Incredible Hulk’s Bulk of Badges and Law Enforcement Legacy

By Stephen Owsinski

The relative sensation of celebrities opting to don a law enforcement badge and a duty belt is a notably growing trend lately. Retired NBA basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal became a deputy sheriff with the Clayton County, Georgia sheriff’s office, his 7’-1” frame towering over Sheriff Victor Hill. According to Strait Times, “Deputy Shaq” is “also an honorary US Deputy Marshal and is a reserve police officer with departments in California, Arizona and Florida.”

Former Five Finger Death Punch drummer Jeremy Spencer departed the hugely successful police/military-supporting band to become a city cop with the Rockport, Indiana police force. Martial artist and big-screen actor Steven Seagal served as a celeb-cop with the Jefferson Parish, Louisiana sheriff’s office, as a reserve deputy serving justice in a reality-TV series aptly called “Lawman.”

Today, social media channels have been circulating Lou Ferrigno, whose famed “The Incredible Hulk” character portrayed the TV series’ namesake and green-bulked do-gooder with a…ahemunique way of exuding power and authority. Ferrigno’s latest stint among his legacy as a law enforcement officer commences January 16, 2020, when he will be sworn in as a Socorro County, New Mexico deputy sheriff.

Prior to his upcoming New Mexico duty station, Ferrigno was a deputy with the San Luis Obispo County, California sheriff’s office. Before that, he served as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff. He also holds deputy sheriff stars conferred by LE agencies in Colorado and Alabama. He has creds in Texas, too. And Manchester, Missouri, swore him in as an honorary police officer. His father was a policeman with the New York City Police Department (NYPD). After that biographical review —to include Hulk stuff— it is fair to say Mr. Ferrigno has blue blood under that hulk of musculature…and he seemingly has the means to get around geographically, a status only accorded by reserve or “honorary” deputy classifications (duty obligations are quite minimal —often 16 hours/month— and anyone’s ability to travel affords the variety of multiple enforcement jurisdictions).

Ferrigno’s website cited this action-figure screen actor’s deep-rooted desire to don a star-shaped badge: “This, I take very seriously and I’m very excited, very proud to be a deputy because my whole life I’ve always wanted to be a sheriff.” No bones (or muscles) about it—he’s proportionally equipped with the physical size and moored mindset required to round up law-breaking individuals, perhaps bolstered by his 68 years of wisdom.

Along that 68-year course, Ferrigno dealt with hearing loss since childhood, causing a speech impediment. Ordinarily a deal-breaker in law enforcement processes weeding through the best qualified candidates, hearing deficiencies didn’t deter Ferrigno. His dad’s police-lieutenant leadership kept Lou focused on overcoming odds.

Ferrigno acknowledges his hearing challenges, specifically his toddler years when he “lost 75 to 85% of his hearing [stemming from ear infections], though his condition was not diagnosed until he was three years old.” His hearing loss resulted in childhood bullying (perhaps spawning his desire to be a LEO, to serve and protect others). Ferrigno recalls, “They used to call me ‘deaf Louie’ and ‘deaf mute,’ because of my hearing and because of the way I sounded.” Undeterred, his father’s urgings to excel at everything he wished to do apparently ignited the flame within; Ferrigno picked up weights and grew his physique to astonishing proportions, garnering several championship trophies and medals for his Herculean form. In 1983, he played the namesake role in “Hercules.” This budding future cop once trained with Arnold Schwarzenegger who, well, was never a real police officer but played one in “Kindergarten Cop.”

We can connect the dots of an aspiring police officer whose mingling and musing with/about police culture had plenty to do with achieving real-life status as a LEO.

Speaking of achievement, Ferrigno eventually underwent corrective surgery resulting in successful implantation of a hearing device to allow “natural hearing.” The operation availed an array of auditory clarity he’s never experienced prior to the implant. According to a 2012 post-surgery report in Hearing Health Matters, Ferrigno “can hear things he has never heard before, such as birds chirping and rain falling on his roof. Best of all […] he can converse easily with others, even in a restaurant or other noisy environment.” That sounds ideal, especially for a highly effective law enforcer. Hearing capacity is a physical attribute which enables aspiring copse to be prime candidates for police positions requiring utmost physicality in a dinful world where missing a beat is not an option.

At this point, one can see Ferrigno’s drive to strive for the best he can be, especially when his origin was rife with auditory disability. It is wholly relevant to also consider his acting career, since hearing and speech clarity to verbalize lines are paramount. As David Kirkwood wrote about Ferrigno’s auditions way back, “Although his hearing loss affected his speech, normally a handicap for an actor, his imposing 6-foot, 5-inch, 285-pound physique, along with his remarkable willpower, got him noticed.”

Size matters and can play a vital role in overcoming doped-up bad guys intent on coming out on top before fleeing the police. No cop ever wants it to get to that, so Ferrigno’s auditory drawbacks were offset by his physical presence and, as Kirkwood stated, his “willpower.” Against all odds, some people prevail and achieve the rite of passage into police culture; Ferrigno is a more prevalent example because of his notoriety. But everyday Joes and Janes compete, waging war with their own literal or perceived inefficiencies…to be a victor with a badge symbolizing overcoming travesties and restoring dignities.

And for the sake of dignity, and those on the fence about a celeb achieving several law-enforcement gigs for the presumed sake of sensationalism and mantle-piece braggadocio, Ferrigno frames it this way: “People assume it’s just an honorary thing. It isn’t, because I’m certified and I have police powers which I’m very proud of. So, I went through all the [emergency] driving, the shooting [qualifications], the studying [of police science and law], and it changed my life and I’m very happy to be a real-life hero, protecting life and property.”

Indeed, it is life-changing to meet head-on the full range of physical rigors, mental acuity, and diehard dedication required to graduate from a police academy; I can attest to these factors personally and professionally. Police cadets-turned-bona-fide-cops are optimized and churned out in tip-top form. Ultimately, the sheer will to become something for the greater good is the driving force to join the force. Ferrigno’s legacy bears this out.

Although not necessarily a naysayer in the face of probabilities and enormous odds, I ponder a Fox News report in which a statement made by Socorro County Sheriff William Armijo, Ferrigno’s soon-to-be new boss, indicated that “Ferrigno will play a crucial role in department recruitment efforts.” There’s no denying the vast benefits of a public-relations campaign and its iconic face/legacy many people know as a household name boding quite well for attracting LE candidates. Yet I wonder the aforementioned attributes and self-professed life-long desires of a man who overcame much adversity to achieve his childhood dream of being a LEO. Perhaps Ferrigno is a man who is simply happy to be in the boat (LE uniform), whether it be rowing an oar (nabbing bad guys) or responsible for culling (recruiting) new talents to be the pursuers.

I don’t think any of his 2,407,983 Facebook fans will care either way, as long as the modern-day Incredible Hulk is in a position to combat crime (minus green body-paint) and affiliate himself with as many law enforcement agencies as possible , even if only as an ardent supporter.

Reviewing some of his online presence, soon-to-be-Deputy Lou Ferrigno’s Facebook page contained the following post: “Whatever you’re doing today, do it with the confidence of a four-year-old in a Batman suit.” Yup, I’d say he is cut from the cop cloth, no matter the duty assignment.

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