Thomas B. Jacocks as a 23-year-old rookie Montgomery County police officer in 1955 and as a lieutenant today. (Left: Family photo. Right: Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post.)

Lt. Thomas B. Jacocks, 84, is retiring.

Come late Wednesday, he will turn in his gun and close a career marked by tight standards, few words and sheer longevity.

Jacocks has been on the Montgomery County Police force for 61 years, making him among the longest-serving officers at a major U.S. police department.

He started in 1955 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president.

His opening wage: $1.44 an hour. His equipment: A .38-caliber Colt revolver, ticket book and a marked Chevy with a siren switch on the floor.

From his perch, Jacocks saw Montgomery transform from a sleepy Maryland county to a booming suburb of more than 1 million.

“I can’t move as fast as I used to,” he said recently in his spartan office at police headquarters.

On the whiteboard behind him is a revised printout of his career highlights. Originally created in 2005 for his 50th anniversary, it extends another 11 tick marks to the right. “I updated your timeline for you,” a captain wrote above it.

These days, his duties are entirely administrative. He combs through the department’s backlog of more than 10,000 arrest warrants, looking for those that need to be expunged, if say, a suspect is dead or the person who made a complaint cannot be found. Since March, he has helped clear out about 2,500.

But it is at the morning gatherings in the warrant and fugitive section, when younger officers go out to catch the bad guys, or, as Jacocks listens to radio calls crackling during his commutes, that the tasks he no longer can do hit home.

“It is not expected for a policeman to ignore something,” Jacocks says in his gruff, by-the-book manner.

He passes a flier for his upcoming retirement reception — light refreshments to be served.

“And here he is. In person!” says Sandra Batterden, a 30-year county veteran as she spots him heading to the file room. “Are you excited?

Jacocks allows the tiniest smile to curl at the corner of his mouth.

“No.”


Lt. Thomas B. Jacocks, 84, left, looks at one of his photo albums with images from his 61-year career with detectives David Aaron and Elizabeth Holt at his office at police headquarters in Gaithersburg. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

For years, officers have worried about Jacocks — usually from a respectful distance, but more recently in direct conversations. What if he pulled over a driver — something he regularly did until early this year — and got into a scrap? But then again, what if he retired? What would he do?

“This is going to be hard on him,” his wife, 81-year-old Peg, says.

In Montgomery, officers must qualify regularly at the gun range but do not have an annual physical fitness test. And there is no mandatory retirement age.

“The decision to retire was his own decision,” Montgomery Police Chief J. Thomas Manger says.

Manger, who is president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, knows of no current active-duty officers in large agencies who are as old as Jacocks, or any who have served with a single agency for so long.

“He’s never lost his passion,” Manger said.

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, called Jacocks’s age and tenure remarkable.

“I’m unaware of any current officer with that kind of longevity,” Pasco said. “You have to commend him for it.”

Jacocks and his wife have five children and seven grandchildren. He has planted and tended to about 100 azaleas over the years and likes to garden, which could serve as a hobby. But not being a police officer? That’s a looming reality Jacocks is taking steps to minimize.

His plan: Retire on Wednesday. Take off Thursday and Friday — and come back the following week to the same unit, part time with the department’s volunteer corps.

He wouldn’t have an office, but he could still be part of the mission.

“He’ll still have an oar in,” Peg says.

Born in 1932, Jacocks grew up in Montgomery County. He played football at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, wasn’t interested in college, and didn’t like the uncertainty that came with being draft-eligible until he was 25. So he enlisted, figuring he’d knock out his two required years.

After an Army stint at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, he gravitated toward a job he’d long thought about — and put in with the Montgomery police.

“Applicant quiet type person,” Capt. G.W. Linthicum wrote after an initial interview. “Nothing in way of previous employment would be helpful in police work.”

To Linthicum, Jacocks came across as disinterested. The captain classified him a “Fair” candidate.

A recommendation from Fort Leonard Wood told a better story. “Well-liked by his fellows,” wrote 2nd Lt. Irwin Rappaport, “and respected by his superiors, as well as by the men in his charge.”

Befitting the times, Rappaport addressed Question 14 and issued clear title: No, Rappaport checked, Jacocks was not a member of the Communist Party.

Jacocks was measured for his uniform, issued a gun and badge, and told to report to Bethesda.

At nights, his patrol car was one of no more than a dozen on duty in the entire county.

In time, Jacocks was training newer officers.

“Very energetic,” remembers one, Raymond M. Kight, who went on to become the county sheriff. “And he knew the law.”

In the era of Hot Shoppes drive-ins, Peg was parked outside a Bethesda location, waiting for her friend with plans to order french fries, hot fudge ice cream cake and cherry cokes.

A car tore out of the lot, followed by police tearing into the parking lot, followed later by Peg offering a statement on what she had witnessed. Followed by Peg getting to know Jacocks.


