Austin’s Ty Runyan and baseball great Ty Cobb share more than just a nickname. While the Hall of Famer’s name will live forever thanks to his competitive spirit in the ballpark, Runyan will be remembered for going to bat for the Austin Police Department.
In March 2004, Austin’s daily newspaper ran a series of articles examining two lethal-force incidents involving Austin police officers and African-American residents of East Austin. Runyan – “Titus” on his birth certificate but “Ty” to his friends) thought the articles were wildly biased against law enforcement and he decided to offer another viewpoint.
His decision led to two radio commercials that he paid to produced and have broadcast. The ads neither defended nor condemned the officers involved Ñ they simply reminded listeners of who answers the call when someone needs help.
Runyan, who owns Austin’s Titus Electrical, said that at the time he recorded the spots, the investigations into the two shootings had not been completed. He had no idea if the shootings were justified or if the officers involved had acted improperly. All he knew was that he was tired of cops getting trashed for doing their job.
“The articles inspired great resentment in me,” he said. “I went from being ambivalent [about the shootings and subsequent investigation] to being angry. I finally had enough and said, ‘To heck with it,’ and recorded these two radio ads.”
The spots, which ran four times a day for two weeks, helped highlight what Runyan perceives as the hypocrisy some voice when criticizing the actions of the police. “Certain elements decry the police department for not giving them protection. But when they call the cops, and the cops have to defend themselves, certain elements jump up and raise hell about the use of lethal force.”
While this spirit of philanthropy isn’t rare, what is unusual is that Runyan acted entirely on his own and sought neither the input nor the blessing of APD or the Austin Police Association.
Mike Sheffield, president of Austin Police Association and a detective with the Austin Police Department, said Runyan’s actions were a refreshing surprise.
“What Ty did was practically unheard of,” Sheffield said. “He created his own commercial saying the public supports us, they want us to do our jobs and they want us stop crime.”
The fact that Runyan is a civilian and not a cop, and that he paid for the ads out of his own pocket with no police input, made all the difference in the way the ads were perceived, Sheffield said.
“We had put up a radio spot, and some other law enforcement groups put up some spots, but the public says, ‘well, that’s just cops scratching each other’s backs.’ But it was different with Ty; it’s hard for the public to criticize since this was John Q. Public saying, ‘I’m tired of the cops getting kicked around and I’m not going to take it anymore.’ ”
Wuthipong “Tank” Tantaksinanukij, a senior officer with eight years on the force, agreed. “The ads made a huge difference in morale,” he said. People expect the police to support each other, “but when they hear the other side, and hear it from someone besides just us, that has a huge positive impact,” he said.
If the story stopped here, it would be a happy ending. But it gets better. Runyan and Sheffield, who had never met, happened to run into each other a couple of months later at a political fund-raiser. Runyan offered to donate some money to the policemen’s ball and was surprised when Sheffield told him that there was no such function in Austin, as APA couldn’t afford one and there was no Police Benevolent Society anywhere in Texas.
Once again, Runyan decided to act on his own and founded the Police Benevolent Society. He kicked in some money of his own and eventually found 20 corporate sponsors from across the city to chip in $2,500 apiece to fund a ball for Austin police officers. The result was the first ever black-tie event for Austin police, held Oct. 22.
Perhaps Runyan’s actions are best summed up by Sheffield: “Totally on his own, he stepped up to the plate and hit a home run for us.”
This article originally appeared in the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas Texas Police Star