By Joe Southern
The hallways of the Sugar Land Police Department are lined with large frames of police patches from all over the country.
The frames and nearly 1,000 patches belong to Sgt. Richard Rivera, who has been bartering for them for all of his 27 years in law enforcement. The collection, however, is nothing compared to the small cluster of medals and hats that adorn his office. The medals come from some of 20 marathons he has run, including New York and Boston. The hats are keepsakes from his Ironman triathlons.
He has done two full triathlons, one in Arizona in 2009 and one in Texas in 2010, and five half triathlons at Buffalo Springs Lake in Lubbock. He said that is significant because conditions there most closely resemble the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii, which is considered the toughest of them all.
Most recently Rivera has returned from the United States Police and Fire Championships in San Diego where he brought home gold medals in the 400-meters, 1,500-meters and bronze in the half-marathon in his age group. In the previous two years he has won gold in the 5k and 10k races.
“I’ve been competing since high school,” he said.
Although he was born in Richmond, Rivera grew up in the border town of McAllen, which is where the idea of going into a career in law enforcement took hold.
As a teenager, he and his friends liked to go hunting in their spare time and quite often they would see border patrol agents on the job. One day one of those agents called Rivera and his friend over. He showed them his vehicle and all the equipment the agents use. Rivera’s eyes went wide and something clicked inside.
Once he graduated high school he applied to be a border patrol agent.
“My vision was not good enough,” he said. “It’s all that kept me out.”
He thought about joining the Marines but a relative suggested he consider the Texas Department of Corrections instead. So he took a job as a jailer but didn’t find it very satisfying.
“It’s a lot more fun catching them than babysitting them,” he said.
He worked a job by day and attended Houston Community College’s police academy at night, graduating and taking a reserve position with the Fulshear Police Department. From there he went to the Hempstead Police Department and then back to Fulshear. After that he hired on with Stafford where he worked gang investigations for eight years.
“That was pretty fun, dealing with the gangs,” he said.
In 2000 he applied for and was accepted to work a special operation in war-torn Kosovo. For most of his year there he was a guard for high-risk targets, such as the vice president, various judges and high-risk witnesses.
“They had to rebuild that place from nothing,” he said.
Lawlessness abounded and gangs were rampant.
“They needed police officers to police the citizens,” he said.
He returned to Stafford in September 2001 where he stayed for a few more months before hiring on with Sugar Land.
“I had good partners and good administration,” he said of the Stafford Police Department. “It was good work.”
In Sugar Land he started out on patrol and then became a DUI task force officer, where he won several awards for enforcement of drunk driving laws. That began to wear on him after a few years and he transferred to be a park ranger. He enjoyed being on a bike patrol in Sugar Land’s parks.
“I had the most fun probably of my whole career,” he said.
In 2013 he felt it was time to move up the ranks. He was promoted to sergeant and started on the night shift. Now he handles recruitment and training.
“It’s a complete 180 of what I used to do,” he said. “It’s the boring side of law enforcement that nobody wants to do.”
At 51 years of age, however, Rivera doesn’t mind being off the streets. With Sugar Land in the process of annexing Greatwood and New Territory the police department is in the process of hiring 24 new officers. That will keep Rivera busy for a long time.
“There’s never a dull moment. There is always something to do,” he said. He credits his faith for the success he has had both in uniform and in races.
“I could not do any of these things if not for my faith and blessings in God, and support from my family,” he said.
He has been married to Denia Puerto-Rivera for four years. She also runs marathons and has worked at Alief ISD for 28 years. He has two grown children from a previous marriage, Leighanne and Christian. He said one of the main lessons in life he taught them was, “Don’t ever give up on your dreams.”
Whenever he talks with a potential recruit, he makes sure they understand that law enforcement is not a job but a career.
“I tell anyone who is interested in joining our police family or any police family, it’s long hours, and not the best pay, but we do it because if not you then who?” he said. “It’s working nights and weekends and missing ball games and graduations. It’s coming home Christmas morning or leaving for your shift on New Year’s Eve night. Again, If not you then who? Who will answer the call of service? Who will run to danger and fight the bad guys while the normal person stays out of sight or runs the other way? Police work is about service and we serve the public no matter who they are or how mad they are or what nasty names they call us we still serve and protect everyone equally and fairly.”