Curbside Justice

GUMSHOE-DANNY-PITOCCO[su_dropcap style=”flat”]W[/su_dropcap]ELCOME BACK kind readers to another posting in the exploits of “The Gumshoe”. I was wondering if any of you find folks ever heard the term “curbside justice”? When I started my law enforcement career back in the early 70’s, “curbside justice” was a very common practice among veteran police officers.

These veteran police officers came of age during World War II as well as the so-called “police action” of the Korean War. Us (yours truly included) who were from the Viet Nam era were considered the new breed. We definitely had a different approach to working the streets.

Here are some of the differences between us “newbie’s” and the “old salts”:

  • They always wore their helmets. We preferred to look more human and left our helmets inside the trunks of our police cars.
  • They carried their “night sticks” with the lanyard wrapped around their wrists. We kept our “batons” inside the holders on our “Sam Browne’s” (Duty Belts).
  • They carried “saps” in their back pockets. (Saps are made of flexible leather and are filled with sand or lead filings. They are designed to strike and break bones), We preferred “mace” aerosol spray.
  • They had “sap” designed black gloves. We had just plain old leather gloves.
  • They stuck to their trust 6-shooter revolvers. We preferred the semi-automatic pistols.
  • They knew of all of the local eateries that “popped” (no charge) for the cops on their respective beats. We preferred to either “brown bag” our meals to save money.
  • They all went to “choir practice” after the shift. (Beer drinking, swap war stories and maybe visit with their off duty dates) We preferred to go home.

Now don’t get the impression that these old “veteran” officers were corrupt or brutal, they were not. They had a keen street sense and they did their jobs by “protecting and serving” the public.

The one thing that they and us always agreed on was “curbside justice”. (Keep in mind folks that this was the early 70’s and cops were respected by the citizens as well as the news media. Law and order was paramount if a politician wanted to get elected).

These were the rules of “curbside justice”.

Note: The officers as well as the suspects all knew how the game was played by these rules, no kidding!

  • If a suspect ever harmed a child, that suspect would suffer even greater harm.
  • If a suspect ever harmed a woman, that suspect would suffer even greater harm.
  • If a suspect threatened an officer’s family member, that suspect soon thereafter regretted that statement. It was expected that the suspect would threaten the officer. All bark but very seldom ever a bite.
  • If a suspect assaulted an officer, that suspect learned to never assault an officer again.
  • If the suspect ran away from the officers he knew that he would pay a price once he was caught. He might develop a limp.

Suspects were expected to lie to the officers. That was never a surprise; it was expected in the crook’s handbook 101.

Once the handcuffs were on the suspect the game was over and he or she would be treated with as much dignity and respect that they would allow. You see folks, back then, today’s suspect may be tomorrow’s informant or witness. He was never taken advantage of regardless of his sobriety.

These “street rules” for the administration of “curbside justice” always seem to keep the murder and mayhem to a minimum.

When I worked the streets during this era, I never witnessed any occasion where there was officer brutality and the suspects all seem to respect the rules and pay attention to the consequences.

Now as good old Bob Dylan once sang, “The times are a-changing . . . “ Those old police veterans as well as us “newbie’s” are now long gone and policing our present day society is really a “thankless” job to say the least. I am not saying that the concept of “curbside justice” was always right, but it worked! It demonstrated to the residents that their assigned beat officer took “ownership” for their homes and businesses and their personal well-being in which the officer patrolled. The officers “gave a damn”.

I adopted some of these “street rules” and I also learned to “establish some curbside justice” on a few occasions when it was demanded. My code of conduct was to talk a suspect’s ear off before I had to physically control him or her. I had many instances where I could have actually legally and morally shot the suspect but my “street sense” saved me from “dropping the hammer”. You see, I knew that I would always have to answer to God for all of my actions and He watched over me for sure! He also watched over the suspects on those occasions also.

I am sorry to say that in today’s arena of “political correctness” and “optics” the old motto of “protect and serve” has been modified to just “smile and wave” for the police officers that want to keep their jobs and their liberties. I once read that a society gets the police force that they deserve, how sad is that I ask?

Well, until next time folks, love the ones who love you.


Danny Pitocco
Danny Pitocco
RETIRED (as a Detective with the Snohomish County Sherriff’s Department, Washington State), Danny has over forty years of law enforcement experience across city, county, state and federal levels of government, including service as a Special Agent for the DEA, US Department of Justice. He’s a decorated law enforcement veteran, and recipient of the "Detective of the Year" award for Snohomish County, Danny is a certified composite artist and has testified as an expert witness in the field of narcotics and modus operandi of particular crimes in state and federal courts in California, and has given testimony before federal grand juries. Danny served four years of active duty in the US Marine Corps and loves Jesus as his personal savior.

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  1. I am a Criminal Justice student who has observed the corrupt ways police handle themselves. Curbside justice doesn’t make me happy about feeling safe. I also hate that police have discretion. These are just my opinions. I like the article! Thanks for posting this informative information…

    • Thanks for your comment. Discretion is necessary since the only thing in police work that is black & white are the units (cars). A veteran officer who survives the streets has learned to deal with the “gray” areas. In today’s world, the lines have been blurred and sometimes erased.

    • Lynn, you were definitely a “newbie” like me, however, you had to work twice as hard to be accepted by the “old salts”.

      I respect how you succeded and I salute you for proving the “old salts” wrong!

  2. Danny: I am of the opinion that we would all be better off if we returned to the days of “curbside justice”. The very few cases where that latitude given police officers would be abused is worth it to get the much broader and more common good that would come from it. Of course, in today’s world of rabid liberalism it would probably result in street wars….oh, I nearly forgot….we already have those don’t we.

    • Thanks Ken for your comment. People would be surprised how much police officers want to do the right thing (morallu and legally) but cannot.

  3. You’re right – things have changed. I was never a police officer but this is true. “The officers as well as the suspects all knew how the game was played by these rules, no kidding!” I realize there are no coincidences, but as I read this an hour after my morning quiet time, it struck me that I just read scripture that dovetails with what you just wrote. It’s only two verses, but it’s kinda long so I won’t copy it all here. Romans 13:1-2 – it’s says if you rebel against authority, you are really rebelling against God. Thanks for another interesting and relevant story, Danny.

    • Dear Jane, yes indeed. We are all expected to submit to folks who are placed in authority over us since all authority comes from God.

      Man’s justice is imperfect but we both know that in the end that God’s justice will be perfect and just!

      Thanks for your comment,