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'I would do it all again' | HPD's 'Mama Bear' hanging up her badge after nearly four decades on the force

Commander Tinsley Guinn-Shaver has seen it all during her 40-year career: From being stabbed, beaten and robbed to becoming "Mama Bear" to fellow officers.

HOUSTON — As she signed on the line, Tinsley Guinn-Shaver still couldn’t believe she agreed to retire from the Houston Police Department. 

The 60-year old Houston native sat in her corner office on the 7th floor of HPD's downtown headquarter as a representative with human resources walked her through the paperwork that makes retirement official. 

“It’s my commitment to retire,” said the HPD Commander as she held up a single sheet of white paper. “The tough one. This is the tough one”

The end of an era with the single flick of a ballpoint pen.

“I’ve been dreading this moment,” said Guinn-Shaver as she answered the prompts on paper. “I really have.”

The early years

Guinn-Shaver recalls walking into the Houston Police Department on April 26, 1980. She worked as a dispatcher while still in high school. At the suggestion of her father, she recalls asking her supervisor if she could come in early and stay late. In that moment she established the work ethic she would practice for the next four decades.

In December 1982, Guinn-Shaver was among the six female cadets to graduate from Houston Police Academy class 110. Women in law enforcement were so new, all six female cadets were positioned in the first row of the class photo.

“When I first got on, that many opportunities weren’t really around for women to move,” or get promoted. 

Credit: Commander Tinsley Guinn-Shaver
Commander Tinsley Guinn-Shaver, right, with then-Houston Police Chief Elizabeth Watson

Stabbed in the back, slashed across her throat 

Guinn-Shaver worked in the city’s jail. She later patrolled Houston on the night shift. She was stabbed and slashed in the back while responding to an assault in an apartment complex parking lot before she was 25 years old. It’s an injury that could have been prevented if the officer was wearing a ballistic vest. But they were not readily available to female officers at the time.

While working undercover for narcotics, the Houston police officer was slashed across her throat and robbed.

'Please don't make me do it'

She first fired her weapon in the line-of-duty during a 1990 traffic stop involving a prison escapee. 

“That’s when everything changed,” said Guinn-Shaver who still remembers the experience that police tend to call "critical events."

“It was a white male. 45 years old. I remember.” 

She's never forgotten the head-butt to her face. The foot pursuit. Him grabbing hold of her flashlight. 

“He swung it. He swung it like a baseball bat,” that cracked open her head. Shattered her teeth.

“I’m saying, 'Please.' I pull my gun. I said, 'Please don’t make me do it. Please don’t make me do it. Please don’t make me do it,'” Guinn-Shaver said before pausing to take a breath. “And he wouldn’t. And I pushed my gun out. And I fired one time. And he fell.”

Credit: Tinsley Guinn-Shaver

She became one of the first female officers in the country involved in a deadly shooting, according to Harvard University. The Ivy League College contacted Guinn-Shaver after the deadly shooting and asked to document her story so professors could create curriculum around women in law enforcement. 

Moving up the ladder

Her experience -- and what she learned in the months and years after -- are details she shares with cadets and other officers. 

Her vulnerability and compassion is part of the reason why the officers who work alongside the HPD Commander lovingly call her, "Mama Bear."

Guinn-Shaver’s career profile also mentions that she “even thwarted her own assassination by raiding a local illicit watering hole and taking her would-be killers into custody.”

She was promoted to sergeant in January 2005. She earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in leadership and was promoted to lieutenant in October 2013. In March 2017, Guinn-Shaver was promoted to commander. 

Months later, she safely led the evacuation of the Central Patrol Station during Hurricane Harvey.

Credit: Tinsley Guinn-Shaver
Commander Tinsley Guinn-Shaver through the decades at the Houston Police Department

'My whole life is here'

“This job has been such a blessing, I would do it all over again.”

Reflections, approaching retirement as the 42-year HPD veteran signed on the dotted line.

“My whole life. Since I was 18. I’m 60 now. My whole life is here,” said Guinn-Shaver as she looked at the mementos, gifts, awards and accolades that fill her office. “My relationships. My passion. My heart. It’s all here.”

She commands HPD’s Robbery Division until Friday at 5 p.m. 

She’s mentored, trained and supported countless officers. She hopes to continue to "lift" others in retirement. 

“We all have a duty to lift those around us.”

In her final week with the Houston Police Department, with a photo in hand of her as an officer at 22-years old, Commander Tinsley Guinn-Shaver can’t help but reflect and tell her younger self, “Job well done, kid.”

More than four decades of near-death experiences, professional and personal growth, severe weather and milestones, “I would do it all again.” 

RELATED: 'You can fight crime, you just can’t fight father time': Houston police sergeant reflects on job as he retires after 41 years

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