By Christina Autry
As a native of East Aldine with 29 years of experience in the police force, Deputy Jesse Leal now serves the community at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office storefront in the East Aldine District. This storefront is an easy contact point for people to quickly seek assistance, or ask questions, as an alternative to contacting a police station. With his deep understanding of the area and a passion for helping the community, Jesse Leal is a great resource for both adults and youth in East Aldine.
Leal’s enthusiasm about connecting with the community allows him to support individuals in more ways than with just criminal matters. “I answer all kinds of calls in the district,” says Leal. “Some people ask how to register their kids for school, or how to get a Gold Card for healthcare. I determine whether their need is a criminal or civil issue, and I connect them with the appropriate services,” he explains.
From day to day, Leal does everything from helping victims of domestic violence, to helping a new mother install a car seat. “In domestic situations, I take everything into consideration. I determine if they need a shelter, or other resources around the city,” he explains. Leal works with the non-profit Safe Kids to provide parents with free car seats and installation. Individuals can simply stop by the storefront if they are in need of help regarding car seats.
Free movie nights, laser tag, or school presentations organized through the Community Relations Department of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) are just some of the relationship-building activities that Leal, an Aldine ISD graduate, participates in with the youth of East Aldine. “The kids realize that we’re not robots,” he laughs. “We’re human; we laugh, cry, and get scared just like they do.”
Leal also helped seniors at Pilgrim’s Place celebrate Grandparents’ Day with dinner, ice cream, games and prizes for the residents. He visits annually on Mother’s Day as well, as the HCSO honors mothers there who may not otherwise be given a special Mother’s Day.
Born in East Aldine, Leal is the youngest of six siblings. Leal attributes his personal values to his father, who made a lasting impact on his life. His father was only able to complete school through third grade, before becoming a migrant farm worker alongside his family at the age of ten. “That’s how it was back then: you didn’t finish school, you worked,” says Leal.
After moving all around the United States, his father eventually moved to Houston and started a family. But when gang activity became too much of a threat, he made the move to East Aldine for a better life and a safer environment for his children. It was then that he started work as a janitor in Aldine ISD.
“He always impressed upon us the importance of education, to do our very best, and to work for our community,” remembers Leal. “He made sure that we spoke English; sometimes he didn’t allow us to speak Spanish,” he says. “My father was a diehard patriot.” This strong influence led to Leal’s siblings graduating from universities such as Baylor, UT, and Rice, and to both Leal and his brother becoming police officers in Houston.
As a child, Leal always wanted to become a police officer. He attended Worsham Elementary, Aldine Junior High, and graduated from MacArthur High School. From there, he enlisted in the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, while attending the Houston Police Academy. After returning from the 11-month liberation of Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm, Leal became a police officer alongside his brother, who also works in the Aldine area.
Patrolling in Houston over the past 29 years has led Leal to intervene in numerous life-threatening situations, one of which earned him a 100 Club award last year. The 100 Club is a non-profit which honors outstanding law enforcement officers among 18 counties surrounding Houston, in addition to providing financial support for families of officers and firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty or have been severely injured.
The act of heroism that led to Leal receiving this award occurred in May of 2018. “I was on patrol, and got a call about a man trying to jump off the freeway,” Leal recounts. “My partner and I pulled up, and the man was on the guard rail about 25 feet up in the air. As soon as he sees us he jumps off the guard rail, but we caught him midair, and we all almost fell over.”
Meanwhile, onlookers gathered on the road underneath the man, waiting to catch him if he fell. “He was fighting; he was determined to jump,” Leal continues. “We pulled him back over the rail, and he went for my gun. At that point my knee was already messed up. We finally got him handcuffed, but he broke free and tried to jump over again. I really messed up my knee that time while stopping him.”
Leal was also nominated in a separate occasion for the 100 Club award after running into a burning home, helping the family escape, and carrying out their college-aged son who had passed out from the toxic fumes. Officers chosen out of the many nominations were honored at this year’s 65th Annual Heroes Award Program and Banquet.
“When you’re in these situations, you have to keep your emotions in control, rely on your training, and by the grace of God you come home at night,” remarks Leal. “But after my knee injury, I realized it was time for me to transition into another role,” he says. And of course, East Aldine was the perfect fit.
“All policemen are social service providers,” Leal says. “When I used to be on patrol, I was like a fireman putting out fires around the city. I saw people in crisis every day. But being in the storefront means I get to make a different kind of impact on people’s lives.” For Leal, that’s the best part of the job.
If you are interested in getting involved with HCSO events, volunteer opportunities, or need assistance, please visit the storefront at 5333 Aldine Mail Rd., Monday through Friday from 9AM-5PM. You can also see upcoming events on the district calendar, at aldinedistrict.org/public-safety, or give them a call at 713.595.1220.