Having recently retired after more than 30 years of being a police officer, I look back on my experiences with pride of service to the community and having known and worked with some of the finest people in my profession. But I'll tell you that in order to keep one's sanity on the job, a sense of humor is required and indispensable.
For example, while one of the most dangerous duties a law enforcement officer must perform is to walk up to a strange car and interview the driver after having witnessed an infraction or violation, the conversations that transpire can be funny and memorable. Here are a few examples:
The Smart Mouth
While on patrol I witnessed a car traveling at well beyond the speed limit. Simply wanting to issue a warning to the driver, I stopped the car, walked up to the driver's window, and requested to see the operator's license, registration, and insurance card. I asked the driver, a female, "Do you know why I stopped you?" If she had answered something like, "Was I speeding?" I would have replied, "Yes. Slow down." And the episode would have ended there.
But her response to my initial question of do you know why I stopped you was, "What is this? Twenty questions?" Which essentially stopped the conversation; I issued a traffic citation and resumed patrol.
At property damage and personal injury auto accidents, I used to hand out my business card telling those involved in the accident that if there is a problem with the form or if there is any way I can help to please contact me. But once I stopped a driver who was speeding and asked for his license, registration, and insurance card, and he readily offered that documentation along with a police business card…My business card!
When I asked, "What's this?" He replied, "That's a friend of mine, Officer LoBalbo. Do you know him?"
I said, "Better than you." Then I returned to my patrol car, wrote the ticket, and brought it back to the driver along with his paperwork. When he saw the uniform traffic ticket, he asked, "There's no courtesy here?" thinking that he had leverage because of his good friend Officer LoBalbo
I looked directly at him and informed him, "I'm Officer LoBalbo."
Just like a child found with his hand in the proverbial "cookie jar," he turned beet red but then asked for my business card back, which I refused to give him.
I continued to hand out my business card. But from then on, I wrote the Mv104A number of the accident on the back along with the date.
Another time I stopped the driver of a high-performance BMW. Before I had a chance to examine his license, registration, and insurance card, his comment to me was, "You know, I could have smoked you." The comment took me aback, as it can have multiple meanings.
I asked what he meant exactly, and he explained that he could have outrun me and my police cruiser. I then picked up my portable from my duty belt and asked him, "Are you faster than a radio signal? Because there's another patrol cruiser down the road about three miles who will stop you for sure."
Saying something like that to a law enforcement officer would have never occurred to me as a civilian before I became a LEO. I don't know what the BMW salesman told him, but clearly, he had been reading and believing too many of their advertisements.
The Real Deal
Once I stopped a driver who was speeding, and asked to see his license, registration, and insurance card. He replied, "How do I know that's a real badge?"
I controlled my anger and answered, "It's a real badge." I showed him my ID: "Here's my real identification." And I motioned toward my car with the flashing lights, "And that's a real police cruiser."
While he was digesting that, I added, "If you'd like, you can be brought in front of a real judge, in a real courtroom, and if the real magistrate so decides, you can be brought to a real jail."
He made no further comment about whether I was a genuine law enforcement officer.
Stating the Obvious
A woman walked into our small sub-station to register a complaint of criminal mischief. Now there were two other officers there, one completing a report and the other processing an arrest. I am in full uniform, including badge with decorations, sidearm, and duty belt with two additional magazine cases and TASER. But her question to me was, "Are you a police officer?"
I replied with a smile, "It's not Halloween."
She glared at me and walked out the door. Of course, a personnel complaint followed the next day.
The Ammo Expert
Another time during a very busy morning riding double on the Fourth of July holiday weekend, my partner and I stopped to grab a quick lunch in between the plethora of calls we were sent on all morning. As we were eating, a man walked up to our table and sat down.
I thought he was a friend of my partner; my partner thought he was my friend. He started asking about our sidearms, which at that time were the S&W Model 686.
At my answer, he observed "Oh, Magnums."
I corrected him, stating that Magnums were too difficult to control so we use a +P round.
His comment was, "Oh, that's a weak cartridge. If you're wearing a heavy coat, they don't even go through."
Now, I don't want to get shot with a BB gun much less a +P round. So thinking he was kidding, I said to him, "Well, go home and put a heavy coat on. We'll test your theory."
Both my partner and I laughed, but not this gentleman. He got up and walked away.
When I returned to our headquarters at the end of the tour, my lieutenant called me into his office and asked, "Did you threaten to shoot someone today?"
I told him what had happened and his comment was that people do not have the same sense of humor that we have. He actually laughed but asked me not to utilize that same response should a civilian make such a silly statement to me again.
Traffic Court and trials are another place where our sense of humor must be employed. This one gentleman would not take a disposition (pleading guilty to a lesser charge) for his speeding ticket and insisted on a trial. We were both sworn in and the defendant gave his statement. And as the issuing officer, I gave mine.
The gentleman had no questions for me, but asked the judge if he could make an additional comment, which he was allowed to do. His comment was, "Your honor, if I was speeding, I was speeding for only about five seconds."
The judge's head went down and he started writing. He then turned to me asking if I also had additional statements to make to which I replied in the negative.
The Judge's final comment was, "On the basis of the testimony given before me, I find you guilty as charged."
The defendant was livid with fury. He didn't realize he ruined his innocent plea by stating that he was speeding. He became upset, calling it a "kangaroo court, like the old Soviet Union."
It was all I could do to not burst out laughing. Which I did later in the locker room.
When my relatives, friends, and acquaintances ask what to do when they are stopped by a police officer, I always say the same thing: "Just be nice. Keep your hands visible. Don't get out of the car unless you are directed to and make no sudden moves."
As we all know, the "just be nice" part goes a long way. As law enforcement officers we do not escape the everyday problems faced by every American. A friendly gesture, a smile, a courteous salutation, all go a long way toward making our days more pleasant and our job easier.
Anthony Charles LoBalbo is a retired police officer who served in the Town of Lewisboro (NY) Police Department for 14 years. He also served for 28 years as a Reserve Deputy with the Dutchess County (NY) Sheriff's Office.