DIVISION OF FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL
50TH ANNIVERSARY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interview with: Lieutenant Larry Lee Austin
Employed with FHP: January 8, 1978 Present
Interviewed by: Trooper Benjamin F. Hollinger, Jr.
Date Interviewed: March 21, 1989
Typed by: Carolyn Mosley
Today I have with me Lt. Larry L. Austin of the Florida
Highway Patrol and I am Benjamin Franklin Hollinger of the
Florida Highway Patrol. The subject is the Florida Highway
Patrol Oral History Project. The place of this interview is at
the Florida Highway Patrol Station at 1011 NW 111th Avenue,
Miami, Florida. This is the new Florida Highway Patrol station
in Dade County and was recently dedicated to the late Alphonso
Lofton. The time is 2:20 p.m.
Lt. Austin as you know the Florida Highway Patrol will
observe their 50th Anniversary in 1989. This interview will
establish your knowledge and your imput into the past history of
the Florida Highway Patrol. Please give me your name for our
LLA: Larry Lee Austin
BFH: What date did you start with the Florida Highway
LLA: January 8, 1978
BFH: Can you give me the date when you were born?
LLA: Yes I was born on December 2, 1951.
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Were you born in the State of Florida?
Yes I was born in Wildwood, Florida.
What did you do prior to becoming a state trooper?
Right after high school I went to 'college for four
years at FAMU. After I graduated from college I went
to the Virgin Islands at St. Croix and I spent three
years there as a teacher and high school band director.
Do you recall the elementary school that you attended?
Yes it's no longer there, it was J.R. Lee Elementary
school in Wildwood.
Did you attend high school also in Wildwood?
Yes, it was Wildwood High.
Did you go to college?
Florida A & M Universary in Tallahassee.
Did you receive a degree from Florida A & M Universary
LLA: Yes, I did.
What degree did you earn?
I have a B.S. degree.
In education or criminal justice?
No, a B.S. degree in music education.
Did you serve in the military?
No I didn't.
Prior to after you finished college, are your family
Floridians, were they born and raised in Florida or are
they migrated to Florida?
Yes, both were born and raised right here in Florida.
Can you give me some of the reasons for becoming a
Florida Highway Patrolman?
Well I'd always wanted to be a trooper, but when I
finished high school I had a college scholarship to
attend A & M University, since I had a background in
LLA: music, so I pursued that and I finished at A & M and
got my degree and taught school for a while after
that. Then I went to the Virgin Islands and I came
back home and there was no job to be had anywhere in
the state or in central Florida teaching school, so I
applied with FHP and also the City of Tampa Police
Department and was accepted by both of them at the same
time and I decided to go with the Highway Patrol
because of the image.
BFH: Did you have any prior contact with the Florida Highway
Patrol before becoming a patrolman?
LLA: No I didn't.
BFH: Did you have any knowledge, did you talk to anyone
about the Highway Patrol prior to joining the Highway
Patrol or making your decision to join the Highway
LLA: No I didn't.
BFH: Approximately what was your starting salary at the time
when you entered the Patrol?
LLA: I believe it was $989.00 per month, I'm not sure, it
was either $989.00 or $1089.00 per month.
BFH: Prior to coming on the Patrol did you know how many
blacks at that time was on the Florida Highway Patrol
LLA: There was approximately thirteen I believe, twelve or
BFH: How were you recruited. How did your recruitment go,
going through the selection process of the Florida
Highway Patrol. Did you have any difficulties?
LLA: No I didn't. I applied when I was in the Virgin
Islands so I didn't make contact with anyone until I
got back to the states. The selection process as far
as the background check and all that went perfect, I
didn't have any problems passing the background and
preliminary employment process.
BFH: Do you recall who the background investigator was at
the time that conducted the background on your file?
LLA: Yes, it was Lt. C. Turlington out of Brooksville. I
think he is retired now.
BFH: Did the Lieutenant come by your home and meet your
LLA: Yes he did.
BFH: Were you married at the time when you applied to become
a state trooper?
LLA: No I wasn't.
BFH: How did your family feel about you becoming a state
trooper since there was just a few blacks in the
Florida Highway Patrol?
LLA: Well, naturally they were concerned because being it
police work, knew that it was dangerous or it is
dangerous, but both of them gave me their blessings and
they said that if that's what I wanted to do then by
all means go for it.
BFH: OK, lets go to your first day at the Florida Highway
Patrol Academy. How was your first day there?
LLA: A real experience. I had never been exposed to
anything like that before, as were a lot of the guys.
