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Nicknames and a Case of Mistaken Identity

–The Retired Cop

Webster’s Dictionary defines “Nickname” as an additional name, or descriptive name given instead of or in addition to one belonging to a person. A lot of the police officers that I worked with had nicknames.  Just a few examples and how they came about.

Cue Ball: The officer had hair on his head except for a large bald spot on the middle of his head.  He was a veteran officer and I worked with him later on in the Major Felony Unit.

Bigfoot:  I went through the academy with him.  He stood a little over 6 feet and wore size 14 shoes.  He later became the Captain of Detectives.

Moose:  He stood about 6’ 5” and had this really deep laugh.  He was the officer you wanted to go on a call with.

Sparky:  He had two uncles and a brother in the Syracuse Fire Department.  He also was a former firefighter before coming to SPD.

Bones:  I went through the academy with him as well. He was a lanky officer and we later worked on the Major Felony Unit together.

Duke:  The officer was a big fan of John Wayne and in some ways identified with him.

Junior:   His father was a Sgt. in the Criminal Investigation Division.  We would eventually work as partners.

Greaser:  The nickname for the civilian that worked in the SPD garage servicing our patrol cars.  He also owned a used car business.

Finally my nicknames.  Prior to being hired by SPD, I received a nickname when I joined the Marine Corps.  I had a small accident when I was four years old.  I severed my left index finger to the first knuckle.  Before I signed on the dotted line I asked if this would keep me from joining.  I was advised that in the Marine Corps everyone shoots right-handed.

My first nickname was Stubby.  The name followed me through my entire three years in the Corps and my first three years as a Police Officer.  In 1973 there was a television series that starred Tony Musante.  He portrayed a New Jersey detective by the name of David Toma.

I was on the elevator in the Public Safety Building with several police officers and the 1st Deputy Chief John Dillion.  As I was getting off the elevator Chief Dillion states “I figured out who you look like”.  You look like the guy who plays Toma on the TV.  From that point on my new nickname was “Toma”.  To this day that nickname has stuck.  It’s part of my email address.

The neat thing about nicknames was that we very seldom addressed each other with our given names.  It was sort of a badge of honor.

As for the case of mistaken identity.  I, along with another officer, had received a call in my territory regarding a domestic dispute.  Upon arrival, we could hear two people arguing.  We entered the residence and the female stated “I want him out of here”!  After listening to both sides of the story we determined that it would be best if the male left the house for the night.  As we were getting ready to leave with the subject he looked at me and said “Stassi”, you don’t remember me do you. (As uniform officers we wore a nameplate on our uniform).  I asked how do I know you?  He tells me that “you and your partner arrested me around 15 years ago coming out of a business”.  You and your partner chased me for about three blocks before you arrested me.  He goes on to say “man you look good, you haven’t aged a bit”.  “I can’t believe how good you look”.  It took me a minute but I realized that he was talking about my father.

After we finished with the call I changed location and went back to the PSB.  My dad was a Sgt. working in records at the time.  I asked him if he remembered a guy by the name of Johnnie Westbrook?  I told him that I just cleared from a domestic and he thought that I was you.  Dad started laughing and stated yes I remember him.  He was a well-known safe burglar back in the day.  Me and your godfather caught him coming from a business at around 5 in the morning.  We chased him three or four blocks before we finally caught him.  My dad asked if I cleared up the mistake?  I told him that I told Johnnie that “clean living has kept me looking that good”.

I was thinking that I was still in my dad’s shadow and although not a bad thing I needed to start making my own legacy.

Tom Stassi
Tom Stassi
Thomas J. Stassi was a Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran having served 3 1/2 years from 1966 to 1969. He was sworn in as Syracuse Police Officer in 1970 having served for 20 years before retiring as a Detective in 1990. During his career he served in the Uniform Division, a Major Felony Unit investigating Homicides, Burglaries, Rapes, and was the recipient of "The Medal of Valor" award. Tom also worked as an undercover investigator in Gambling, Narcotics, and Prostitution. After his retirement, he worked in the Onondaga County District Attorneys Office for five years as a Senior Investigator.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Love it “Toma” aka “Stubby”. I always felt that once you received your departmental “moniker” it was a sign that you were officially accepted by the veteran cops. Sometimes it preceded you Tom. I remember testifying in federal court as a DEA Agent when the highly paid defense counsel asked me about my nickname when I was a street cop: “Madd Dawg”. I explained to the jury how I received that name by physically defending a rookie officer during an intense bar fight against a crowd of drunken bikers. The jury enjoyed the story as the defense counsel hung his head and limply walked back to his chair. No further questions your honor he weakly exclaimed!

    • Thanks Danny. I’m still known by my moniker/nickname. It was a different time back then. I know you should not live in the past but as one of my former Police Officer friend once said “Those were the days my friend”.

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