Postal Police Rely on Safety Too

Cpl. Humphrey Rutherford, a law enforcement officer for the United States Postal Inspection Service, describes his job and demonstrates gun safety during a UJW news conference at National Public Radio on April 10. Photo by: Laurel Hattix, UJW Staff/Stone Bridge High School

By Brielle Weber

UJW Staff

WASHINGTON — For a United States postal officer, safety is the key to getting home alive every night.

“Safety is paramount, I don’t care what job you are doing, this job, any job, safety is paramount,” Humphrey Rutherford told students journalists recently at National Public Radio.

As he talked, the postal police officer displayed a blue, plastic replica of the gun he uses every day.

Rutherford, 52, has undergone an intense training regimen in Georgia and Delaware to become a postal police officer.

He told the students that there are four tenets of handling firearms: “You treat every weapon as if it is loaded; keep your finger off the trigger; know your target, backdrop, and beyond; and never point the weapon in any direction where an unintentional discharge could harm someone.”

Rutherford explained that a lawful shooting and a justifiable shooting are two different things. A lawful shooting is when an officer shoots a suspect in order to protect himself or the public. Although many shootings are lawful, Rutherford said he struggles to sometimes justify the act.

In the end, he’s just trying to get home to “rub the head of that little nappy-haired kid” he said, referring to his son.

Rutherford said he’s had his harrowing moments on the job.

Several years ago, he said, he saw a bald, Caucasian male driving a white van erratically through the complex where he worked. Feeling threatened, he signaled for the van to stop, but the man drove right by him. So he took out his gun, stood in the way of the van and signaled again for the man to stop. Seeing the gun, the man stopped the van and slowly excited his vehicle.

Rutherford told the man to kneel on the ground with his hands on his head, but the man started to reach into his pocket. Not sure of what the driver might remove from his pocket, Rutherford readied himself for a kill shot.

But his training, and patience, paid off.

The man was only reaching for his wallet.

Rutherford later learned that the young man actually was an intoxicated seminary student, and not a real threat.

Rutherford explained that if he had shot the man, it would have been a lawful shooting.

“I would rather be tried by 12, than carried by six,” he said.

Rutherford said the threats on his job never stop.

“We are 24 hours regardless … bad guys take no days off,” he said. “I just want to come home everyday.”

Rutherford said he unwinds by spending time with his wife and kids and after “a good half an hour of (the TV program) Sanford and Son, I am good.”


Founded in 1975, the Washington Association of Black Journalists is an organization of Black journalists, journalism professors, public relations professionals and student journalists in the D.C., metro area. WABJ provides members with ongoing professional education opportunities and advocates for greater diversification of the profession.