Having never served in the Military, and getting
adjusted and getting adapted and then adjusting to the
paramilitary style that they have in the academy was a
real experience. It had some getting use to, but I
didn't have any problems.
BFH: OK, with the Highway Patrol having only a few blacks on
the Florida Highway Patrol, did you feel any pressure
from the white recruits that were in your class?
LLA: No, I think we had a good working relationship with the
other classmates up there, the other recruits in the
academy. I don't recall any personal experiences.
BFH: Do you recall how many blacks you had in that class or
hispanics or females that were in your class?
LLA: Three blacks including myself and one female, infact I
believe she was the first female, Patricia Phillips.
BFH: How did the academy staff at that time greet you or
greet the recruits since you all had some minorities
LLA: Just like anybody else, with fear.
BFH: Do you feel that during the FHP training, you were
treated fairly, and that the academy staff acted in a
LLA: I think so. As I said earlier, I can't relate to any
personal experiences where I felt any undo pressure.
BFH: After the completion of the academy training, how many
individuals in your recruit class graduated, and give
me the number that started with you.
LLA: I think we started with 55, and I believe 44 graduated.
BFH: Of that 44, how many were black?
LLA: About two. Two of us, me and Charlie Harris.
BFH: And the female?
LLA: Pat Phillips, yes she went to Miami after completing
the training courses.
BFH: Do you recall any of the courses that you took in the
training academy that would stick in your mind that you
thought was difficult?
LLA: Well, not difficult. They were different, having not
been exposed to courses like that before. Like the
firearms training, the driving courses, the first aid
courses all of them were very worthwhile and
BFH: How did you feel about the boxing class?
I didn't like it, but I'm glad we went through it.
BFH: During that time were they still having swimming at the
LLA: No, we were never involved in any type of water sports
or water training.
BFH: And the physical training consisted of?
LLA: We had to run, I think that they required that you be
able to run at least one mile prior to reporting to the
academy. We ran every morning, and on mornings when it
was too cold to go outside we had calisthenics in the
gym downstairs. That consisted of the regular
calisthenics and some windsprints and also some unarmed
defense, in addition to boxing.
BFH: Before you went to the academy, did you have any prior
riding assignments as a trooper, or were you hired and
went straight to the academy?
LLA: -Yes, after being accepted I went straight to the
academy. I didn't ride prior to coming on.
BFH: Do you recall how long your academy class was?
LLA: 13 weeks.
BFH: And can you recall what equipment was issued to you
upon your graduation?
LLA: The service revolver and all the leather. Some
uniforms, handcuffs, the hat, summer hat and also the
winter hat, and the traffic law books. I'm sure there
were some other things that I just can't recall at this
BFH: Do you recall any of the members of the academy staff
during your training?
LLA: Yes, there was Captain Saunders who was in charge of
the academy at that time, also there was Lt. Betts,
Sgt. B.R. Lee, Sgt. Walt Sherman and Sgt. Sandy Vincent
at the time.
BFH: Before you indicated that they started off with 55 and
you all graduated with 44. They had nine members to
LLA: Yes, something like that.
BFH: Upon completion of the academy, what duty station were
you assigned to?
LLA: Tampa was my first duty station, Hillsborough County.
BFH: Upon reporting to the Tampa FHP Station, did they have
any blacks at that time at that station?
LLA: No, I was the first black trooper assigned to
BFH: Do you recall who your training officer was at that
LLA: It was Trooper Jim Lee at the time, and he is now a
captain with the Patrol in Orlando on the Turnpike.
BFH: How would you grade your training officer?
LLA: I don't think I could ask for a better training
officer. He was very knowledgeable and also he had a
lot of patience. He was an individual, a training
officer who like myself, believed in training and in
teaching. He believed in doing the job right, if it
wasn't done right you'd do it until you did get it
BFH: Did you have any, how did the troop receive you, since
you were the first black to be in the Tampa troop?
LLA: I didn't have any problems in my initiation there in
Hillsborough County. It was an experience as far as
the public, being the first black trooper. Remembering
my training officer and myself would pull up to a
traffic light and folks not being use to seeing a black
trooper would pull up to a traffic light or a stop sign
and folks would do double-takes to actually see if what
they saw was really what they had seen, a black trooper
sitting in a patrol car there in Hillsborough County.
BFH: How long was your training period before you were on
LLA: Thirty days, one month.
BFH: After your training period and you were on your own,
what type of automobile and equipment did you receive?
LLA: My first vehicle was a 1977 Plymouth Grand Fury I
believe. It was the old, it didn't have electronic
sirens at that time. And we had the old bubble blue
light. There was no P.A. system we still had the band
BFH: Was your car equipped with airconditioning?
