Novato man’s long career of helping people, as a singing Elvis and crime writer | #College. | #Students

When Bill Palmini Jr. reflects on his time as the bedazzled white jumpsuit-wearing “Elvis the Lawman” singing cop who crooned covers and original traffic safety songs across the country, he gets emotional. The Novato resident still has heartwarming letters from students he performed for. Helping people is part of what motivated him through his 50-plus years in police work, some of which was spent in Sausalito.

From that came “Know What Cops Know,” a crime prevention guide he co-authored with Tanya Chalupa that gives advice on identity theft, burglaries and mass shootings, and what to do if you become a victim.

Q What inspired you to get into police work?

A I went to City College of San Francisco and I had no idea what I wanted to be. The first six months, I wasn’t doing that well in college. I had a great counselor who said, “You should try this intro to law enforcement course.” So, I took it and the instructor was so fabulous with his presentations. I really got fascinated and that’s how I got hooked.

Q You’ve been a lieutenant, investigator and chief of the department of public safety at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont. How did that work shape you?

A I am more understanding of what’s going on in society. I am proud to say I never shot my weapon at anybody in 54 years. Most of the time, it’s in the communication, approach and attitude. When I started, I thought I was going to save the world, and you find out later you can’t save the world, you can only do the best you can. You can help people, and be understanding and compassionate.

Q How did “Elvis the Lawman” begin?

A I was at a conference with the California Office of Traffic Safety. Each department puts on a talk about what they are doing surrounding traffic safety. At the time, I was doing Elvis with a music group. So, I had this karaoke machine and I took Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and I changed the words around for traffic safety at the end of my slideshow. There was a man there from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A week later, he shows up and says we’re going to do a pilot and record a song called “Buckle Up” — which I did — and did a performance. The kids loved it. So, that’s how it was born and then we had funding in a grant and it ran for 10 years.

Q What stands out from that time?

A There was a teen in juvenile hall. His father was in San Quentin. He did this song and ended up being one of our winners. When his probation officer brought him to our recording studio, they brought him in handcuffs. I said, “How can he express himself in handcuffs? I’ll be responsible, he’s going to be an artist today.” They took the cuffs off and he sang a song and was put on a CD, which he designed the cover of. Later, the California State Juvenile Officers Association was having a conference and wanted me to perform but I said let’s take the man with us. He did and sang his song. I have pictures of all these cops lining up to get his autograph on the CD. He says because of the Elvis program, it helped turn his life around.


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