Those unfamiliar with the legal perils of using lunch to mimic fisticuffs probably haven’t experienced the Chester County courthouse tour of Joseph Carbo, a retired captain with the Chester County Sheriff’s Office. For more than 12 years, Carbo carried out a wide range of administrative and educational duties for the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, including one of his favorites: conducting school tours of the historic courthouse and Chester County Justice Center.
When Carbo retired in January 2016, he wasn’t eager to relinquish his tour-guide status. Instead, with the Sheriff’s blessing, he encouraged the approximately 20 teachers with whom he had been working to continue the tradition.
“Some people never really leave the office – even when they retire,” noted Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh with a smile. “And we benefit.”
Now, several times a week during certain months, Carbo, who also works as a tipstaff for Chester County Judge Allison Bell Royer, meets groups of young people at the historic courthouse, where he regales groups with information about the building, designed by renowned architect Thomas U. Walter, who also created the dome of the U.S. Capitol.
In addition to detailing key elements of the building, Carbo also describes its role in county history, explaining how West Chester became the county seat, for example. The historic courthouse’s Hall of Heroes gives Carbo a springboard for elaborating on how Americans got the freedoms that today’s citizens often take for granted.
He makes sure the students know about Chester County’s Hall of Heroes website. It launched in May 2016 to tell the stories of the men and women featured in the memorial, patriots who served and died for their country during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars and the War on Terror.The second part of Carbo’s tour moves to the newer Chester County Justice Center. There, he focuses on the legal system, a discussion that culminates with a mock trial, setting the stage for the assault-with-a-ham-sandwich allegation. Students play all the roles, ranging from the judge to jurors.
“Most of the time, the students find the defendant guilty; however, we have had a lot of hung juries, too,” he said. After all, the defendant is acting out in response to being bullied.
Throughout the tour, Carbo said he likes to ask questions of the young people to keep them engaged. “It’s true that kids sometimes say the darnedest things,” he added.
Carbo, who was born and raised in Tredyffrin Township, never expected to become the first in his family to pursue a career in law enforcement. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965, trained as a military policeman, and stationed in Germany in 1966 and 1967.
When he returned home in December 1967, he expected to return to his former job at a local bag manufacturing company; however, fate intervened. He recalled sitting at home and watching sports on TV one afternoon when Robert Gilroy, the Tredyffrin Township Police superintendent and a family friend, stopped in for a visit.
“How would you like to be a policeman?” Carbo remembered being asked.
Because he hadn’t considered that option, he gave it some thought before making a decision to give it a try. After an interview and job offer, he received his badge on May 6, 1968.
“At that time there were no formal training requirements,” Carbo said. “You learned on the job. I rode with an officer for a month. Fortunately, I already knew the area pretty well.”
Shortly before retiring as Administrative Sergeant in 2002, having served for 34 years, Carbo said he received a call from Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh. The first-term sheriff was interested in adding a K-9 Unit to her office and wondered if Carbo could help write a plan. At the time, Tredyffrin was one of first county departments utilizing K-9 teams.
Carbo said one thing led to another, and his retirement become short-lived as he began his second law-enforcement career in the Sheriff’s Office in 2003. When he retired from that post nearly two years ago, once again total freedom eluded him.
Even before his last day, Carbo said teachers started asking him whether they could still call him. “That’s up to the sheriff,” Carbo recalled.
Welsh said when Carbo broached the subject, she was delighted he wanted to continue the outreach, enabling him to become a regular in the office where he had previously said his goodbyes.“I really enjoy doing this,” Carbo said of the tours. “It’s fun to interact with students by teaching them the history of Chester County, the history of our nation, and the workings of our judicial system.”