Retired ‘smiling cop’ finds second life with dealership

Published 1:00 am Sunday, March 18, 2012

They called him “The Smiling Cop,” for Robert Dowe had a perpetual smile on his face in all the years he was on the Vicksburg police force, working his way to the top as chief.

Dowe, 56, has been retired for several years and now has a used car dealership.

He grew up in Vicksburg, graduated from North Vicksburg (named Temple) and earned a degree in criminal justice from Ole Miss.

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He began working with the public, however, when he was 12, holding down a job at his uncle’s country store on Mississippi 27 near Utica. That first job found Dowe wearing many hats: he swept floors, checked groceries, cut meat, stocked shelves, pumped gas, remembering that “We sold everything, from wheat shorts to chops, things that most stores nowadays don’t even stock.”

Joining the Vicksburg police force was a natural transition for him: his father was on the force as well as several cousins, not only here but also in Columbus, Ga.

It was genetic, Dowe said.

He was just 21 when he joined the local force, starting a few days after graduation from college. He served as chief for several years during the mayoral administration of Joe Loviza.

Dowe found out that being chief also brings with it a lot of headaches, stating, “You catch it from every direction. Anytime you have employees you have problems. Then there’s dealing with the public, and with politicians.”

Being a policeman also has its rewards, and Dowe said he’s had people who came back later and thanked him for arresting them. One guy in particular, he recalls, had been sober for years and then began drinking again. He told Dowe had he not been arrested he probably would have wound up in the gutter.

The job of policeman, whether it be captain as Dowe was for a number of years, or chief, certainly isn’t as exciting as the TV shows portray it.

“There’s an occasional adrenalin rush that makes it exciting,” Dowe said, “but most days are pretty routine, kind of boring. It’s still a dangerous job. Just when you think nothing is happening….”

He remembers a time when a chaplain at the police department liked to ride along on patrol. One day he called for Dowe to come to an apartment building — “I though he wanted a ride” — but instead found an elderly lady’s alcoholic son loading his .35 Marlin and threatening to kill someone. Dowe called for backup, and they managed to disarm the man.

There were other times when he really felt in danger, Dowe said, like the time he pulled a man over on the interstate, called for backup and saw the other patrol car going in the opposite direction, looking for a place where he could cross the median.

“I guess the man decided to seize the moment,” Dowe said. “ He charged me like he was going to grab me around the neck. I pulled a pistol and he changed his mind.”

The pistol was the equalizer, Dowe said. Turned out the guy had stolen the car in Atlanta.

Breaking a case isn’t always easy. There are instances when Dowe said he knew someone was guilty but proving it was another matter.

There are some instances where the result is obvious, “for you know something is wrong when a guy is headed west on the interstate and says he’s going to Jackson to get a job.”

Dowe’s role in law enforcement didn’t end when he retired as a policeman. For eight years he worked for a contractor investigating fraud in the Corps of Engineers. It was a traveling job, one that took him from New York to Oregon, and during that time he said, “I landed a few big ones.”

It was during those years with the Corps that Dowe edged his way into the used car business, buying a couple of cars, parking them on the corner with for sale signs on them, “and it worked pretty well so I got my license and opened a car lot.” He buys most cars at auctions, some off the internet, and occasionally an individual stops in to sell a car.

Finding a reasonably priced used car isn’t always easy, Dowe said, “and there’s no way to guess what people want. Some cars sit there for a while, but there’s somebody out there who wants what you’ve got. You just have to connect. Some people get the itch and have to buy a car right then. That’s especially true when income tax refunds come in.

He laughs about the day when a friend parked his ’57 Thunderbird on the lot for just a little while — it was like a decoy, bringing numerous phone calls from folks wanting to buy it.

Dowe said if there’s anything wrong with a car he has for sale, he has it repaired. He’s not a mechanic, but he can do cosmetic work. If a customer isn’t satisfied, he’ll take the vehicle back within a reasonable length of time. He admits that car salesmen, like lawyers, sometimes get a bad rep, “ but all you can do is laugh. I try to be honest with everyone and stand behind what I sell.”

He hasn’t totally left law enforcement — he works part time on security assignments.

He spends a lot of time watching his grandson play softball. The boy calls him “Pop Daddy,” pretty close to what his daughters called him when they were growing up — it was “Cop Daddy.”

He can’t visualize retiring again, he said, “because I’ve got to be doing something.”