Jacocks in 1995 with Olivia, one of his seven grandchildren. (Family photo)

Jacocks in 1963 holding Clare, one of his five children. (Family photo)

They married and started a family. And one day, he raised a subject he’d heard about at work: The county was looking for foster parents. “We’re doing okay,” Jacocks told Peg. “Maybe we should try it.”

The first foster child, a 10-year-old girl, never left. The second, an infant, landed as a surprise — arriving after what Peg had thought was a casual conversation with a social worker about an abandoned child.

“You better get home,” her husband told her over the phone. “We got a newborn baby.”

The tiny boy wouldn’t eat. Peg used sheets to tie him close to her husband, who sat on a rocking chair for hours while the infant listened to his heartbeat and slowly took in food.

Four months later, when the boy was healthy, his blood relatives surfaced, and county staff members came back for him. Peg cried as he was driven away.

“What kind of sense does this make?” her husband asked.

At work, Jacocks didn’t talk much about babies and parenting and heartbreak. And when he did speak, it was often in abrupt sentences.

“I was scared to death,” said Cathie Sterling, recalling her start as the secretary for the fugitive squad that Jacocks ran.

She found part of his no-nonsense reputation true. To Jacocks, there was no gray, only white and black. He let his charges know when they did wrong. But as Sterling found, he was just as quick to tell them what they did right.

Over time, Jacocks brought her Swiss chard from his garden. And even though they never discussed her difficult divorce, Jacocks made sure she received furniture and housewares that he and Peg didn’t need.

He went on to help run the department’s district station in Silver Spring, then became the courthouse supervisor for officers who testified on the daily dockets. One of them, Dave McBain, remembers being a 25-year-old narcotics officer and sitting in court one morning wearing a casual shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. The proceedings hadn’t started yet. He heard Jacocks’s gravelly voice from up front.

“McBain. Come up here.”

The officer bounced up.

“This ain’t no saloon,” Jacocks told him. “Go get in proper courtroom attire.”

McBain raced off to do just that.

At home, the subject of retirement would come up sporadically.

“Are you going to retire or what?” Peg asked.

“I don’t see any reason to,” her husband replied.

In 2003, as Jacocks transferred again, officer Tom Didone created a Certificate of Congratulations for his colleague.

“Your unique insight into the psyche of the geriatric population of Bethesda will improve police relations,” it read, “and allow untold nursing homes to have a police liaison who truly understands them.”

Didone better than anyone got the joke: In his 70s, Jacocks regularly led the command-level staff members in tickets issued, said Didone, who became captain of the traffic division.

At his 50th anniversary, colleagues pointed out Jacocks’s years of service to President George W. Bush. (Family photo)

In 2005, as word spread about Jacocks’s 50th anniversary, a police employee mentioned it in passing to the advance team for President George W. Bush, who was coming to Montgomery for a town-hall meeting. Bush had a message when he and Jacocks shook hands: Keep it up.

And Jacocks had his new answer when Peg raised retirement.

“I can’t retire. The president told me not to.”

A caller ID that a police officer’s family never wants to see popped up Aug. 13, 2010, on Peg’s phone: “Suburban Hospital.”

She vividly remembers the conversation.

“Hey,” her husband said.

“What happened? Did an officer get hurt?”

“Yeah, me. I’m fine now.”

“You’re fine now? What’s wrong, and when was it wrong?”

Hours earlier, during driving rains and power outages, Jacocks, at 77, went to direct traffic along Wisconsin Avenue by the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

When he came back to the station, everyone else still was out. A radio call came across about a motorist stranded in rising water. Jacocks hustled out to the car and began helping firefighters trying to push it free.

Jacocks promptly fainted.

Five weeks later, a surgeon fixed his calcified aortic valve.

“The heart will last another 75 years,” the doctor told Sgt. Robert Perkins, a friend of Jacocks’s.

Oh great, Perkins began joking with other officers, he’ll never retire.

The heart held up fine and he went back helping to run a station, and he kept clocking and ticketing so many speeders that he had to keep his speedometer properly calibrated.

In 2014, Jacocks slipped on ice in a police lot and blew out a leg tendon. He couldn’t regain full flexibility. “Until then,” Didone says, “I’d never saw him as an old man.”

The department moved Jacocks to its headquarters in Gaithersburg, where Didone also has an office.

He knew his mentor could still cull warrants but had concerns about the other policing responsibilities. “I’m worried about you,” Didone said.

No one knows whether Jacocks will speak at his reception Wednesday that is expected to draw a throng of current and retired officers.

But Didone says he expects to reflect on Jacocks’s productivity, his desire to instill a proper way to do things — and how the department won’t be the same without him as a sworn, full-time officer.

“He’s always been around,” Didone says.