Trending Topics

10 signs you’re a small town cop

Instead of calling dispatch, the citizen calls your house and asks your kid to get you to come over

Some of my finest and most rewarding days were spent in a small town. How about you?

I grew up certifiably hillbilly white trash. I came from a land where a story started off about taking the pickup down to the sand bar to dig for frogs and trailed off into a banjo-like nasal sound that ended with a grin and tobacco spit on the ground.

I started my police career in the ‘70s at the edge of the Ozarks. I left Missouri during the Great Possum Famine and ended up in the mountains of Colorado. Things were sure different out here. For one thing, most people in Colorado my age still have their teeth. Where I came from we may not have had all of them, but we were proud of what we had. One of my uncles died with only one tooth. He would entertain us by biting a round hole in a cracker.

For all you city boys and girls who can’t imagine what it’s like being a local, I’ve compiled a shortlist for your reference. First, I want to tell you a story about a small-town cop I know.

The Frisbee and the Pizza

My friend Tom’s first police job as City Marshal in a town of about 200 souls. This was before any state training standards, so they gave him a badge and said he could use any equipment he managed to round up.

He used his own Datsun pickup for patrol, and he rigged up a flashlight and a red Frisbee for a warning light.

First night out, he got flagged down. A guy was on the road and it looked like he’d been hit by a car. Juggling his emergency Frisbee flashlight he came upon the scene.

It was his first crash, and Tom struggled to maintain composure as he saw the gooey red mess on the hood of the vehicle in the roadway.

The pedestrian was horizontal and slightly beneath the front bumper.

The victim, shaking his head, rose up in a daze from the impact. Tom asked if the guy was alright.

“Yeah, I’m okay, thanks. But I’m afraid that pepperoni pizza I was carrying got smeared all over that car.”

You Might Be a Small-Town Cop If...

1. You ever got a call from the Mayor asking why you stopped his cousin because he heard it on the scanner.

2. You got on the radio and asked another cop if you know where Bobby Ray is and Bobby Ray shows up at the station five minutes later because he heard you were looking for him.

3. Your backup had to be called at home, then had to go down to the station to get a patrol car, then drive 20 miles to your location (and if you’re the only one available and the bar fight call comes in, well, you handle it).

4. You can get a middle-aged bully to shut down by asking, “What would your momma think if she knew how you’re acting?”

5. Instead of giving an address, the dispatcher gives the location as “next to the old Smith house that burned down 10 years ago.”

6. You ever had to use your own car because both squad cars were in the shop, or drove a police car in such bad shape you’d have pulled it over if anybody else was driving something that bad

7. Instead of calling dispatch, the citizen calls your house and asks your kid to get you to come over.

8. You ever had to do all your reports with a ballpoint pen and carbon paper.

9. You’ve had to give the phone number of the diner where you took your break because you didn’t have a portable radio.

10. You knew – or know – the names of every deputy and trooper in the county.

I never apologize for my small-town background – in fact, some of my finest and most rewarding days were spent in a small town. How about you? Add your own “You might be a small-town cop if...” in the comments box below.

This article, originally published 03/12/2014, has been updated.

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.