LLA: Yes it was.
BFH: Did you have any incidents in the Tampa area after you
got out on your own with any violators who did not
accept your being a Florida Highway Patrolman or any
incidents that may have occurred during your first
years on the Patrol in the Tampa area that you felt was
LLA: I can only think of one incident where I attempted to
arrest a white female, and she decided that she was not
going to jail. I forget what the charge was, why I
stopped her, but anyway there was an altercation
between me and her because of the fact that I believe
that she was not going to be arrested by a black
trooper. Of course, she was arrested by me and taken
downtown to the jail there in Tampa. That's the only
situation that comes to mind right away of any type of
resistance to me being a black trooper there in
Hillsborough County, and I might add that this person
was from New York I believe.
BFH: Who was the troop commander at that time of your troop?
LLA: Captain Spud Clemens
BFH: And who was your district lieutenant?
LLA: Lt. Lohman in Tampa.
PBFH: And during that time there was no sergerants, your
immediate supervisor was your corporal.
BFH: How long afterwards, while you were in the Tampa area
was it before you had anymore black troopers to come to
LLA: I think it was two years. Tim Morgan was the next
black trooper there in Tampa, and he's no longer with
BFH: While in Tampa, I understand you became a Homicide
LLA: Yes, in 1982 I was promoted to Homicide Investigator.
BFH: How long were you a Homicide Investigator?
LLA: From 1982 until November 1984.
BFH: During the time that you were there in Tampa was there
any one person that you can single out that really made
a great impression on you at this point in your career
to bring you to where you are now, that was in your
LLA: My training officer first of all. I had a lot of
respect for him. He really impressed me because he was
a sharp individual. He had a lot on the ball. Of
course there were several other individuals, but my
training officer readily comes to mind first and
BFH: What do you see as the greatest difference in the
Florida Highway Patrol from when you started and the
Florida Highway Patrol today?
LLA: It has been progressive. The equipment has changed,
we've come a long way in equipment and we've come a
long way in training. We've also come quite a ways in
recruiting efforts, as far as getting more qualified
people on the Patrol.
BFH: Let's go back a little bit. During that time when you
first came onto the Highway Patrol who was the
director of the Florida Highway patrol?
LLA: Colonel Eldridge Beach was the director at the time.
BFH: Who is the present director now?
LLA: Director Bobby R. Burkett.
BFH: Since serving under both administrations, both
directors, which one do you feel has done more to
bring the Florida Highway Patrol into the twenty-first
century, as far as minority hiring, recruitment and
bring the Highway Patrol into today society?
LLA: Of course Colonel Beach did what he could back then /
during the time and I guess during that particular
time it was probably considered a lot as far as
increasing minority representation in the Patrol,
however, since that time things have changed, times
have changed and Director Burkett has done a great job
in my opinion as far as hiring and recruiting
minorities, getting them in at the trooper level and
also encouraging them to take the promotional exam to
get promoted to a supervisory rank.
BFH: Do you feel that Director Burkett has brought the
Highway Patrol into the modern day society as far as
equipment and the role of today law enforcement
officer in society?
LLA: That's true, a perfect example of that is the Mustang
patrol vehicles. Being able to have a choice between a
standard shift 5-speed Mustang, or a full size sedan
like the Crown Victoria. Also the Colt Python
LLA: Revolvers, that's an improvement. Right now we're
looking at the 9 milimeters, where you have the choice
to decide between a 9 milimeter simi-auto loader or
carrying the Colt Python Revolver. There aren't many
agencies that will give you that option of being able
to choose what vehicle you want to drive or the type of
weapon you want to carry. We have come a long ways in
BFH: Let's go back a little bit. While you were employed in
the Virgin Islands. What was your job and the
circumstances that brought you to that location down
there in the Virgin Islands?
LLA: I was a high school band director there at Central High
School in St. Croix there in the Virgin Islands when I
applied and I was recruited prior to leaving
Tallahassee up at FAMU. There were some individuals
from the Virgin Islands Department of Education
recruiting there one day and I had an interview with
one of those officials and applied for the job and was
subsequently hired for a teacher, back in 1974.
BFH: Back to the Highway Patrol. You are considered to be
one of the few minority supervisors that the Florida
Highway Patrol has. You have also attained the rank of
lieutenant and you are the first minority to hold the
rank above a sergeant. Is that true?
LLA: Yes, that is correct.
BFH: During .your promotion to a sergeant did you
encounter any problem being a minority supervisor at
the rank of sergeant when you first got promoted?
