By Hal Collier
My last Ramblings dealt with 5150’s, the California Welfare and Institutions Code for crazies, or to be politically correct, the term for the mentally impaired. As I stated, some people with mental problems can be treated with therapy, some with drugs and others with the firm arm of the law. That’s where I come in: “I carry a badge.”
Mental Health can be treated with drugs. Some are very good and allow people to function without notice. The problem comes when they decide to stop taking the drugs, they start acting bizarre which attracts the attention of the local constable, or the clerk at the 7-11.
Bizarre behavior can be caused by taking illegal drugs or not taking prescribed medication. Kind of a Catch-22 for the cops to figure out. Illegal drug abusers become paranoid and think someone is out to get them. We once had a guy run into the police station lobby and demanded protection from the guy who was following him. The desk officers ran outside to find no one was following him. They told him he could sit in the lobby for a while. He refused and demanded that we arrest him and give him protection. The officers couldn’t arrest him because he hadn’t committed a crime. The officers never should have told him that. He punched the desk officer and was arrested. He was given the jail cell he wanted but only after he received some medical treatment. He had what we use to say was D & S: Dents and Scratches!
I often would ask an individual who was acting bizarre if he was taking medication. If he replied “no,” I would ask him if he should. The answer was usually “yes.” That was a warning sign that he might be dangerous. Another danger sign was when you’re talking to a possible 5150 and he seems to be listening to someone else. I would ask him, “Are you hearing voices?” If he answered “yes,” I would ask, “What are the voices telling you?” The voices might be telling him to grab the officer’s gun or fight to the death. Both of these can be dangerous to the officers and the individual. I hated fighting the voices and the nut listening to them. I felt outnumbered, especially when the voice he was listening to was God.
My most scary incident occurred when I responded to a “meet the Fire Department” on Kings Road. It was at a very nice condo building. We met the fire captain who stated the tenant started a fire by lighting charcoal briquettes in the kitchen sink. He had also ripped off the cupboard doors and tore up pieces of the kitchen counter, all by hand. The captain pointed to the biggest man I ever saw. He was about 6′ 6″ and 375+ pounds of muscle—he looked like a tackle for the Rams. He was calmly sitting on the sofa and holding a long-stemmed rose. His wife, all 100 pounds of her, said he stopped taking his medication and been acting bizarre for days. Uh oh. Too late to call in sick!
I told my partner to watch him, I’m going to look around. I walked into the den and suddenly I felt a soft brushing on the back of my neck. I spun around and looked into the chest of that giant of a man. I felt a chill go up my spine. I swallowed my gum and as calmly as I could I called for my partner.
My partner and three firemen came into the room. You’ve heard of having a command presence in stressful situations, I mustered up a “go sit down!” He did and I sucked in some air for the first time in 2 minutes. I estimated that my weight, my partners, and his wife didn’t equal this guy. If he had decided to fight we would have lost unless we shot him (numerous times).
We broke protocol and allowed his wife to ride along with us the mental ward at USCMC. (County Hospital). I think she was the boss in the family. We never had to fight him but I couldn’t wait to drive away from the mental ward that night.
Sometimes, I wasn’t so lucky. A fight with a person who believed he was talking to God or was going to die can have the will and strength of an army. You couldn’t reason with them and only brutal force will overcome their will. Almost all of my fights involved 5150’s or illegal drug intoxicated individuals. My longest fight involved a little guy who got high on PCP at the Palladium.
Ok, you’ve just got a 5150 handcuffed and you’re going to place him in your police car. In his twisted mind, he thinks he’s going to the gallows. He will kick, spit and bite. Try getting him in the back seat of a police car with the front seats all the way back. We didn’t have cages or 5′ female partners in the old days, so the seats were always back, how else could you get in a little nap.
In the early 70’s we would lay the patient flat on the back seat or remove the back seat and lay him on the floor board. Unfortunately, that caused some to receive burns due to the hot floorboard and a few to die due to Positional Asphyxia. Unlike dinosaurs, we evolved and sat our suspects upright. This created new problems because our arrestee would kick out the car’s windows and the passenger officer who was required to sit in the back seat with him.
The department came up with all kinds of new restraints for controlling 5150’s. I spent a whole day at the academy being “Net” trained. That’s right—we had a large net that took four officers to handle. The first two officers would run past the nut and throw the net over the suspect and then all four officers would run outward with a rope that would cinch the net around the suspect. It looked like an episode of Animal Kingdom. The net worked great if your suspect was standing still in the middle of a football field. Not so good in a small apartment, where most of our encounters occurred.
The department also tried using plastic cuffs, similar to the ties that you can buy at Wal-Mart for bundling almost anything. The thin plastic ties cut into the struggling nuts wrist or ankles. They later modified the plastic cuffs so they didn’t hurt the guy who just tried to kill you.
Finally someone came up with a cord cuff made out of a material that you could easily apply and remove. The best part was that you could reuse them over and over again. It was best if you cleaned them after some nut crapped his pants with your cord cuffs. You’ve got a kicker? Cinch the cord cuff around his ankles and let the strap hang out the car door and close the door on the strap. Your kicker can’t kick anyone or damage your car.
Here’s a twist: ever try to hand cuff a one armed man? You can’t cuff his hands together so you cuffed his good hand to his belt or the cord cuff wrapped around his waist.
Other department compliance restraints were Tasers and tear gas. Both could be effective on sane people who feel pain but fruitless on a mind that thinks he’s going to die. Tear gas (mace and pepper spray, too) a suspect and then place him in the back seat of your police car, is similar to having your dog sprayed by a skunk then climbing in your car. No one happy!
Ok, so you squeeze your handcuffed, cord cuffed nutso in the back seat and start to drive him to the mental ward. In Hollywood you had to stop at Detective Headquarters (DHQ) downtown, and have a detective determines what you already knew: he is nuts. He writes up a report stating same and you drive your new best friend to USCMC Mental ward.
Now, I have a lot of respect for the medical staff who treat mental health patients but I believe they are a little too sympatric to their new patients. I walk, or in some cases carry in some whack job I just fought with. I have ripped my uniform pants and have an abrasion on my knee which I suspect is bleeding. First words out of the doctor is, “Take the cuffs off of him!!!!” I look the doctor in the eye and say not until I walk out the door. I fought him once and I won’t do it again today!
Dealing with 5150’s was difficult most of the time but sometimes they were fun. I’ll describe some of fun incidents in the next Ramblings, unless I get that ride to USCMC in the back seat of a police car.