive changes within the city and the department. When he joined the force, he was one of 150 officers. By the time he left, in 2016, nearly 700 officers called Plano home. The communication and technology problems Glasscock encountered in the mid-90s became a thing of the past, with the force adapting body cameras and leveraging social media to aid investigations and conduct community outreach. Drain also served a vital role supporting Rushin in all of the city’s major cases, including the kidnapping and murder of Christina Morris, who disappeared from the Shops at Legacy in 2015. 

“It’s not like on television,” Rushin is quick to say about investigations. “You don’t solve the case before the commercial. You have to deal with the media, keep confidential information confidential, and do the right things methodically to bring the right person to justice.”

During his time as chief, Rushin kept a newspaper clipping framed on his wall. It was from an interview with Glasscock, in which the then-departing chief was asked if he had any advice for his predecessor: “You have a lot of voices in the community, and you have to listen to those voices. Take what they say, and put it into policy.”

Rushin tried to live by these words, and he knows Drain did, too, during his time as assistant chief.

“In the 10 years he was my right hand, he became very popular in the city of Plano,” Rushin says. “And I depended on him. When you talk to Ed and he gives you a thumbs up, you know you’re on the right path. Everybody needs that. You need the upper command staff to be available to you.”  

That is a key reason why, in 2016, a city in need of a fresh perspective at the top of the police force contacted Drain. 

Provided by the City of Plano

According to Sergeant Carla Burr of the Amarillo Police Department, there are two things police officers don’t like. “We don’t like change,” she says, “and we don’t like things to stay the same.”

Ed Drain encountered this mindset early on his tenure as Amarillo’s new police chief. He joined the department as its first outside hire for chief in over three decades, and longtime Amarillo officers felt ostracized. “Some people retired, or found other jobs,” says Burr, who served directly under Drain for two years. “That happens any time a new chief starts, and I don’t think it bothered the Chief. He wanted people who were going to be comfortable with changes.”

The changes started small. Amarillo is accustomed to multiple triple-digit days in the summer, and officers who wore bulletproof vests under their uniforms often found themselves burning up by 9:00 a.m. Drain added the outer shell to the uniform repertoire, giving officers the option to discard a vest with ease. He also added a suspender system. Many Amarillo officers are military veterans like Drain, and they join the department with pre-existing back conditions. Some duty belts weigh over 25 pounds, so a suspender takes significant weight off of your hips. 

“These things seem small, but they make a difference,” Burr says. “The Chief wanted to make sure we took care of the guys that have boots on the ground. He was always trying to see how he could help them.” 

That meant listening to officers, too. He added quarterly employee relations check-ins, giving someone from each area of the police department a chance to talk directly to the chief. Drain also added promotion ceremonies to the monthly schedule.

Before Drain arrived, Amarillo officers seeking a promotion would study for six months, take a test, and if they passed, the chief would hand you a badge and say, “go back to work.”

Drain changed that, inviting families into the fold and celebrating an officer’s new role with a mini-ceremony. 

Not all changes were small. The situation Drain entered was not unlike the one Glassock encountered when he took over as Plano police chief in 1990. Amarillo, a city of 200,000 residents and 100 square miles, was woefully behind the times.

“We’re kind of an island,” Burr says. “We’re the largest department north of Lubbock. Down in Dallas, everyone can learn from each other. We didn’t have partners to collaborate with. Chief Drain brought in things from outside that we just didn’t know about.” 

Drain mandated the use of social media, which Amarillo PD was not utilizing before 2016. He also added body cams to officer’s uniforms, and prioritized faster response times. Amarillo employs a “beat” system, wherein a group of officers is assigned to part of town, then that part is subdivided into “beats” for one or two officers to patrol. This led to response times that were, in Burr’s words, “not good.” 

“Sometimes people would stick to those beats for non-priority calls, and not get to the call ‘til over an hour after it came in,” she says. “The Chief came in and said, ‘This is unacceptable.’” 

Drain mandated 12 minutes for a non-priority call (calls not considered emergencies or life-threatening) and 8 minutes for a priority call. He also implemented an online reporting system, allowing citizens to report non-priority calls via the Amarillo PD website. Next, Drain and leadership focused their sights on Amarillo’s drunk driving arrests and fatalities. To curb the city’s high number of DWI-related deaths, Drain teamed up with judges and launched a no-refusal policy. If citizens refuse a breathalyzer, officers with probable cause can write a warrant for a blood test, rustle a judge out of bed, and ask the judge to sign off on the blood test. DWI arrest numbers have only risen since this policy was implemented, but DWI-related fatalities are starting to drop.

Alcohol, morale, and response times pale in comparison to the greatest challenge Drain faced as Amarillo’s top cop: meth. 

In 2016, the San Francisco-based healthcare navigation company Castlight issued a report on the United States’ opioid epidemic. Four Texas cities ranked in the top 25 cities across the U.S. for opioid abuse. Amarillo made the list, with meth mentioned as the drug of choice.

The city’s brass has known about the meth problem for a while. Despite a ban on over-the-counter cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in meth, the problem has persisted. Smugglers from Mexico use the highways leading into Amarillo to transport a pure form of meth known as “glass” or “ice,” and when Amarillo residents get hooked, they turn to burglary to fund the habit.

In 2017, Drain told the Amarillo Globe-News that meth use was “out of control.” Around that time, the police department estimated that approximately 80 percent of burglaries were meth-related. 

“Our auto and home burglary numbers are high,” Burr acknowledges. “The meth heads are the ones doing that.”

