After 48 years of patrolling the streets of Crestwood and Marlborough, Corporal John Cottom has retired to spend more time with his family. Looking back, he says he will miss talking with people and helping solve their problems.
"All in all, I really enjoyed doing the job and I hated to retire, but it was getting time," he said. "I will miss parts of the job, I will miss a lot of the people. We all had a good time over the years."
Cottom originally became a police officer to follow in the footsteps of his father who was a St. Louis County deputy sheriff. The younger Cottom joined the Marlborough Police Department in 1962 as a patrol officer. He worked there 14 years.
His father was the chief of police at the time, but Cottom insisted his father had nothing to do with him getting the job.
"He supported me, but he made a strict rule: 'You better go to the academies,' " Cottom said.
And he did just that. Cottom said that even after his initial training at the police academy, he continued participating in training programs throughout his career.
After his father retired, Cottom decided to move to the Crestwood Police Department in 1976, to be a part of a larger department with more opportunities. He worked as a patrol officer there until the 1980s, when he was promoted to corporal and put in charge of the traffic division.
One of the biggest changes Cottom has seen over the many years he patrolled Watson Road--originally known as Highway 66--was that when Interstate 44 opened up it took away most of the tourist traffic from the area.
"Over the earlier years, it was really fun. A lot of excitement, you had a lot of dealings with out-of-town people," he said. "Any time the Cardinals were in town, the places were packed, you could not get a motel. Soon as 44 opened up they all started going right on downtown."
Another big change over the years was in technology. When Cottom was new to the patrol, the cars had two-way radios, but no portable walkie-talkies, computers or even radar. He said these developments have helped make the job not only easier but more safe, enabling officers to communicate efficiently--and more quickly for backup.
Cottom also has noted a change over the years in the type and severity of calls he received on routine patrol. Calls now tend to be more detailed and escalate more quickly, particularly domestic disturbance, he said.
"You had domestic calls before, but a lot of it got settled either before you got there, or right after you got there," he said. "You were able to settle it down and go on your way. With some today, it's just pretty rough before you even get there."
In his early years patrolling Watson Road, Cottom saw fatal accidents fairly often. He recalled his first one, less than a year after he joined the police force, was a three-car fatal crash on Christmas Eve. On the initial call, police only found two cars and thought they had collided head-on. The next morning, a third car was found behind a motel. The car had run off the road and behind a motel, where it hit a tree. It had been nearly invisible the night before.
Another day on the job that sticks out in Cottom's mind is a day in the late 1970s when he helped catch a man in Grasshill Plaza just as he prepared to rob another bank. The man was also wanted for murdering his brother in Louisiana.
On a routine patrol, Cottom and his partner spotted a suspicious car parked near a creek on the edge of town. They investigated and found Michael J. Foot changing his clothes, with a gun on the seat of his car and a trunk full of bank bags and money. They arrested him and found out he had just robbed a bank in Omaha.
"That sticks in my mind because of some of the statements he made while passing (us) in the hallway at the police station," Cottom said. "If we had just taken our eye off of him for one second, he'd have killed us right there, because he wasn't going to be taken alive, he said."
Now that he is retired, Cottom is looking forward to making up for lost time with his wife, kids and grandchildren. He said the one thing he didn't like about the job was the time it took away from family—he saw many of his colleagues struggle to keep their marriages together.
"Without my wife it'd have been hard to do, probably, with everything I did, all the stuff we missed over the years. But now it's time to make it all back up," Cottom said.
Cottom said that he is looking forward to taking walks in the parks and sleeping-in whenever he feels like it. His only big plan so far is to spend time in Key West with his brother, who has lived there since he retired from military service.
"Whatever comes, comes. Like my wife said, I've got all the time in the world now. I can do whatever I want to do," Cottom said.