Cop Tales are true stories as told by law enforcement officers from all over the country. The stories are told in the first person. The actual officer’s initials follow each story.

Hey, he could have said no

One night, I was working as an officer for the highway patrol when I drove up a long desolate road where I had located stolen cars in the past. On the way, I observed a teenage boy walking down the street. When we made eye contact, he had a sudden look of panic on his face. I continued up the road and observed a nice car pulled over on the dirt shoulder. There were no houses or buildings in the area.

I ran a check on the license plate and it returned as a recently stolen vehicle. I immediately thought of the teenager. I drove down the hill and he was walking at a fast gait and kept turning around to look for me. I pulled over, exited my patrol vehicle, and asked him if I could speak with him. He started to shake and said, “Sure.”

I asked him if he knew anything about the car up the road. He told me he was just out for a walk and didn’t know anything about the car. We talked a little longer and I asked him a few more questions. I asked him if he had any weapons in his pockets. He told me he only had his wallet and his keys. When I asked to see his keys, he pulled them out of his pocket. I asked him if he would mind going back up to the car with me. He hesitated, then told me he would go with me.

When we got to the vehicle, the key opened the door and turned the ignition. He then told me he didn’t want to say anything about it until he spoke to an attorney. I arrested him and recovered the vehicle. Sometimes, things just work out in your favor. 

- BS

Yellow means what?

On a beautiful, sunny spring morning at approximately 8 a.m., I was patrolling for the highway patrol near a high school. As I was approaching an intersection controlled by traffic lights, I observed a vehicle rapidly pass through the intersection from my right. As my light was green, clearly the driver of the Pinto had gone through a red light. I quickly made a left turn and activated my red light. The driver promptly pulled over and stopped.

As I made my approach, a young girl turned to me and said, “The light was yellow.” I requested her driver’s license and saw that she had a temporary license; her permanent license hadn’t been mailed to her by the DMV.

I told her that the light was red, and on top of that, she was going too fast. I then asked her why she was in a hurry. She immediately burst into tears and said, “I’m late for school, and if I get a ticket my parents will ground me for life.”

As she sobbed uncontrollably I said, “Listen to me carefully. Red on top, green below, red means stop, green means go. Yellow in the middle means wait, even if you’re late!”

I then asked her to repeat it three times. She was so terrified it took her multiple attempts to repeat it correctly. When I returned her license, I admonished her to slow down, be careful, and have a good day. She was visibly relieved that I did not give her a ticket.

I still get a chuckle out of thinking of her desperately trying to recite that little ditty. I don’t know for sure, but I bet every time she sees a highway patrol car, she remembers, “Yellow in the middle means wait, even if you’re late!” 

- MR

A Christmas miracle

In 1983, I went on a ride along with my father on Christmas Eve. I was 19 years old and my father worked for the county sheriff’s department. The weather was horrible. It was windy, snowy and never got above eight degrees. That night, we made contact with a truck driver who said he had warrants for his arrest. My father ran his record, but dispatch advised he was clear. The truck driver then advised he was thinking about killing himself so my father took him into protective custody. We took him to the county hospital, which was about two hours west of our location.

We had to drive through the mountains to meet other deputies so they could take him the rest of the way to the hospital. It was so cold that ice began to form on the windows inside of my father’s patrol car, which was an older Jeep 4X4 SUV. During the trip, Dad told me nobody usually patrols that stretch of highway late at night, especially when the weather is bad. There were no businesses, rest stops or pay phones along that entire stretch. We met the other deputies at just before 1 a.m. and they took custody of the truck driver and drove him the rest of the way to the hospital for treatment.

Since we arrived in the Pacific Time Zone, my father realized it was just before midnight, so he drove us to a small Catholic Church where we were able to attend midnight Mass. We walked into the church with my dad in his uniform and me in a sheriff’s jacket. In that moment, I was so proud to be with him and happy about our good fortune to attend Christmas midnight Mass together.

After Mass, we returned to the highway for the long drive back to our town, in the same miserable driving conditions. About halfway there, we found a man walking with a gas can, without a car in sight. We stopped to assist the man and my dad told him to get into his patrol car. The man was not dressed for the cold and had about 45 miles to walk before he would have reached an open gas station.

My dad took him back to the last town and got gas for the man. We took him back to his vehicle where his wife and children were huddled in the back of their pick-up truck (with a camper shell) trying to stay warm. We helped him fill his tank and they were safely on their way. I remember the man emphatically trying to give us money for helping him, but my dad refused it, while telling him that we were there to help.

I was truly amazed at how everything worked perfectly that night. My dad saved that suicidal trucker, we were able to attend midnight Mass in the Pacific Time Zone, and then we helped the man and his family who ran out of gas. I know divine intervention was involved in using my dad to inspire me to follow in his footsteps.

I recently completed over 31 years as a deputy and a school police officer. Thanks, Dad, for all your help and guidance. You will always be my hero.

- BA

Brian Smith served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and retired as an assistant chief with the California Highway Patrol. He resides in Bakersfield. If you have a personal “Cop Tale” to share, please contact Smith at

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