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.


One evening while working as an officer with the Highway Patrol, I was working in a rural area about 25 minutes from the closest city. I stopped a vehicle for possible Driving Under the Influence. As soon as I approached his vehicle, I could see he had a bad attitude. I could also smell the strong odor of alcohol on his breath. I directed him out of the vehicle to conduct field sobriety tests. When he realized he couldn’t pass them, he started to run towards the field that bordered the freeway. I ran after him and advised dispatch of my foot pursuit and my location. He tried to jump over the wire fence, but his legs got tangled while he fell over the fence. As I tried to grab his legs, he kicked my hands. It felt like he broke a couple of my fingers. We both made it over the fence and he ran across the unlevel ground in the dark.

While we were running, my baton fell out of the ring to the ground. I caught up to him and made a diving tackle. As we rolled on the ground, we were both hitting each other. I advised dispatch my call sign and that I needed assistance. He then knocked the radio out of my hand. In the fight, I could feel blood running down my face as we continued to fight. I was waiting for backup units to arrive when all of a sudden I heard the dispatcher ask who needed assistance. My hope of receiving assistance was dwindling. The dispatcher then went through the roll call to see what unit it was, but somehow skipped my call sign. The dispatcher then advised that he accounted for all the units. I then knew I was not going to be receiving any assistance and I could barely move due to exhaustion and my injuries. I developed one last burst of energy. I hit him as hard as I could and was able to get handcuffs on him.

I walked him back to my radio and advised dispatch that I was the unit who needed assistance and that I needed an ambulance for the suspect. In defense of the dispatcher, our radios were not very effective then and I was in a bad reception area. It is amazing the strength you develop when you turn to survival mode.

— BS


I was working at a sheriff’s substation after midnight and not much was happening. I was monitoring the CB radio in my patrol car when I heard someone wanting to trade some weed (marijuana) for some methamphetamine. I answered him and said I was interested. The person answered and said he would meet me in a vacant gas station next to McDonalds. I had a large Sheriff’s uniform coat that hung down almost to my knees. I parked on the next block, turned my coat inside out and tucked my side handle baton under my arm.

As I walked across the vacant gas station lot, a guy called out to me. I went over to him and immediately recognized him as someone I had arrested several times before. He showed me the marijuana he wanted to trade. I identified myself and arrested him. I then asked the location of his car. He told me he walked to the truck stop from his house. I walked him back to my patrol car. I then drove to the McDonalds parking lot which was closed and found one car in the lot with a person sitting in the passenger seat. I got the passenger out and found several small bags of marijuana hanging out of his boot. I found the wallet of my first suspect in the driver’s seat. It turned out to be a very productive night just from listening to the CB radio.

— DG


In 2006, I was hired as a teacher in a low security prison. Working in the quilting and crocheting program was going to be a challenge for me since I could sew, but not crochet. I was about to learn by the seat of my pants.

My first view of my work area was riveting. A stark difference between the usual "lockup" since low security is structured around post incarceration skills. Inmates in prison blues and "tats" sat quietly crocheting toys at large tables outside of a glassed-in area. Inside the enclosure were more inmates working at rickety old sewing machines while scissors, quilt cutters, pins, and various kinds of materials were scattered across more large tables.

The sonic boom of being illiterate was humiliating to these men. I could not ignore the fact that I saw little collaboration among them as they grappled with the complexity of the designs. My first task was to eliminate the gang and ethnic affiliations, which thrives on isolation, by pairing them up. I put a reader with a non- reader, and an English speaker with a non- English speaker. I explained that numbers, photos, and color schemes were easily "read" and universally transferable. I established a step-by-step process where I signed off each assigned task, gave them guidance as needed, and initiated group discussions to solve problems. I then stepped back, and let them guide each other.

As their work progressed, I was notified that a grant I had written for new sewing machines was approved. Their work production had become astonishing. With a structured and more relaxed environment, the sullen expressions were gone, they greeted me each day and hustled to get to work. They brought in patterns to show me that family members mailed them and they were proud of their work.

Our warden believed in those guys and set out to prove it to them. One day, he announced he was planning an unprecedented in-house art fair in our unit. He even brought in a popcorn machine. Any items like toys or quilts made with facility funds were to be displayed, then donated to a local homeless shelter and Toys for Tots. However, handmade items like baby blankets, dolls, and toys made and paid for by inmates had another destination. The warden had contracted with vendors in town for inmate goods to be sold at the annual art fair they held every fall. All funds collected for each inmate would be held in an account until their release, with a small percentage going to the vendors of the fair. The day of the fair came with a sort of carnival atmosphere. The warden went from item to item and congratulated the men.

I was humbled by their success. By the time I prepared to transfer to another job, my students had collaborated to research a project being circulated around the United States. It was a huge "AIDS Memorial Quilt." Each prison would sew as many squares as they had workers to be added to the quilt, with only the first name and date to honor those afflicted with the disease. The squares were mailed in and added to the quilt in Washington D.C.

And I thought they could not speak the same language.

— SL

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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