LLA: No I didn't. I didn't have any problems at all serving
as a corporal at the time and I had a good rapport with
the troopers and also with the fellow supervisors.
I've never had any discipline cases brought to my
attention because of any type of off-color remarks or
whatever. In fact, a lot of troopers when given the
opportunity 'to select what sergeant or what corporal
they wanted to work for, I had a lot of them to inquire
and ask me if there was any way I could get them on my
squad and these are both black and white troopers.
Which makes me feel good. It gives you a good feeling
inside. As far as any specific problems, no I haven't
had any, I haven't experienced any.
BFH: Go back a little bit, we were talking about corporals
and sergeants. When you first took the promotion exam
you were promoted to the rank of corporal. And then
later on the Highway Patrol changed the rank structure
which pushed you up to the rank of sergeant. After
taking the promotion exam again and passing and scoring
high, you were then promoted to the rank of lieutenant.
LLA: True, that's correct.
BFH: I understand you have served on several Oral Interview
Boards for new troopers in Tallahassee. Do you feel
that their process is good and if not what improvements
would be recommended?
LLA: As I've served on eight or nine Oral Interview Boards
in Tallahassee and Lakeland and various places in the
state. It's greatly improved compared to the old
system that we had. The selection process back then
has changed dramatically. I believe it's more
structured now in that all the interviewers are asked
the same question and by doing it that way you attempt
to eliminate any subjectivity you attempt to keep it
fair. You don't give the one interviewer an advantage
of maybe getting some information that the other
applicant didn't. I think it's more structured in that
respect and it's good. That's one of the best things
that I can remember about the old oral interview
process. You could stay in there ten minutes or it
could "last up to 30 or 45 minutes depending on the
people who are interviewing. Some of the questions
that they ask were not job related and they didn't have
anything to do with your role or your job as a trooper,
and right now it's more structured wherein all the
questions are job related and they relate to what
you're going to be doing out there on the road.
BFH: I think if I'm not mistaken, you and Trooper Phillips,
the female that graduated in your class were about the
only minorities that served on the Oral Interview Board
at that time, besides the late Alphonso Lofton.
LLA: That's probably correct. I never served on a board
with Pat Phillips. You're probably correct in making
BFH: I understand during your duties over in Tampa you saved
a child's life. Could you tell me some of the
information surrounding that incident that brought this
LLA: Yes, I was on patrol one afternoon there in Tampa, and
I was driving down a residential street and just
happened to be passing an apartment complex that had a
small retaining ditch in front of the complex. There
was something fluttering in the water. After taking a
closer look it was a small child. So me and an
unidentified motorist got the child out of the pond and
I gave him CPR and got some of the water out of his
system. I called the paramedics to the scene to
respond and give first aid. Just so happen this little
baby had slipped away from his parents who lived
upstairs in an apartment, come downstairs and fallen
into the little retaining ditch there. I think he was
eighteen months old at the time. As a result of me
getting to him I guess you could say I saved his life.
It makes me feel good that I was there. I just
happened to be at the right place at the right time. I
was fortunate that I was there at the right time.
Quite possibly I did save his life. Anyway the papers
and the news, Tampa Tribune did a little article on it
and I think some of the radio stations there did and
the Women of America gave me a plaque in reference to
the life saving act that I did.
BFH: Do you know if the child is still alive or grown or
have you seen that child since that incident?
LLA: I haven't had any contact with him after that
particular incident took place.
BFH: Did the parents give you any kind of recognition?
LLA: Well the mother came down and of course she was upset
at the time about what had happened but she did thank
BFH: Did you get any kind of recognition from the
LLA: I don't recall if I did or not I'm not sure. I think I
was nominated for Trooper of the Year or Trooper of the
Month, I'm not sure.
BFH: I understand that on occasions you have been assigned
to the Investigation Section. Can you tell me about
some of the duties that you carried out?
LLA: I've been assigned to the Investigation
LLA: Yes it's given me a perspective of the Patrol from a
middle management view. It gives me a view of how the
Department is run and why it's run the way it does and
why they have to do the certain things that they do.
There are certain external factors involved and being
just a road trooper you don't realize this until you
are put into a position like this where you come in
contact with people who have to make decisions and as a
result of that you find out that we don't do things
just because we want to. A lot of facters influence
the way that we do our job, infact, a lot of external
factors set policy for the Division, so in that regard
it's given me a different view and it gives me more
respect and I can have more respect for the department
realizing that their are other factors involved. I
think that if the average everyday trooper out there on
the road had this type knowledge, possibly they would
have a different perspective of the Department as a
BFH: Do you recall the date that you were promoted to the
rank of lieutenant?
