Taking the Leap from TDCJ to DPS

Texas State Trooper Erik Burse
Texas State Trooper Erik Burse.

After 17 years with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Major Erik Burse was assigned to give a tour of the Coffield Unit to members of the Department of Public Safety. As he turned the corner to greet his guests, he was awestruck by the 20 to 30 polished troopers that stood before him.

“I was taken aback, and they took my breath away,” said Burse, a former Sam Houston State University student. “I was so blown away by these men and women and how they carried themselves, I went back to my office and drafted a letter of resignation. It was a joke at the time, but when I went home and told my wife, she said, ‘It’s about time. If you are going to do it, you better get going because you’re not getting any younger.’”

Trooper Burse talks to a reporter in the field.

Trooper Burse talks to a reporter in the field.
Major Burse resigned and, after a short stint as a jailer at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, he was accepted into the State Trooper Academy. Following graduation, he patrolled the highways and byways of Montgomery County for 10 years before being promoted to Safety Education.

“There was never a dull moment,” said Trooper Burse about his time on patrol. “As a trooper, I got to see and work traffic fatalities, vehicle pursuits, drug seizures, money seizures, DUI cases and major accidents. It was a well-rounded experience.”

These days, his assignments focus on educating the public, whether serving as a DPS spokesman at an accident or crime scene or providing safety presentations to everyone from preschoolers at day care to corporate leaders at Fortune 500 companies.

Burse makes presentation to a variety of groups about safety.
Burse makes presentation to a variety of groups about safety.
“I love safety education; I love the broad spectrum of it,” said Trooper Burse. “One minute I can be talking to kids at a day care about stranger danger or bicycle safety, the next high school students about drugs and alcohol or about the dangers of texting and driving, and the next minute I can be talking to executives from Exxon Mobil, Shell, or Anadarko about traffic safety or crime prevention. It’s very different every day. “

Trooper Burse is especially passionate about educating the public on drunken driving after two separate, alcohol-related accidents last summer killed five people in head-on collisions caused by drivers going the wrong way on I-45 in Montgomery County. He said with everything available in the county – including cab services, designated drivers and no refusal programs – people are still driving impaired.

Burse participates in the CJ Summer Camp at SHSU.
"Burse participates in the CJ Summer Camp.
“I especially like working with the youth,” he added. “They are our future and we’re dependent on them. It is important to reach every one of them.”

Before taking a leap of faith to the Department of Public Safety, Burse had worked his way up the ladder at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, attaining the rank of Major. He spent most of his correctional career on Death Row in the Ellis Unit, before transferring to administrative segregation at the Coffield Unit.

“TDC has been very, very good to me,” said Burse. “Working on Death Row taught me team work, since there were only a few of us on the unit, and it taught me how to be attentive to what’s going on around you. It actually puts things in perspective: life is too short if you take it for granted. I have seen the look on the (Death Row) inmates’ faces before their execution and you can see the vulnerability.”

At Coffield, teamwork was especially important, since the inmates were assigned there because of violent behavior, gang involvement, high escape risk, or protective custody. “Coffield was a hard unit to work at,” he said. “We wouldn’t have made the strides we did there without teamwork, trusting and knowing that the job would get done. We had to think outside the box without violating any department policies or procedures and without violating the civil rights of the inmates.”

Burse took classes at Sam Houston State University.
Burse took classes at Sam Houston State University.
Trooper Burse recently returned to Sam Houston State University to enlighten high school students about career options in criminal justice during the college’s Summer Camp. In addition to discussing the many specialty jobs available at DPS, he also stressed the process to become a Texas State Trooper, beginning with staying in school and getting a degree.

Burse regrets not graduating from college and encouraged students to complete their degrees, using his own life as an example. Burse came to SHSU on a football scholarship, but found himself out of the program after his second year. He took a job at TDCJ and continued in school until he got married and it became too expensive. At DPS, the schedule prevented him from returning to class. Now he hopes to finish his degree.

Burse said that being a State Trooper is a fun and rewarding career, but that the six-month academy is grueling. In addition to academic classes, the physical training is very strenuous.

“The Academy was very hard on us, but you learn so much,” Trooper Burse said. “They definitely prepare you for the job.”

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