In the spring of 2023, Main Street offered an 11-week series called “Telling the Story: An Introduction to Reporting and Writing”. The program focused on what it takes to be a professional reporter and was led two members of Main Street’s communications team, Cindy and Evan. Cindy has 20 years of experience as a journalist, and most recently worked as the senior editor of Bethesda Magazine.

During the series, participants learned about the art of storytelling and each selected a person to interview. Main Street resident and member Ben Glantz interviewed Joe Lowery, a 33-year veteran of the Montgomery County Police Department who moved into Main Street last year and serves as the Resident Safety Officer. Ben talked with Joe about why he became a police officer, the scariest moments of his career, chasing bank robbery suspects and more. Read Ben’s story below.

Joe and Ben

Why did you want to be a police officer?

Joe: Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed working with the community. When I was in high school and middle school, I was a mentor to young people, helping them learn how to read. I delivered newspapers; I’d babysit kids in my community; I’d cut people’s grass. I always served the community. But I was also kind of a science nerd, so when I graduated high school I came here to go to college and I thought I was gonna study science. Three or four years into college, I ended up meeting a police officer at a barbecue—just a random officer, a young guy who looked like me, a Black officer. He and I started having a conversation. He said, ‘You should think about being a police officer,’ and I had never thought about that. So I went on a ride-along with him, and another ride-along. Then I started applying.

What do you do as an officer now?

Joe: About a year and a half ago, I retired from the police department because I’d been a police officer for 33 years. That’s a long time. I was at Quince Orchard High School [as a school resource officer] for the last eight years of my career, but when the schools closed I started helping with our media division because I have a background in video production and photography. I did that right up until the day I retired, and then they asked me to come back. I’ve been back for almost a year and a half as a contractor.

What parts of your job do you like the most?

Joe: I remember when I was a little kid, I was visiting my grandmother in Ohio and I got lost. I was probably 7 or 8 years old, and a police officer ended up finding me. And I was very scared because I’d never been lost before—and I just always remember that police officer helping me, getting me back to my family. So I just really enjoy helping people, solving problems where the end result is nobody gets in trouble.

What was it like working with high school students as a school resource officer?

Joe: When I went to Quince Orchard, that was my second time being a resource officer—I’d taken a break and worked in a plain clothes assignment where we were doing some surveillance work. I really missed working with the kids. I worked at Blake High School and a bunch of other schools, going back to Quince Orchard in 2013. What most of us do is you go into the school and you kind of adopt a ninth grade class and follow that class through 12th grade. You do one class, then you say OK, I’m ready to do another assignment. The problem I had was I just connected with the kids and school so much. I kept saying, this is my last year, this is my last year. Then, of course, COVID happened and shut the schools down. And I didn’t get to see the kids until a year and half later when they had graduation.

Was there a lot of drama in that job?

Joe: A high school is like an apartment building—it’s kinda like a small city. In a city or an apartment building that has 2,200 kids and several hundred staff members and community members, people come in and out—and every day you’re gonna have something happen where somebody’s not happy. But overall it was a very positive experience. The drama that we had—especially after I’d been there for a couple years, the staff and I, we had a great working relationship. I’ve worked undercover, I worked the sniper case, I’ve worked a lot of different cases, but my best work as a police officer was working in the schools.

How did you build good relationships with the students at Quince Orchard?

Joe: How I engaged was just being present for the kids. I was there every day. I was teaching classes, kids would talk to me about how to ask a girl out to prom or how to do a job interview. I wrote recommendations for colleges. That’s what happens when you work in an environment like a school, you become part of a community within a community. I think I made a difference at the school, but I think the kids and the experience working in the schools made me a much better officer.

Can you talk about a time when you were scared?  

Joe: I think as a police officer or anybody, you always get into situations where you’re afraid of something. For me, it would be the sniper. First the man was shot on the lawn mower in Rockville, then the young lady in Leisure World. That was the first of 23 days we worked in a row, at least 12 to 15 hours a day. That was when I was scared—because nobody knew why this was happening. We didn’t know what the motivation was. We were looking for the white van, and it turned out the white van had nothing to do with it.

How fast did you drive when your sirens were on?

Joe: When you’re a younger officer, they have this track where they teach you how to drive fast. But we don’t generally drive more than 15 to 20 mph above the speed limit. The whole idea is that if you’re going to an emergency, you gotta get there in one piece. The fastest I’ve ever done in a police car—I probably got up to about 115 or 120 one time, chasing a bank robbery suspect. You’ve got to be accountable for everything you do because cars are very smart, they know exactly how fast you’re going. I had an assignment once where I worked with the FBI and went undercover as an armored car driver. That is the slowest car I’ve ever driven.

What is your favorite thing at The Soulfull Cafe?

Joe: There’s an Officer Crowe [from the Rockville City Police Department] who has a smoothie named after him. I’d say the wraps and Officer Crowe’s smoothie—those are my favorite things.