By Hal Collier
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” My past Ramblings have dealt with the L.A. Riots, probably the worst of times. They were fun, but the LAPD took a beating that they still haven’t recovered from. We were blamed for the brutality that caused the riots and blamed for not using enough force to stop the riots. This story will deal with the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles–it was the best of times.
I’m a bit of a sports nut. I played football, baseball, basketball, dodge ball, four square, well, you get the picture. I wasn’t a Rhodes Scholar candidate. I have watched the Olympics since I was a kid. I watch sports I’ve never played. I have watched curling for hours. Go ahead Google curling. My family still talks about the time I was watching the 1980 Mens Hockey game, remember “Miracle on Ice.” The Americans scored a goal, I threw up my arms and fell over backwards in a rocking chair. Even my dog knows not to lay too close to me when I’m watching sports.
The planning for the L.A. Olympics probably took almost a decade: the sport venues, Olympic villages, security, traffic jams, and will L.A. have smog alerts. Thank goodness I’m only a street cop and can just wait and go where I’m told. To most citizens the Olympics last two weeks; that’s just when the competition is going on. The athletes arrive about two weeks before the competition. They need to get acclimated to L.A.’s altitude, smog, do some serious shopping and night clubbing. Tourist flocked to L.A. and especially Hollywood. People from all over the world wanted to see Hollywood, put their feet in the stars footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, see a movie star walking down Hollywood Boulevard. I felt sorry for a lot of them, instead of a glimpse of glamour they found stores packed with t-shirts 3 for $10 and an ash tray with the Hollywood sign on the bottom.
During the eighties, the city was broke as usual and there wasn’t any cash for the overtime you worked. Officers were compensated with time off. Big whoopee—a day off but if you didn’t have any money you got a chore from the wife’s honey do list.
But, the Olympics offered officers an opportunity to make some extra cash. If you had a scheduled vacation you could work your whole vacation and make a bundle, subject to Uncle Sam’s taxes. If you were just a little greedy, you could work on your days off for cash. The down side was that the Department was going to mobilize, which means 12 hour shifts and not many days off. A typical 12 hour shift runs about 15 hours with travel time and dressing and undressing. I chose to work 3 days off during the Olympics.
The rest of the time I worked Hollywood patrol, 6 P.M. to 6 A.M. I expected lots of radio calls, traffic jams, and irritated citizens who don’t care about the Olympics. The opposite couldn’t have been truer. Traffic was light—maybe everyone decided to stay home. People didn’t call the police for the usual petty complaints, like my neighbors leaves are blowing into my driveway. We didn’t have smog and crime was down. I remember one night I was stopped at a traffic light and this lady next to us honks her horn. She said, “You guys are doing a fantastic job, you all look so professional, I’m proud of you.” I pumped out my chest and thanked her, then she said, “but your police car looks like crap.” City budget shortfalls caused us to drive four year old cars with over 100,000 miles.
I worked three days at the Athletes Village at UCLA, a residence for Olympic athletes. The 6 PM to 6 AM shift was not the best time to interact with the athletes but I had a few encounters. My first night, I was assigned perimeter control. I was given a brand new black and white police car, unlike the clunkers patrol was driving. The Village was surrounded by a chain link fence which was wired. If someone touched the fence an alarm was activated and we responded to see if terrorists were attempting to enter the village.
Of course if some idiot touched the fence as he walked on Sunset Boulevard, we responded. We spent the whole night chasing idiots, raccoons and birds. At least I was warm and had someone to talk with. I was also sitting down, which will come up in my next Ramblings. I survived my first night and got a commendation on my appearance. Some officers were sent home without pay if they needed a haircut or had a uniform which didn’t meet the highest standards of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Next Ramblings: things you didn’t read about in the papers.