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Traffic cop Banks retires after 34 years

Deputy issued more than 30,000 citations.

Posted: March 31, 2008 3:59 a.m.
Updated: June 1, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Tommy Banks holds up a street sign given to him on his last day of work at the Santa Clarita Sheriff's Station Thursday.

 
Deputy Tommy Banks, the legendary traffic "enforcer" of the Santa Clarita Valley, has issued his last ticket, causing drivers all over town to breathe a sigh of relief.

Banks retired Friday after 34 years with the Sheriff's department, during which time he issued over 30,000 citations and earned a reputation as the hardest-working member of the traffic division.

Seemingly every driver in the SCV has gotten a ticket from Banks at one time or another. Though this did not always earn him fans amongst the general public, he knew his job was not to be popular, but to keep motorists safe.

"I did my job and did it to 100 percent of my ability," he said. "And yes, I made people angry because I was doing my job. There are a lot of nicknames people have for me, most of which are not nice. But the majority of people still back me and what I did, and I'm glad they're alive to think that. And the ones that don't like me, well I'm glad they're still alive to hate me."

Banks said his ability to improve public safety in Santa Clarita made it all worthwhile, something he kept in mind when faced with angry motorists.

"I have to think that I couldn't have done it all those years if I was just spinning my wheels and not contributing anything," he said.

Raised in Lakeview Terrace, Banks joined the Sheriff's department in 1974 after a stint in the Navy and a few months with the San Fernando Police Department.

He started his career at the Wayside detention center, and over the years moved through the civil division, the Altadena station, then the Santa Clarita station, where he was first posted in 1983. In 1988 he went back to Wayside, but was re-posted to Santa Clarita again in 2002.

In his many years chasing and ticketing speeders, which Banks says is the number one offense committed by drivers, he has heard his fair share of lame excuses.

"When I stop people, they often say 'I bet you've heard every excuse in the book,'" he recalled. "Actually, no. I am still amazed at the things people come up with. 'I had to go to the bathroom' is the most common."

One time Banks stopped a girl who said she was speeding because she had spilled Coca Cola on the floor of her car the night before, and her foot had gotten stuck to the gas pedal. He though that was pretty novel until a year later when he stopped a man for speeding, and he gave the same excuse. Turns out the man was the girl's father.

Banks hopes to spend his well-earned retirement doing all the things he hasn't had time to do in last few years.

"I want to play some golf, spend time in Vegas and Laughlin, and go to the racetrack - I love to play the horses," he said. "I also want to spend time with my grandbabies, and catch up on old movies."

His colleagues will be sad to see him go. Sgt. Richard Cohen, who has worked with Banks for many years, admires his professionalism and unique style, even if he is a bit of an "acquired" taste.

"He's a different breed of person, and a colorful character," Cohen said. "Tommy does his job the way he wants to do it, and does it very proficiently. I personally will miss him, and miss his stories."

If he had the chance to do it all over again, Banks said he wouldn't change a thing.

"I'm very fortunate that I got to do what I wanted to do," he said. "How many people can say that? And I sure had a lot of fun doing it."

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