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By Bud Harton

I became a cop in the spring of 1969 after returning home from Vietnam. Hard to imagine now, but returning Vietnam veterans were not really appreciated by the American public. I quickly learned that I should avoid the subject of Vietnam altogether and if questioned if I had been there, mumbling an answer and walking away was always a good idea. If there was any profession more intensely disliked than returning combat veterans it was law enforcement. So already being an outcast, I decided to become double-shunned by joining a suburban Chicago police department as their newest probationary patrolman . . .

Out of one uniform and into another. But, wow! What a uniform. My department wore dark blue pants with a light blue shirt and a sheriff’s hat. Ohmigosh, I loved that hat. It wasn’t quite as cool as a drill sergeant’s flat brimmed style but it really added to the swagger. You used the strap across the back of your head and that meant you could cock the brim of the hat down over your eyes and coupled with really cool dark sunglasses, I was really something.

But even cooler was the fact that our uniform included carrying our duty weapon cross draw. It was supposedly to facilitate drawing the weapon while seated in a patrol car but I didn’t pay any attention to that because when I saw myself fully uniformed in a mirror for the first time, I almost couldn’t breathe. I was so way cool. My firearm of choice at the time, was a Colt Trooper.

So, six months later, fully trained at the Police Academy and finally released by my Field Training Officer, I was out on my own. There wasn’t a lot of crime in our town, it was primarily a ‘bedroom’ community without many businesses or industry. The very first homicide in 25 years of existence had just happened after I got hired and while there were frequent burglaries, I didn’t see one single armed robbery while on duty the entire time I was employed there.

But, I didn’t care. I consciously patrolled my assigned patrol area with strict attention to detail. I stopped and helped kids and old ladies across busy intersections, rounded up stray dogs and took them home and wrote a lot of traffic tickets. I liked working traffic because I got to turn the ‘reds’ on and there was always a chance that a pursuit might ensue.

When stopping a violator, I recorded his license number on my note pad in case something happened, advised my dispatcher of the location and the vehicle description and usually had all that done just as the offender slowed his vehicle to a stop and I carefully pulled up behind just a little to the left of his bumper so that I had a protected zone to approach him. Keeping my eye on the vehicle I would pop my door open and carefully step out to approach the car.

After a while I got so good at this I was able to carefully position my chrome plated spotlight mounted on the pillar of the door frame so that I could check the angle of my hat and make sure that I was looking good. I really liked how I looked in that uniform.

One bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, I got a radar clock on a car doing 10 miles per hour over the posted limit. That was enough to trigger my predatory instincts and I quickly pulled out from where I had concealed my car, flipped the reds on, and hauled after him. He must have noticed me pulling out because he pulled over almost right away.

I quickly notified my dispatcher of my location and the vehicle description and popped the door open with my left hand as I grabbed my Sheriff’s Stetson and quickly tipped it on with the chin strap firmly across the back of my head. I stepped out on the payment while carefully checking my appearance in my cleverly positioned spotlight and looked up at the offending car only to find that the driver was already out of his car and approaching me and he had a pistol in his hand.

Time stood still as I started to back behind my car door but I decided I didn’t have time so as my left hand released the restraining strap on my holster, my right hand found the grip of my Colt Trooper and I ripped it out of the holster…and threw it across the hood of my squad car, into the ditch on the other side of the car.

As often happened when I was terrified in Vietnam, time stood still and all of my senses were focused on just what was in front of me. I could see my gun sailing through the air and the driver quickly approaching. As my vision and hearing seemed to clear and refocus, I could hear him saying, “Officer, I was just on my way to the station, my son just found this gun behind my house.”

It took me a moment and I am pretty sure I was able to conceal the violent tremors in my knees and he probably thought that I was doing a pretty good job of controlling my stutter as I said, “Great, sir. I will follow you to the station and take your report. I’ll just block traffic here for a moment so you can get back safely on your way.” He nodded his understanding and said he would go straight there.

