Split-second Decisions Part of the Job for Postal Police Officer

By Hal Dockins

UJW Staff

WASHINGTON — Out of nowhere a delivery truck comes careening into the parking lot and thunders across the asphalt. Seeing his path impeded by a fence, the driver violently swings around and charges back toward the entrance where Cpl. Humphrey Rutherford is on patrol. 

Rutherford attempts to stymie the out-of-control vehicle by stepping in its path. The driver hits the brakes before he reaches Rutherford, who promptly orders the man out of truck and tells him to get on the ground with his hands above his head. 

All this is in a day’s work for Rutherford, 52, who has been in the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) for more than 14 years. One doesn’t become proficient at that job without learning how to make split-second decisions.  

Rutherford first joined the USPIS in 1996. He had to endure a rigorous training regimen at a federal facility in Glynn County, Ga., that included two months of running and target practice. The only weapons that he is allowed to carry are a baton and a .40 caliber pistol.  He said he believes that it’s important to treat each weapon as if it’s loaded.

“Know the target, the backdrop and beyond,” Rutherford said at a recent news conference. “Never point the weapon in a direction where unintentional discharge can do harm. “

Rutherford tackles different types of crime and it’s within his authority to arrest criminals in or near postal facilities.

He said the USPIS is learning everyday to catch the people who are committing mail fraud or other scams. Even though the FBI handles the most crime, Rutherford said that communication between the two agencies is “extremely” important. 

The USPIS generally handles crimes that affect the U.S. Postal Service. It monitors the mail because, as Rutherford said, “Until it gets to you, it really isn’t yours, it’s ours.”

In the case of some crimes, Rutherford said that the USPIS can track text messages and e-mails, and it also can detect DNA and fingerprints on money orders and certified checks. In addition to these duties, the officers patrol large cities. 

Rutherford said that the scariest moment he has encountered on the job was not having to kill a man who he suspected had a weapon.  

Rutherford said the man in the parking lot had put his hand behind his back as if he was reaching for a weapon — and out of Rutherford’s line of vision.  In the blink of an eye, Rutherford steadied his weapon, aimed for the young man’s chest, and prepared for the worst. 

“I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six,” Rutherford said about his decision to pull his weapon.

Before Rutherford fired a round, the driver returned his hand to his head. It turned out he was reaching for his wallet.


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.