The department started using its newly popular social media accounts to pump out stats about burglaries that included advice on how to properly secure cars and homes. Yet Drain was not content to simply inform and advise. Taking a cue from the Plano playbook, Amarillo PD teamed with federal investigators to pursue charges against meth sales that led to deaths. 

“That strategy was not being utilized here, but I spoke to the DA to get it in the works,” he says. “It takes a joint investigation between homicide guys and narcotics guys, and if you do it right, you can get the most dangerous people involved off the streets.” 

Drain says there are a few federal cases pending, and does not hide from the fact that meth remains a massive problem in the Panhandle, especially in Amarillo. But true to form, he is optimistic about the progress being made. 

“I believe you have to bring criminal charges against the person responsible for selling those drugs,” he says. “That’s the strategy, and it takes a federal effort. It takes time.”

The Chief also tackled a seeming distrust between Amarillo residents and the police, which was much stronger than anything he encountered in Plano. Both cities are home to sizable immigrant populations, but the challenges immigrants face in Plano differ from the challenges faced by immigrants in Amarillo.

“Certainly not all, but many of the immigrants from Plano did not come as refugees,” Drain says. “They came because they got great jobs, and that’s a different dynamic than coming here because you’re escaping.” 

He believes it is law enforcement’s responsibility to build bridges with those who feel marginalized. 

“Amarillo is segregated, and has a language barrier,” he says. “So we stationed officers in those areas, officers who could talk to people, understand what they are saying and what they are going through.”

In summer 2016, as Drain was moving from Plano to Amarillo, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile became household names and symbols of deadly police violence. Footage of young men of color being choked or shot by police seemed like a monthly—if not weekly—occurrence. Drain has never had to sanction policemen involved in a fatal shooting, nor has he had to answer to citizens in the aftermath of such an incident. But he has had to deal with a community’s ire.  

“When I arrived in Amarillo, there was a little distrust between the community and the police because of something that happened before I became Chief,” he says. “Many in the faith-based community were upset. We met with them and started building those contacts.” He is cryptic about the exact incident to which he is referring, but says it involves the arrest of a young black man in a predominantly black neighborhood. Witnesses to the arrest, he says, thought it was “inappropriate.”

Burr acknowledges that there have been “several” incidents since 2015 after which Amarillo PD has come under fire. None have involved fatal shootings, but some incidents—including the 2016 suicide of an African American man cornered by police—have incited widespread anger and distrust among Amarillo’s communities of color. Thus far, no incidents have gained attention beyond Texas. Yet Drain takes no pride in Amarillo’s lack of viral incidents. 

Provided by the City of Plano

“The time to try to work through a crisis is not when the video comes out,” he says. “You have to already have connections in the community. If you don’t have those connections, then you’re backtracking. If people know you, they call you.” 

Weeks into his post as chief of Amarillo PD, Drain started handing out his cell phone number to the city’s community leaders. 

“Call me anytime,” he told them. 

Glassock, Drain’s former boss’ boss, was one of a handful of folks who got a phone call from a consulting company in 2016. The company had been contracted by Amarillo to help the city find a new chief. He recommended Drain, who received rave reviews from the hiring team. 

“The city manager texted me right after the interview,” Glasscock recalls. “They were impressed.” 

The former chief always harbored hopes the former fresh-eyed recruit would return to Plano. “I thought he would go out there for three to five years, and hopefully get back to the metro area,” Glasscock says. 

By 2019, a vacancy opened at the top of Plano PD. A national search got underway, and at first, Drain’s name was not on the list. After a first round of interviews, no candidate was selected. 

“I think the entire process led us back to Ed,” recalls Rushin, then the departing chief. “Everyone talked about bringing him in, and he was seen as the heir apparent. The truth is, we didn’t know if he’d be interested.”

He was. When Rushin and the hiring team reached out, Drain formally applied, interviewed and got the job. Even though he had only been in Amarillo for three years, the allure of a return to Plano was too strong to resist. 

“We would’ve loved for the Chief to stick around longer,” says Burr, who calls Drain “very popular” in Amarillo. “We get it, though. Plano is kind of his home.”

Drain accepted the job, and was formally announced as the Chief in early 2020. Then it was time to meet the press.

The plan was simple enough: Get up early, fly from Amarillo to Dallas, drive to Plano, then catch an evening flight back to Amarillo to finish out his last few weeks in the Panhandle. The winter weather had other plans, as lightning, thunder, and hail descended on the plains of Texas. The storm was hitting Plano, too, so the Drain family vehicle was barraged by rain all the way from Amarillo. When Drain stepped out of the car and into the courthouse, the rain showed no signs of letting up. 

The seasoned police vet can be gruff, and uses few words to get his points across. Yet even as he was peppered with a barrage of similar questions over and over, the Chief smiled.

“It’s an honor to be back,” he said. “It’s humbling, really.” 

A popular topic was his status as Plano’s first black police chief, which the Chief was quick to downplay. “I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a deal,” he told CBS’ DFW affiliate. “I think what this community is going to care about is are we addressing crime problems? Are we addressing traffic safety issues?”

As for his plans for Plano? Partner with the community, listen to citizens and keep up the status quo. 

“The work they’ve done here in recent years is terrific,” he says. “I want to build on that, and keep listening to what people have to say.”

Originally published in the April 2020 issue under the title “Ed Drain is Home.”

Tyler Hicks

Tyler Hicks is a freelance writer based in Dallas. He has written for The Dallas Morning News, American Way, the Dallas Observer and several other publications.

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