I have often wondered if he saw me in his rear view mirror as I frantically groped and splashed in the ditch to find my Trooper. I am pretty sure he was too far away to see me holding it up to let the water drain out.

 

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39 Responses to P320 Entry: Young Cops are Dangerous

  1. Veteran, concealed carry advocate, chronicler of the grunts in Vietnam and humorist — thanks Bud!

  2. So that’s where they get these stupid hollywood scripts, real life stories…. somehow it’s just better in real life than when Jim Cary does it.

  3. Sounds like a reality check! I had a good laugh at this because I could just picture the entire semi comedic scene.

  4. Colt trooper is a hell of a nice pistol. Too bad it ended up in a ditch. 🙂 I would have been changing my under-roos at that point though.

  5. I’m still laughing, I’m assuming the department did not find out at the time or you would still be trying to live it down. I’m glad nobody was hurt and the end result was lots of embarrassment on your part and a fool not getting himself shot. I’m hoping you did some additional training with your Colt and the cross-draw rig.
    Thanks again for the post and the honesty, I live in the second largest city in NM and in the last two years at least two officers had added sunroofs to their patrol cars with the shotgun. Not much has been said but they are looking into the shotgun rack as the fault nothing mentioned about the weapons handling.

  6. What a great story. I commend former Officer Harton for his candor.
    One wonders though…..how fortunate, that slip potentially saved the life of the motorist and the career of the officer.

  7. GREAT story!!!! I was pulled over for speeding a day or two after convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard escaped from prison in NJ less than 5 miles from were I lived. The state troopers were patrolling everywhere in pairs and the two guys I got that evening were young, gung-ho and nervous. It was an interesting 10 minutes of my life, and all went well, nobody hurt, but I would not want to relive that moment again.

  8. After reading just a few lines of this post it confirms why most men join the police department… they enjoy the feeling of authority over fellow citizens

    • Karen, how did you derive that?

      I was just home from an unpopular war where I was in a (literally)day to day struggle to stay alive and the only thing that kept me going was the men I served with. I was shunned by my peer group when I came home so I became a cop so I could rejoin the same type of fraternity that I had just enjoyed in Vietnam.
      I wrote the story to illustrate the comeuppance of a young cop who’s head had grown disproportionately large. Sorry you didn’t notice that.

      Please don’t let your own apparent prejudice read things into what I write that aren’t there.

    • Thank you for your service Bud. Thank you for the well-written and entertaining story.
      Karen,I worked with cops as a prosecutor, legal trainer, city judge and before all that, an auxiliary cop.
      The distribution of jerks on a police force is no more than, (and probably less) than the distribution of jerks in any other group or profession). having worked closely with them in six different departments in two states for 15 years, I can tell you you’re assumption is completely wrong.

  9. I’ll bet you never dropped that M60 machine gun hanging in the rear door of the Huey you flew in Viet Nam. Sorry I missed you at Ed’s yesterday, Thur.
    PS: My knees still shake, but probably from the Bud Lite I use to drink.

  10. My God what #10 pucker! amazing that we survived the first year on the street isn’t it.
    My first gun when I began law enforcement in 1977 also was a Colt Trooper carried in a swivel holster, strong side. We were issued Super Vel, 115 grain mag ammo. Firing 6 rounds ensured that the empties were so stuck int he cylinder that the ejector rod would not eject. That and two dump pouches rounded out the firearm TO&E. After firing the Trooper I bought a Smith 4″. We could carry our personal firearm on duty if it were a .357. Much better.
    Unlike you, I was on the street 11 months before I went to the Academy. I was a certified radar operator before I was a certified police officer. Much has changed.
    I’m glad that encounter worked out for you.

  11. Pretty crappy submission; your lack of skill is nothing of note decrying other new officers. Cook county sheriff? It would explain everything. Clowns in brown.

  12. Great story! I’m wondering though, how the violator was holding the gun as he approached you. That would certainly make a difference in ones reaction.

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