Stories From The Lancaster Police Department, The L. L. Lower Years
Here’s a speed loader full of stories from my early days at the Lancaster Police Department and the time spent with my favorite Police Chief, Larry L .Lower.
Sometime in March or April of 1972 I applied for a job at the LPD. I was working as a stock boy at a grocery store but got time off to go and take the written test. Chief Lower came in to address the applicants before we took the test and I remember being impressed with his military presence. He was an ex Marine Corps drill instructor.
I did well on the test, got hired and went through the 4 week in house training from the Associated Chiefs of Police training manuals. On May 18, 1972, I went to work on the street for the first time. I turned twenty-one the same day.
One fine afternoon that summer, I finished my shift and decided to walk downtown to goof off, hang out and probably just be seen in my uniform. I took a right by the courthouse and met Chief Lower coming from downtown on the sidewalk.
“Sowell, get your cover,” he said.
“Hey Chief,” I said and stepped around him.
“Sowell,” he said a little louder than I thought necessary.
“What?” I answered as I looked back at him.
“Get your cover,” he said.
“Sure,” I said and continued down the sidewalk.
“Sowell,” he yelled this time. He had my attention now and I went back.
“Go back and get your damn hat,” he just stared at me. That’s how I found out that a cover is a hat. Who knew? That sure wasn’t in the training manual!
That fall we all went out to the pistol range for training. By that time I had realized how pathetic a Smith & Wesson model 10 in .38 Special was especially with the 158 grain round nosed ammo that we were issued. I upgraded to a Browning High Power in 9 mm for off duty use. I had it with me that day.
“Chief, you want to try my Browning?” I asked at the end of the day. He was the best shot on the range that day and most days after that.
I think he said yes but all I could hear was a terrible ringing. In all fairness, Chief Lower told us to put something in our ears. I wish I had listened to him, every day since.
He took the gun, sneered at it and pointed it down range at a target. I am sure he had tons of experience with the old “seven in the magazine and one up the snout” Army Issued .45 and was not expecting to like this gun. When he got to round eight he looked at the gun a little funny. By the time he got to the eleventh round he stopped and looked over his shoulder at me. He was putting them all in the black at 50 yards.
“How many rounds does this damn thing hold?” He asked.
I just grinned and he finished the magazine. He never told me he liked it, but I knew.
That winter I met a girl who had an Old English Sheepdog, I think she named him Snoopy. She dropped him off for me to puppy sit late one night when I had desk duty.
Long about two or three that morning I had the dog sitting in my dispatch chair and was seeing how long I could get him to wear a my police hat. I mean cover. Things were a little slow that night.
Chief Lower walked through from the squad room past dispatch and then froze. He turned, saw the dog behind the desk with the hat on, rolled his eyes and left saying nothing.
Another day when I had desk duty the Chief and Sgt. Winn were standing around on my right talking and Major Huey was sitting on a bench to my left. Winn said something about his gun having a hair trigger. Chief Lower did not believe it and asked to see the gun.
“Chief, that’s loaded.” Winn said.
“I know it’s loaded,” Chief Lower said pulling back the hammer. He released it with the trigger and lowered it so it wouldn’t fire with his thumb.
“I’m serious, Chief. That thing has a hair trigger and it’s loaded.” Winn said.
“I know...” and of course it went off! The bullet struck the floor about fifteen feet in front of the desk, bounced through one side of a trash can and dented the inside of it before it flew into the air and landed right in front of the desk. The silence that followed was broken first by me laughing.
“Shouldn’t be messin’ with them guns inside,” Major Huey said.
Chief Lower never would throw that trash can away. He kept putting it somewhere out of the way in the department, and I kept sneaking it back into dispatch whenever I worked night shift.
One night, Jimmy Balkcum and I came by the Police Department off duty just messing around. We did not know that was the evening of a Coroner’s Inquest into a suicide that had happened at the LPD. A black guy had jerked an officer’s gun out of his holster and shot himself in the head at the front desk. There had been quite a stir over it with many folks in the black community thinking the worst.
The courthouse was filled to the brim with interested parties and the Chief had not counted on the crowd. He came in, saw us and asked me if I had “that High Power”.
We ended up providing security and I think the Chief was glad to see us that day.
Not always, though.
We tried to con the Chief into signing to let us buy a machine gun once and almost had the form signed when he decided to check out a model 76 S & W in the catalog.
“Jesus Christ, Balkcum. That’s a freaking machine gun,” he yelled. I had stopped in the hallway outside his office, let Balkcum go in alone, and backed up even more when Chief Lower started with the yelling.
And then there was the time Balkcum asked me where the Chief was when I was running the desk late one night. Chief Lower always had a habit of clearing his throat before he entered a room. Except when he didn’t.
“Chief gone home?” Balkcum asked. He knew he was behind me in the squad room.
“I guess, good riddance to the SOB,” I said and then the Chief walked right by us in dispatch and out the front door to his car. Balkcum laughed about that the rest of the night.
Eventually, I quit the police business for about nine months, found I did not like working and Chief Lower hired me back. He left for bigger departments after a couple of years, but would drop by occasionally. I made Detective in the late 70’s and one day I popped in the front door to find ex Chief Lower standing at the desk. He turned around, looked at me and shook his head.
“You still here?” He asked. What a guy.
I tried to call him my last day. He was retired and living in Savannah, Georgia . I got his wife who did not remember me. She took my information. We had the going away party. I went to get the last of my stuff our of the office. The phone rang.
It was Chief Lower and I got to thank him for hiring me, twice, and for changing my life.
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