Fifty-two years, nine guns and three retirements later, Sylva Police Officer J.P. Gallardo is ready to catch some bass and trout.
His last day with the department will be June 25, capping a 48-year career as a gun-toting lawman.
Gallardo began his career in 1967 as a dispatcher for the N.C. Highway Patrol, servimg four years.
“I got out of high school, and I was too young to be a trooper,” he said.
In 1971, Gallardo climbed into a 1970 Plymouth Fury and took to the roads as a trooper, first working at the Banner Elk station. In 1974, he moved to the Bryson City office and to Charlotte in 1980.
He came to the Sylva station in 1982 and stayed until he retired from the Highway Patrol in 1996.
“After I retired from there, I went to work for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in administrative staff, first as a captain and eventually a major,” he said.
He stayed at the sheriff’s office until retiring with 15 years service in 2011.
Davis Woodard, then chief of the Sylva Police Department, hired Gallardo to patrol downtown and enforce parking ordinances, he said.
That duty included enforcement of a newly enacted rule prohibiting workers, merchants and apartment dwellers from parking in prime parking spaces from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
“But I also enforced all other ordinances such as fire lanes and handicapped parking spots,” he said.
It was those handicapped parking space that led to one of Gallardo’s most interesting encounters.
“I was issuing a citation for somebody parked in a handicapped space, and this lady was crying and asking me not to write the ticket,” he said. “I told her ‘Just wait until I get through, and I’ll be more than happy to explain it to you.’ She said she didn’t understand why I was doing it.”
He asked her what year her car was. She told Gallardo it was not her car. He asked whose it was.
“She said ‘I don’t know’ and I said ‘You don’t know who owns this car and you’re crying over it because I am writing a ticket?’”
The woman told Gallardo she just hated to see people get tickets.
“That just blew my mind,” he said. “That lady had no idea who owned that car. I’d hate to see what would have happened if it had been her car.”
Several local law enforcement officers did ride- alongs with Gallardo when he was with the highway patrol, he said.
“Davis Woodard rode with me,” he said. “So did (Jackson County Sheriff) Chip Hall and Chief Deputy Kim Hooper and others. There was a bunch of them. Back in those days, you could do that.”
At last week’s Sylva town board meeting, town Manager Paige Dowling presented Gallardo with the Glock 9 9 mm he had been issued when he joined the force.
It is the ninth handgun in his collection, going back to the Colt .357 Magnum revolver the highway patrol first assigned him.
“That gave me every gun I’ve ever carried in law enforcement,” he said. “The highway patrol gave me the one I retired with and all those in between, and the sheriff’s office gave me my retirement gun plus all the others I carried.”
The biggest change Gallardo has seen over the course of his career is the technology.
“Everything is so much quicker and computerized,” he said. “You can pull somebody over now and anywhere they’re wanted in the United States you’re going to know it in minutes. We used to have a ticket book and you’d write a ticket and now you get in the car and push a button and it goes straight to Raleigh.
“I’m still a certified officer until the end of the year,” he said. “I’m going to remain an auxiliary officer in case they need me, like for a parade or if somebody is out sick and they need me to help.”
Gallardo has taken on some part-time work delivering auto parts.
“I have enjoyed my job,” he said. “I feel like I’ve had a good rapport with the downtown merchants. The town of Sylva has been very good to me, and I’ve enjoyed working for them. I went out on a good note, with a good taste in my mouth. No animosity whatsoever toward anybody, it’s just time for me to go.”
“J.P. has been a role model for all officers,” Sylva Police Chief Tammy Hooper said. “I’d like to thank him not only for his service to the town and our community, but for the county and for the state.”
“It is amazing and very rare for someone to be in law enforcement almost 48 years,” Dowling said. “J.P. has been such an asset to the Sylva Police Department. He has shared his experiences and knowledge with other officers. J.P. will be missed.”
Dowling said the town plans to hire a part-time clerk for the police department and that parking patrol duties will be shared by all officers.