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COP TALES: I could have paid for them

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.

I could have paid for them

When I was a young officer (before I knew you should not get involved in non-serious situations while off-duty), I was shopping in a large grocery store when I observed a man take a couple of large items from the meat department and stuff them under his shirt. He casually walked from the back of the store, passed the cashiers and exited the store.

I followed him outside to his vehicle where I identified myself as an officer. I asked him to show me what he had taken. He had two, long packages full of expensive steaks. I asked him for his identification. He panicked and told me he didn’t mean to take them. He then pointed to a woman who was in line paying for other groceries and told me she was his wife. Once again, I asked for his identification. He then dropped the steaks and started to run away. I yelled out to him that he left his car door open and the police would be waiting for him.

I then went into the store to ask the woman if she knew the man. As I approached her, I could see that she had just paid for a full cart of groceries. I identified myself and told her what had occurred.

She confirmed he was her husband and stated, “Why does he always do stuff like that? I just paid over one hundred dollars for groceries. I could have paid for the steaks.” She gave me her and her husband’s identification information. I then turned over the investigation to a local police officer. I’m guessing she stopped taking him shopping with her.

- BS

We finally won

About 20 years ago, there was a meth dealer in town who sold meth out of her house. The local sheriff's department served a search warrant at her house and she was able to flush the meth down the toilet as they entered. Meth dealer -1, law enforcement -0.

About a year later, a narcotics detective in my unit got another tip that she was still in business and was in possession of meth for sale. The detective got a warrant and we served it. Again she was able to get to the toilet and flush the meth as we entered. Meth dealer -2, law enforcement -0.

A couple of months later, the same detective got information the woman was in possession of meth for sale and he obtained another search warrant. I came up with a plan. We had two detectives walk to the door in plain clothes and act like they were solicitors. She opened the door and started talking to them. While they were talking to her, one of the detectives gave a signal and we entered. The look on the woman’s face was priceless. We found her supply of meth for sale hidden inside a can of paint in the bathroom, next to the toilet. She ended up going to state prison. Law enforcement -1, meth dealer -0.

- BR

An epiphany

During the summer of 1991, I promoted to sergeant and was assigned to a highway patrol office in the inner city. I was 33 years old at the time. Having worked my previous nine years as an officer in what many would describe as “mostly white” communities, I knew I was in for a change of law enforcement perspective. After all, with the March 3, 1991, Rodney King beating and the outcry that followed, it didn’t take the sharpest tool in the shed to realize that law enforcement, no matter what agency, was not looked at with the highest regard within African American communities.

I will never forget one afternoon in 1991, when I was patrolling in one of our many unincorporated communities. I had just finished writing a citation to a motorist when a 70-something-year-old Black man approached me. My first thought was that the man surely experienced unspeakable prejudice and discrimination during his lifetime, and my second thought was that he was coming to tell me that I was a bad racist cop.

But instead, in less than one minute, he taught me one of the most valuable lessons during my law enforcement career. It was a lesson I carried forward with me during the remainder of my career, and a lesson I will never forget. The man extended his hand to shake mine, then expressed his appreciation to me for helping keep his neighborhood safe, and asked me to continue patrolling there in the future.

I was blown away. I never expected to hear that, especially with all the unrest going on. It doesn’t sound like much, but his kind words taught me to never assume that people of color don’t want cops around.

To this day, I often think about that good man. I wish I asked for his name to properly honor his memory. I also think how important that man’s message was to me and to all members of the law enforcement community, especially during today’s vitriol toward cops and the present “Defund the Police” movement going on in our country. To any community members reading this, I say, never underestimate your ability to positively influence a cop by taking a few seconds to thank and encourage them.

- CW

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