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July 09, 2014
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Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D. Passion for the Job
with Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

Why you should rethink practical jokes on patrol

I don’t like practical jokes, and to this very day I think Steve’s “man with a gun” call in front of Frontier Realty was dangerous and in poor taste

I owed Steve. On a quiet, midnight shift he had sent me on a “man with a gun” call in front of Frontier Realty. I stealthily looked around the area until realizing that:

A) Steve was a well-known practical joker, and that 
B) Frontier Realty had a sign with a Davy Crockett character holding a musket

I don’t like practical jokes, and to this very day I think that one was dangerous and in poor taste. And I had fallen for it hook, line, and coonskin cap. He didn’t help matters by refusing to apologize, and refusing to stop laughing about it. So, I contemplated my revenge.

“I need some help here!”
A few weeks later Steve was on patrol downtown in the college bar district. The city zoning committee apparently saw no problem with issuing 13 liquor licenses on a single block (which was within walking distance of the college).

Between the locals, the ‘wing nuts’ from the nearby air base, and the students, there were always plenty of fights —  about everything from women to the music selection — but this night Steve must have come across something more than the average sidewalk disturbance.

Steve’s voice was so high and shrill when he called for assistance that had his request for backup been an octave higher, only dogs would have heard it.

We handled the incident and avoided any rioting, bottle throwing, stabbing, or shots fired. After the adrenaline settled down a bit I decided to visit dispatch and listen to the call, thinking there might be some comedic value in the situation — remember that I’d been contemplating my revenge for a couple weeks by now.

The dispatcher rewound the recording. We listened. I could hear Steve’s stressed voice — in his unrefined Ozark accent and ear splitting high pitch — saying “I need some help here!”

I got a copy of the tape. With some editing I thought I could make this a permanent iconic gag with everybody in the department quoting Steve’s high-pitched, country-accented voice saying “I need some help here!” anytime some minor task had to be done. His exclamation had a decidedly Gomer Pyle quality that would play well with the other troops.

It would be a delightful and long-lasting revenge.

“Get out of the car!”
My reverie was interrupted by Steve’s voice calling out over the radio that he was in pursuit, and that another unit was right behind him.

A block away — and perpendicular to my street — a blur of a car raced by,followed by two screaming squad cars. 

I eased toward the intersection to follow at a slow and safe distance when I saw a pair of headlights headed back toward me. The fleeing car had made a U-turn and lost Steve, the lead car. The second unit hadn’t caught back up yet.

I was playing goalie now with the speeding suspect dead ahead. 

With nowhere to go, I stopped and turned on my overheads, surprising the oncoming driver into a skid to avoid crashing into me. 

The car slid into a utility pole a few feet away from me in dramatic fashion. 

I leaped from my car, revolver drawn, and started ordering the passenger out of the car as backup arrived to take the driver.

The passenger, in a panic to comply, tried every way he could to open the mangled door but it was mashed against the utility pole. 

I continued to order him out. 

Finally he was sufficiently motivated to slither through his window, and onto the sidewalk.

I cuffed him and turned him over to Steve.

Later I saw the passenger in the interrogation room. I asked what his story was.

“All I know is we were driving along, the cops started chasing us, and we crashed. Then this lady cop was yelling, ‘Get out of the car! Get out of the car! Get out of the car!’.”

I started to tell him we didn’t have any female officers.

Then I realized the frenzied high-pitched ‘lady cop’ voice was mine.

On the way out of the station I saw Steve in the booking room. “Nice job,” I told him.

Then I tossed that copy of Steve’s dispatch tape into the nearest dumpster.


About the author

Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy.. He is retired as Chief of Police for Adams State University in Colorado. Over his 30 year career in uniformed law enforcement and in criminal justice education Joel has served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor, and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and bachelors in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the US Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over fifty police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards including the Colorado POST curriculum committee as a subject matter expert.

Follow Joel on Twitter @ChiefShults.

Contact Joel Shults





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