Santos Torres does not live anywhere near Garden Oaks, but he’s become an integral part of the community during the last two years. He patrols the neighborhood’s streets for the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, which has a contract with the community to provide an extra law enforcement presence.
Torres’ presence, even though he wears a badge and carries a gun, often is affable in nature. He likes to wave at residents and chat them up, which is an integral part of community policing.
“He likes to visit. He likes to interact. He’s very good at interfacing with the community,” said longtime Garden Oaks resident Terry Jeanes, who coordinates the neighborhood’s contract constable program. “That’s a good thing, because they feel comfortable with him there.”
Lately, though, Torres’ job has been more uncomfortable than usual. Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen has provided his force with hospital-grade N95 masks they wear when interacting with members of the community, which is a safety precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Torres, 52, who was promoted from deputy to corporal about two years ago, also wears gloves during his shift and frequently wipes down the inside of his patrol vehicle. He’s required to practice social distancing, too, which means staying at least 6 feet away from others in most cases.
“The personal touch is no longer there. No longer can you greet somebody with a handshake,” Torres said. “I have to talk with a raised voice. It’s like I’m screaming at people.”
Torres said he has encountered community members who are infected with COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. As of Wednesday morning it had infected at least 5,100 people in Houston and Harris County, leading to 79 deaths.
Torres is especially careful not to bring COVID-19 to his home in Pearland, where there are two other law enforcement officers and an expectant mother. His two live-in sons, Santos Torres III and Isaac Torres, both work for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and one has a pregnant wife.
They all leave their boots in the garage when they get home, the elder Torres said, and they wash their uniforms on a near-daily basis. They all use white towels, which can be bleached without affecting the color, and Torres said they often use disinfecting wipes to make sure the home is clean.
“I try to set a good example for them,” said Torres, whose son-in-law, Roland Rodriguez, also works for the sheriff’s office.
Torres tries to be a role model outside his home as well. He has a military background, having served in both the U.S Army and U.S. Coast Guard, so the ideas of duty and responsibility were installed in him as a young man.
Striving to make a positive impact on the community he serves is what motivates Torres, he said, and he’s always preferred being in the thick of the action as opposed to on the sidelines.
“You signed on to this. You knew there was going to be a certain danger going into it,” he said. “I try to preach that to my sons. There’s a duty. When the tough comes, the tough get going. You’ve got to answer the bell.”
Amidst a pandemic, Torres said he pays more attention than ever to his surroundings in terms of who he interacts with and what he touches. He already had become in tune with the Garden Oaks neighborhood and its residents, having learned to recognize when people are home, when they’re on vacation and what their vehicles look like.
Jeanes said Torres integrated himself early on in his tenure in the neighborhood, working with Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet to help improve traffic flow before and after school. He’s still helping the neighborhood, keeping an eye out for crime and trying to keep the community safe from COVID-19.
“He’s a good guy,” Jeanes said. “He’s very responsive.”