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Humor was police officer's best weapon

November 12, 1998

Roger PowersBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




During his 26 years as a police officer, Roger Powers found that humor often was the best weapon against the horrible things he sometimes saw on the job.

Powers, who in October retired with the rank of sergeant after 26 years with the Hagerstown City Police Department, said he used jokes, laughter and quips to shield himself from the domestic abuse, neglect and violence he encountered.

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"I've seen children living in conditions normal people wouldn't believe - no food, no heat, no parents." he said.

"What got me through was my sense of humor. You can't get through it all without learning to find horrendous things funny."

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When Powers, 53, of Hagerstown, left the police department he wasn't ready to call it quits.

Three days a week he can be found operating a metal detector at the Washington County Courthouse for the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

A former Marine who still wears his hair in a short cut, Powers is quick with a witty comment or compliment, and sometimes a joke, for those entering and leaving the courthouse.

"He was a good policeman and is a good employee," said Powers' current boss, Sheriff's Department 1st Sgt. Robert Hafer.

"He was quick to develop a great rapport with the people," Hafer said.

Powers said the most enjoyable years of his police career were spent patrolling the streets of Hagerstown.

"I never knew day to day what I was going to get into. It was never a mundane job," he said.

It was while responding to a report of an armed robbery in the 200 block of Summit Avenue on Aug. 31, 1985, that Powers gave the order for officers to shoot an armed man who was hiding at the recessed patio area at The Herald-Mail building.

The man, who had been released from prison not long before, had fired at police with a shotgun and refused to surrender, Powers said.

Although the man was killed, giving the order to fire is not one Powers regrets.

"It was either him or us. There wasn't any doubt it was a justifiable shooting," he said.

"One of the things you learn in the Marine Corps and they teach you in the (police) academy is that if you don't know if you can kill somebody, then you better think of another profession," he said.

What was his worst experience?

"It was Dec. 13, 1975, at 9:13 p.m. - the shooting of Officer Donald Kline," Powers said.

Kline, a city police officer who was off duty, walked into a local grocery store during a robbery. He was shot and killed.

Powers said he still misses his old friend and colleague.

Another unforgettable case was an armed robbery during the 1980s at what then was an A&P supermarket on North Potomac Avenue.

While patrolling the area, Powers spotted the getaway car and chased the suspects down North Pennsylvania Avenue.

"They began to throw money out of the car. It came flying at me," he said.

Not stopping to collect the $2,000 in airborne bills, Powers continued the chase and found a gun and a mask.

Several good Samaritans collected the money from the street and returned it.

"We recovered most of it," he said.

In the category of incidents he might prefer to regret: The times he locked the keys inside his cruiser.

"It usually happens on traffic stops on cold, windy nights. It's pretty embarrassing and the officers seem to take their time coming to relieve you," he said.

Powers said he fired his weapon only a few times in his career.

He remembers during the 1970s, driving to Public Square to visit Kline for lunch.

"I noticed a car going the wrong way down South Potomac Street. At that point, I was just going to get him turned around, when he took off," Powers said.

Seven miles at 100 mph later, the driver stopped and ran into a house.

Powers went after him. "He kept coming after me. I warned him to halt but he was crazy and wouldn't stop," he said.

He shot the man in the left leg.

Powers said that shooting and another earned him the nickname "leg man."

In the other incident, Powers arrived at what was a Northern Avenue department store during a breaking and entering.

Powers said when he got there the burglar was still inside.

As police surrounded the store the intruder used a fire ax to break through a side door being guarded by Powers.

"My partner came up behind him and we both shot him in the upper and lower leg," Powers said.

The burglar recovered from his wounds and went to jail, he said.

Although the situation was dangerous Powers said he never hesitated.

"I guess most people look at it as a dangerous job but you don't have time to think about that," he said.

Next to traffic stops, domestic disputes were the most dangerous incidents Powers encountered.

"Usually you are the last person they want to see," he said.

Police normally are called by neighbors disturbed by shouting or other noises, he said.

"Unfortunately, you find many of the people you want to help don't want to be helped,'' he said.

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