Anti-Jaywalking Cop Retires After 34 Years
June 29, 2009
By Emily Yehle
Roll Call Staff
Officer Garland Thompson was in the middle of writing a ticket on Sept. 11, 2001, when a passerby told him and the man he was ticketing that a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center.“When the man heard that, he said, ‘That makes me sick,’” Thompson recalled recently. “And I said, ‘Don’t get too sick. I’m gonna write you this ticket.’”
The violation was an outdated car registration, and Thompson stood by his word, issuing the $100 ticket in the moments before a second plane hit the Twin Towers. It likely was the last traffic ticket issued before police shut down the Capitol.
Those who know Thompson won’t be surprised. The 57-year old Capitol Police officer is known for his tenacious enforcement of traffic laws near the Capitol South Metro station, where he has spent more than 30 years scolding jaywalkers and issuing parking tickets.
He will retire on Tuesday, leaving behind a legacy of — depending on who you ask — admirable morals or overzealous policing.
“You can’t find people who are lukewarm about him,” Bruce Kieloch agreed with a laugh.
Kieloch, a Democratic consultant, met Thompson 15 years ago near the officer’s post at First and C streets Southeast, where Thompson was melting snow on the sidewalk with a gallon jug full of salt. Kieloch stopped to help.
“We just became friends after that,” he said. “He’s a reminder of a simpler time when a Capitol Police officer was one part police officer, one part tour guide.”
From his vantage point behind the Cannon House Office Building, Thompson has watched the everyday scenes that go on behind Congressional history while ensuring no one violates any law on his watch.
Tom Williams/Roll Call
Capitol Police Officer Garland Thompson helps a pedestrian at his customary spot at the corner of First and C streets Southeast. Thompson retires this week.
He sees staffers and Members and Congressional employees walk their morning route, sometimes over years or even decades. He’s met a slew of celebrities — from Chris Rock to Chuck Norris to Willie Mays — as they’ve crossed his path on their way to pitch their latest cause to Congress.
The sometimes darker side of the neighborhood has also emerged over the years. Thompson’s corner of Capitol Hill has been the site of suicides, shootings, fights and fires.
He vividly remembers a simmering July day when officers found a baby left inside a locked car. Officers broke the window, and Thompson took care of the infant for hours until the father showed up.
But Members and staffers know Thompson most for his booming voice, which has put fear in the heart of every jaywalker who has dared cross his intersection against the light. Once reprimanded, few forget the experience (including several still-traumatized Roll Call reporters).
Dan Kurtz, a Capitol Police officer who has known Thompson for 30 years, often waves pedestrians across New Jersey Avenue Southeast during a red light when no cars are coming.
Sometimes, he said, they won’t budge.
“They’ll say, ‘But that other officer,’” Kurtz said. “I say, ‘I know what the other officer said. It’s OK here.’”
When Thompson isn’t scolding pedestrians, he’s friendly and talkative, handing out trinkets to children or giving tourists directions to his favorite sights. Fellow officers say he sometimes breaks into song during morning roll call, and every year, he dresses up as Santa Claus for local children.
But on C Street, Thompson takes his duty seriously. Though traffic is usually sparse near his intersection, he is determined to set an example.
His oft-repeated mantra says it all: “Remember Capitol Hill is a lawmaking area, not a law-breaking area.”
“The big thing is getting people to understand the law,” he said, “whether they’re the king of the world or the little bitty guy sitting on the street corner somewhere begging for money.”
Thompson was born in Burlington, N.C., where his parents instilled in him a “very strict attention to things.” He sang in church, hung out at his parents’ outside barbecue restaurant and remembers being told stories about his grandmother, who carried a pistol under her apron for protection when alone with her nine children.
When Thompson was in high school, he wrote to J. Edgar Hoover for a job at the FBI — and got one as a clerk and later a fingerprint examiner in Washington, D.C. Almost 40 years after leaving his hometown, he still carries a Southern twang (“doggone it” is a favorite phrase) and a love for North Carolina barbecue.
Thompson joined the Capitol Police in 1975, and for a couple of years he handled posts throughout the Capitol and House office buildings. But it soon became clear that manning the doors wasn’t for him — he was so thorough at checking bags and purses that lines would form and visitors grew angry.
He began his post on C Street in 1977 and was appalled to see people “crossing haphazardly all over the place.”
“I said, ‘I’m gonna patrol this,’” he recalled. “This is out of sight.”
He has stuck to that goal ever since. His ever-watchful eye has created perhaps the only corner on Capitol Hill where pedestrians actually wait on the corner when cars are nowhere to be seen.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said he repeatedly used Thompson as an example of “effective law enforcement” when he was the chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources.
“There’s one place in the world where you do not jaywalk,” said Mica, who learned that lesson when he was a Hill staffer in the 1980s. “While he is one of the most pleasant and cheerful people, he also has zero tolerance for any offenses.”
Thompson may be controversial among staffers — and newbies who are often the target of his jaywalking ire — but he is beloved by many Members. News of his retirement prompted lawmakers to attend two parties, and several have given him farewell gifts in recent days.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) stopped by a party for Thompson in the Capitol last week and immediately began reminiscing. He met Thompson 13 years ago, when as a new Congressman he wandered into the officer’s territory.
“He says to me, ‘Where you going, sir?’” Pascrell said. “I said, ‘Officer, I’m going home, and I don’t know where that is!’”
Pascrell, of course, now knows the way home, but he hasn’t ever forgotten Thompson’s help. Other Members say Thompson is a familiar character in a community prone to turnover.
“I don’t know his heritage, but he’s the classic image of an Irish cop,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said. “Everyone knows who he is.”
Thompson has the traffic tickets to prove it. He has saved almost all of them, only recently cleaning out of his locker what he calls “hoards” of paper.
But handing out tickets isn’t what he remembers most about his career. He has drawers full of letters from friendly tourists, pictures with Members and celebrities, and mementos from inaugurations.
He is also proud of his role as the oldest member of the Capitol Police ceremonial unit, which helped bury presidents, icons and fellow officers. His badge is faded from his faithful polishing before every burial.
He hopes, he said, that he achieved his aim of being an “Andy Griffith” policeman.
“I wanted to show myself as a friendly policeman, a policeman willing to serve them and help them, but also a policeman who wants to be firm,” he said. “I wanted things to be in order.”