LLA: Last week, the effective date was March 15, 1989.
BFH: At the present time you're the only minority holding
the rank above sergeant on the Florida Highway Patrol?
LLA: Yes that's correct.
BFH: I understand that you've participated in a program with
the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Can you tell us a little about that program and the
name of that program?
LLA: That's the Management Fellows Program. It's one of the
programs unique to this department. I think there's
only been one other agency in the state that has a
program similar to this which is HRS which is no longer
in existence at the time. This program is designed to
select individuals from each of the different divisions
of the department, put them through a one year program,
wherein they are introduced or exposed to. different
areas in the department learning about the different
functions of each of the various divisions. It
attempts to select people who have management potential
and train them to become future managers or upper level
supervisors in the Department of Highway Safety and
Motor Vehicles. It's one that I'm really glad that I
LLA: was selected to participate in. I intend to take full
advantage of it because it has increased my awareness
of the department, even on a broader perspective. You
get to see how the overall picture of the department
ties in with the different divisions and how the
different divisions tie in to complete the overall
picture and mission of the Department of Highway Safety i
and Motor Vehicles.
BFH: Can you recall the date that you came onto the Florida
LLA: January 8, 1978.
BFH: From January 8, 1978, up to 1982, the director was
Eldridge Beach. The present director is Colonel Bobby
R. Burkett. Can you tell me the difference between the
time that you came on up to 1982 when the Highway
Patrol had the great change. Give me your view of the
Hgihway Patrol now since Director Bukett took over in
1982 until the present.
LLA: I think now the Patrol is more modern, it's more
progressive. Inorder to have progress you've got to be
able to keep up with that and I think that's one of the
philosophies of the current director. He is realizing
that you've got to have change and change is
resistance, it's traditional. Knowing that and being
LLA: able to want to move this department of this division
forward into the future, I think he has a lot of good
ideas and he's implemented a lot good ideas. Of
course, a lot of things that he wants to do, again, go
back to the restraints that we have to work under. A
lot of things that he wants to do can't be done or wont
be done because of those outside factors until we get a
lot of support. He really impresses me with the fact
that he is definitely progressive and I'm a progressive
person myself and I -like that. He is motivated, he
wants this department to be, if there's such a thing,
receive an "A" rating, and it should be. This is the
largest police agency in Florida, definitely the
largest state police agency in Florida, and we should
be the leaders and innovators in a lot of different
things that we do.
BFH: Do you have any other views about the Florida Highway
Patrol that you'd like to express at this time?
LLA: I Think that this is a good department to work for,
we've got a long way to go. There's a lot of good
things that's going to happen for the department, but
it's going to take the help of all of the troopers
involved and also the community to get behind us and
push us and support us toward accomplishing some of
those goals that we want to meet. I'm not going
anywhere, I've had job offers to go with the Secret
LLA: Service and also the FBI and a couple of other police
agencies but I'm here to stay, I'm not going anywhere.
This is not just a job for me it's my career.
BFH: So in other words you feel that the Patrol has been
good to you?
LLA: Yes very definitely, and it's not just because of the
money that I stay here, there are other things that you
look for that are important besides money.
BFH: After becoming lieutenant, have there been any
noticeable changes, have you been treated any
different. Do you feel that you're being treated with
the respect of the rank of lieutenant?
LLA: I haven't received any personal comments from anybody
reference my promotion. If there have been any type of
comments or anything they have not been directed toward
me personally. As far as working with the local
supervisors here in Miami, I haven't received any
personal attacks or anything like that. Of course
they're going to be jealous as any time when one of
their fellow troopers get promoted to a next level and
the impression is always given that you're leaving your
fellow troopers or your fellow sergeants behind, but
that's not the case. That's going to be there
regardless if your black or white the color doesn't
BFH: So you would say that your promotion to lieutenant in
Troop E has been on a positive note?
LLA: Yes, very definitely and I might add that it's on a
positive note as you say because I intended it to be
that way, that's the way I wanted it and that's the
way I'm going to let it be or let it happen. It all
depends on what attitude you take toward different
situations and I'm going to make it a positive, and it
is in fact a positive effort and a positive endeavor.
BFH: Lieutenant Austin on behalf of the Florida Highway
Patrol and the director and all the people involved in
the Florida Highway Patrol Oral History Program, we
want to thank you for taking the time out for this
interview and I agree with you that the Florida Highway
Patrol has come a long way I think under the direction
of Director Bobby Burkett, that the Florida Highway
Patrol has a great future to go even further to greater
heights and on that note I want to thank you.
LLA: OK Ben, I appreciate you taking the time to interview