By Abhinav Venkat
WASHINGTON – Cpl. Humphrey Rutherford draws his .40-caliber, P229 pistol and points it at the target in front of him.
Hurtling towards him is a white van driven by a bald, glassy-eyed white male. Seconds later, he has the man out of the van and on his knees, commanding him to: “Put you hands above your head.” The man pays no heed, and slowly reaches for his back pocket.
Now, the corporal has a decision to make.
Option one: He could fire his weapon, bury a bullet in the man’s chest, and lawfully justify it.
Option two: He could wait and see what the man is reaching for — and risk it all.
Rutherford, an officer with the Postal Inspection Service, explained the most tense and monumental moment of his career at a news conference with students journalists recently at National Public Radio. In that split second with the man in the white van, his entire experience and training as a law enforcement officer came into play.
The training that equipped him for such a situation began in 1996, in Glynco, Ga.
On a sprawling 1,600-acre facility that lies between Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla., Rutherford attended the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). With 18 shooting ranges, a drivers range and a physical techniques facility, it is the premiere hub for law enforcement training.
After months of training in physical confrontation and firearms handling, he was certified. During his first training run with a firearm, Rutherford was taught the four commandments of law enforcement: treat each weapon as if it’s loaded; keep your finger off the trigger and on the trigger guard; know your target, backdrop and beyond; and never point at a place where an unintentional discharge can do harm.
After his graduation from the FLETC, Cpl. Rutherford was assigned a position as firearms instructor. To know their firearm and use it adeptly, instructors had to assemble the various parts of a standard firearm blindfolded.
He described the position as challenging and interesting. Then, he became a physical techniques officer, training officers in the other end of confrontation: hand-to-hand combat.
“We taught the human body’s weaknesses, and this required a lot of knowledge of how the nervous system works,” he said.
He then pointed to various parts on the human body such as a nerve along the thigh. He also explained how one officer used a chokehold to apprehend a drugged-out subject.
Rutherford said he loves his job and its diversity of duty.
“The Post Office deals with a lot of things, from letters to Santa Claus to international fraud,” he said.
One such situation involved a postal worker who was stealing mail from a certain post office box. The box in question, No. 78, did not exist.
“A music store was sending their CDs to this box, but this employee, instead of sending the merchandise back, kept all of the music that was sent,” Rutherford said.
“We investigated it, and eventually found him, but once it came out of the courts, he got to keep his pension and his job, and a 20-day probation.”
But the jurisdiction of the Postal Inspection Service doesn’t just end with internal affairs. One of the latest international cases the USPIS is investigating involves a money-order scam stretching from the East Coast to Eastern Europe.
What keeps him going, Rutherford said, are the situations he is faced with every day on the job.
And the best part of the job? The surprise reaction of people about his job.
“Who knew the post office had police officers?” he said.