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"It Takes Some Time To Grow Into That Blue Shirt": Retired City Cop Tells It Like It Is

Categories: Books
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Policin' ain't no joke these days
The salty-tongued Bill Leahy, a retired St. Louis City cop, has just published a new book called Curbstone Justice, which recounts the rough-and-tumble antics of local cops (and crooks) during the 1950s. Read some excerpts here.  

He recently called us up to speak his mind.

RFT: The title of your book refers to the scornful comment, made long ago by someone in the LAPD, that policemen in the Midwest preferred to dispense justice on the street instead of in a proper court. Are cops today hamstrung by the rules?

Bill Leahy: We had a lot more latitude in those years. I would say we had more freedom to use good judgment; the times didn't require the restrictions [of today, which are now in place] because of civil liability issues, mainly.  I don't know that I'd have the patience for it today.

As I said in the book about high-speed pursuits, today the police siren is competing with boom box music and cell phone users in air-conditioned cars. Sooner or later innocent people are killed and there is public outcry to stop all that "senseless" chasing....So now, you must get permission to pursue [a fleeing suspect] and there must be justification...pray tell how do you know what you are dealing with until you have corralled the bad guys?

You're a regular presence on the website, ST. LOUIS COPTALK, an uncensored forum for officers old and new. Do you think it's good for the department to have young officers on there, airing their grievances?
 
It wasn't supposed to be a public forum. I think there's times when they say things they shouldn't. But that's just me. They're young. It's a really young force. They could certainly use some guidance. I told one the other day, 'It takes some time to grow into that blue shirt.'
 
What's the biggest difference between being a cop back in the 1950s and today?

Look at people that came back from war. It was a much more diverse group of people. [Cops] ranged from one guy who had been in British naval intelligence to another who'd been a circus strong man. [In the SLMPD] there was a big Irish and German presence, with a sprinkling of Spitkowskis in there. But they came from all walks of life.
 
Do any cop shows really capture the essence of being a cop?

I don't watch cops shows. Especially when I was putting this material together. I was concerned about commingling what I'm seeing with stuff I'm grying to put together. You're reaching pretty far back when you're writing about stuff 50 eyars ago. A lot of cop shows is same story you've heard 100 times with a different setting.

How's the book selling?

The book is selling tremendously. I had 500 books on Dec. 17 shipped in. Now I'm down to 140. They're going out the door pretty fast. I'm gonna get some more. Only because that website, I'm selling books on the west coast, east coast. I didn't thing you could sell these things any place but locally.

You left the police force in X and sold insurance for decades. How was that adjustment?

It was like joining a cloistered monastery by comparison. But the things you learn in [the police] business will carry you through life. It's a good education for anybody. If I could do it again, I'd do exactly the way I did it. Those were good times.

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3 comments
J. Brad Hicks
J. Brad Hicks

My late father, who was briefly a 3rd district cop in the 1950s, once told me that the crime wave of the 1970s was because "we don't let cops be cops any more." For example, he explained, if a cop thought you didn't belong in his neighborhood, you'd get one warning; if he ever saw you in "his" neighborhood again after that, he'd just kill you, get a "throw down" (unregistered handgun) out of the trunk of his cop car, and stick it in your hand.

We had a LONG argument about that.

Oscar
Oscar

There were no civil rights in the 50's, everyone got their asses kicked when deserved.

Sam
Sam

Ah yes a guy and his book that romances the days when it was 'more' acceptable to violate civil rights more so than it is today...

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