Buck Savage is Born - Training - LawOfficer.com

Buck Savage is Born

From lark to liability to legend: how it all happened



Sgt. Betsy Brantner-Smith | From the August 2010 Issue Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I can vividly recall seeing my first Buck Savage video. It was the mid-1980s and I was a young narc attending a riveting in-service training class about, well, um … OK, I don’t remember the topic or the instructor, but I do recall the moment that he popped in a VHS tape and I heard, “Hi gang. J.D. ‘Buck’ Savage here.”

We always looked forward to videos in class; they usually provided a much-needed break from the monotony of the lecture. But this was a 60-second vignette of a silly looking, overly macho cop with blonde hair and big mustache who delivered an officer survival tip in front of a convenience store while the cashier behind him was robbed at gunpoint. We all laughed, and at the next break a couple of my classmates tried to imitate the cop from the video. More laughs.

I never gave that silly video much thought—until the next time I pulled up to a convenience store. I was undercover, but I was still a cop, and as I parked I suddenly remembered that guy, Buck Something-or-other. “I don’t want to be that guy,” I thought, as I parked well away from the front door, scanning the parking lot.

Before getting out I looked inside the store. The clerk was standing upright, always a good sign, chatting up a customer while he counted out change. There were a few other people in the store, grabbing six packs and bags of chips and so forth. It all seemed pretty normal, so I went in, bought my diet soda, and left. I didn’t know it at the time, but ol’ J.D. “Buck” Savage had just made one more young cop a little bit safer.   

I saw a few more Buck Savage videos over the years, usually while attending in-service, and I heard guys around the station referring to their squad car as a “Mobile Observation Platform” and trying to do the voice. Buck was slowly becoming a part of our police culture.

Talking Head

In 1990, my department subscribed to the Law Enforcement Television Network. It was like CNN for cops, delivered 24/7 via satellite right to our roll-call room. The talking heads at the news desk were usually a former Miss America and some blond guy with a big mustache. She was gorgeous, and he was intense. I thought the guy looked familiar and then it hit me: The voice! It was that goofy cop from the funny videos. But this guy, Dave Smith, seemed so serious, so professional. He and former Miss America Debbie Maffett became as familiar to cops as Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs were to the rest of the world.

In 1996, I attended the National Citizen Police Academy Symposium in Aurora, Ill. I’d been tasked with helping to organize my department’s first CPA. The symposium was great, and I got to hang out with some of my buddies from other departments. We were all thrilled to learn that J.D. “Buck” Savage was going to be our keynote speaker. Wow! The guy from LETN! I wondered if we’d get to shake his hand. Would he wear his uniform? I really hoped he’d do “the voice.”

He looked shorter than I had imagined, and broader in the shoulders. And he didn’t do the voice. He gave a great talk, though. Some of the time he was funny, but mostly he was serious, and inspiring, and he gave me a lot to think about. We all lined up to shake his hand, and he was friendly but distracted, and then he hurried away. Obviously, he was a busy guy with important TV stuff to do.

Years later I learned the truth: His three young kids and their pet rabbit were waiting for him at his hotel. One of the cop’s wives had played babysitter while Dave gave his talk and he didn’t want to inconvenience her any further. Plus, that rabbit had a reputation for getting loose.

I’m pretty sure the kids had something to do with that. I know those kids pretty well now: They’re my step kids. That’s right. In 2001, I became Mrs. J.D. “Buck” Savage, and during our courtship, I finally learned the secret of how Buck Savage was born.

Way Back When

Smith had no intention of becoming a cop. He was going to be a fighter pilot. He soloed three airplanes on his 16th birthday and enrolled in the Naval Academy after graduating high school in 1970. That year he blew out his knee during a wrestling match. The Navy fixed him up but told him he’d never be allowed to fly, so he left Annapolis and enrolled in University of Arizona, Tucson.

Smith fought fires on a hot shot crew in the Coconino Forest in the summers, studied political science and considered becoming a lawyer. As graduation neared, one of Dave’s friends talked him into testing for the Tucson Police Department. At the time, Tucson was the No. 1 city for crime in the U.S. What better place to be a cop?

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Sgt. Betsy Brantner-Smith

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith is a 28-year veteran of the Naperville (Ill.) Police Department and has held positions in patrol, investigations, narcotics, juvenile, crime prevention and field training.


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