Retired Seattle Police Sergeant and author Howard A. Monta shares his life of public service
Always on Duty
After over forty years of finding himself in harm’s way, Ballard resident, author and retired Seattle Police Department Sergeant Howard A. Monta now brandishes not a gun and nightstick, but a cane and a smile.
His shirt is clean and pressed, his voice calm and soft. He introduces himself politely, but it’s not long before frenzied stories of his past career begin to fill the air, with scenes of him pursuing desperate robbery suspects at metal bending speed.
“I was always a thrill seeker. I used to drag race on the streets of New York City when I was eighteen,” he said.
Monta’s life is punctuated by a career filled with high-risk jobs. Aside from serving as a police officer for twenty-nine years before retiring as Sergeant of Seattle’s North Precinct in 1998, Monta also served in the Air Force and worked as a Seattle fireman for 5 years.
“If someone had told me then that I would grow up to be a cop, I would have slapped them – I hated cops I thought they were heartless because they were always after me. I had 7 moving violations before I was eighteen,” Monta said.
In 1957, Monta joined the Air Force when he was 18 and spent four years working with the 6th Tow Target Squadron stationed in various East Asian countries, including Japan and Korea.
“We would tow targets a mile behind our planes for the boys on the ground to shoot with 120-millimeter cannons, but it wasn’t all bad. If you’ve seen the television show MASH, then you get a good idea of what things were like over there. I stayed in the barracks with the South Korea guys and they were always playing games and tricks on each other ... sometimes ones that weren’t so good,” Monta said.
During his time in the Asian Pacific, Monta witnessed the prostitution of young girls. Seeing such injustice inspired him to become a police officer.
“When I was young I became disgusted with people that took advantage or victimized other people, especially children,” Monta said.
In 1961, Monta returned to Washington and for two years worked with the King County Sheriff’s Department reserve unit in charge of juvenile investigations. To support his family, Monta also took a job with the Seattle Fire Department.
“I arrived at a scene where the house was engulfed with flames and there was a woman outside saying, ‘My baby! My baby! Save my baby!’ so I ran in the house with no mask on and crawled on the ground looking for a baby only to find a dog under the bed. So I carried it out and gave it to her ... boy did the chief give me an ear full,” Monta said.
Having worked as a fireman, Monta took advantage of the G.I. Bill and he enrolled at the University of Washington to study psychology and sociology.
“I went to the University of Washington for two years and I didn’t learn much, but it’s a good school ... I wanted to be a police officer, and I saw an ad in the paper for an opening with the SPD, so I applied and got it,” Monta said.
Monta began his career with the Seattle Police Department as a traffic patrolman and eventually fell in with the motorcycle unit working in many different regions of Seattle.
“I once pulled a man over on Rainer Avenue and immediately there was a problem. He didn’t want to get a ticket and wouldn’t give me his driver’s license ... he said that I didn’t care about him because he was black and I was white ... I told him that I would gladly lay my life on the line for him. That’s your job as a cop, to protect the public and that’s why I got into police work from the start ... anyway I didn’t write him a ticket,” Monta said.
Despite his success as a patrolman, Monta wanted to fight crime in more ways than writing traffic tickets.
“I wasn’t an aggressive ticket writer. I mainly wanted to catch the burglars, child molesters, and murderers ... but I managed to catch a lot of thieves too,” he said.
Monta may be best known for his roll in a stand off and eventual suicide of the notorious bank robber, William “Hollywood” Scurlock, after he stole $1.08 million from a Lake City bank the day before Thanksgiving in 1996. The suspect got his name for the elaborate makeup and facial prosthetics he would wear during bank robberies, two of which were in Portland and fourteen in Seattle.
To share his experiences serving the public, Monta co-authored with his wife Elizabeth numerous books, including “Like A Cat With Nine Lives,” “How To Survive Low Moral, Stress, and Burnout in Law Enforcement” and “How Police Officers Get Hired.” Monta has also contributed articles and letters to the Seattle Police Guild throughout his career.
“I had the stories, but my wife was the brains. Liz was the editor and chief and critiqued my work until she passed away three years ago,” Monta said.
Since his wife’s passing, Monta has not planned on writing any more books. However, he still notices the things he did as a police officer.
“I walk three times a day and I still see everything that’s suspicious the way I did when I was with SPD ... I have called 911 only a couple times since I’ve been retired, but they were mainly for drug deals which occur in very obvious locations in Ballard. I think burglary is one of Ballard’s worst problems, but I do believe that Ballard is one of the safer areas in the city,” Monta said.
Though still keeping an eye on the streets of Ballard, Monta plans to enjoy his retirement and stay active with three police retirement groups that meet in Seattle and Port Townsend.
“I enjoy the atmosphere of my home ... These days my entertainment is the news, baseball and watching MASH. I also try to spend as much time as I can with my son and two grandchildren,” he said.
As far as moving violations and other tickets, Manta pointed to a disability sticker on his car and said, “I’m safe these days, but you better watch out.”