By Hal Collier
The story you are about to read is true, the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed. I’ll give you a little background before I get to my story. In May of 1976 I broke my ankle playing basketball at the police academy. Because it was at the academy it was considered Injured on Duty (IOD). It was a bad break and I was off work for months, followed by more months of light duty. For my non-police friends, light duty means answering phones, filing and anything else the department wants you to do. It’s boring and not what a crime fighting street cop enjoys. You begin to count the days when a city doctor will release you to full duty. After lots of therapy, the physical kind, not mental as some of you would expect, I was released to go back to work.
My story is about the worst foot pursuit I was ever in. Foot pursuits are fun to watch on TV, the cops never lose sight of the bad guy and there is always plenty of light to see. They almost always turn out fine with the good guys winning. In reality, bad guys run where they think a cop won’t follow. The cop never knows if the suspect has stopped after turning a corner and is waiting to ambush him.
Cops have been bit by dogs. The suspect runs through a back yard and wakes the dog. The dog figures no one else is getting by and the cop is next to enter the yard. The cop is now the one being chased!
The cop’s advantage is he has a partner most of the time. Back up officers are enroute, but only if he remembered to broadcast that he was chasing a bad guy. There might be a helicopter with a light that can illuminate a city block.
My first night back at work, I was assigned with my regular partner, a senior officer. He was driving. I was just glad to get back out in the field. About 3 A.M. we were driving northbound on Formosa Avenue south of Hollywood Boulevard. Formosa is a residential street one block west of La Brea. We saw this 20-something-year-old male walking northbound. He looked over his shoulder at us and immediately put his hands in his pockets. Ok, his actions would be suspicious even to a card-carrying member of the ACLU.
My partner and I both agreed, we have to stop this guy. I open the door and the suspect turns and runs down a driveway. He looks clumsy, maybe high on some illegal drug. He attempts to jump over a trash can in the middle of the driveway. He stumbles as he hits the trash can. The can goes spinning, I figure I will catch him in about five strides. I easily jump the trash can. I didn’t see the ice plant that had over grown on the driveway. I hit the ice plant and fall hard on my knee. Ok, now I’m mad. I’m hoping I didn’t rip my uniform. I watch the suspect climb a three foot wooden fence to enter the back yard. I see an open gate and run through it to the back yard. I’m closing in, I’m only about ten feet behind this dirt bag. I thinking what kind of take down I’m going to use when I catch this guy.
I didn’t see the clothes line! Remember its 3 A.M. and dark. The clothes line hits me in the forehead, I go down again. I stagger to my feet. The suspect is running through two feet of high grass. I’m guessing the resident’s gardener has died. Ok, now I’m really pissed. I see the bad guy climb a small four foot wall. As I approach the wall, I see that you can step around the wall. I step around and right into the rose bush. You know light duty wasn’t all that bad, I only got paper cuts, and once broke a nail when I couldn’t find a staple puller.
This house has a deep lot and there’s more backyard. The grass is now four feet high. I lose my baton stepping over a dead tree. I’m wondering where my partner is. Department policy says partners don’t split up, especially during foot pursuits. Well, it can’t get any worse! I lost some ground and this dirt bag is going to be sorry when I catch him. He climbs a chain link fence that is leaning over. I’m using a lot more caution; it’s been said I’m a slow learner. I carefully climb over the fence. My bad guy is now running down an alley toward La Brea. I yell out, “Stop or I’ll shoot”. Nothing–he didn’t even slow up. No respect for the law. He’s now emptying his pockets, throwing pill bottles in the alley.
I can hear the police siren and squealing tires, I now know where my partner is. We run across La Brea, I’m gaining again. We hit the alley on the east side of La Brea. My partner is right behind us. I grab the dirt bag by the shoulder and spin him around. My partner pulls the police car right next to us and flings open the car door. The top edge of the police car door hits me on my left hand. I drop the dirt bag and my partner handcuffs him. My hand immediately swells up.
The sergeant arrives immediately, so the dirt bag won’t get any street justice. I end up at the emergency room at Cedars Sinai Hospital. The nurse says it looks like your hand is broken, but we’ll take x-rays. It’s my right hand, I wonder if I can file reports left handed.
My mind is racing. It’s my first night back. I’m looking at light duty for months–I hated day watch. I hated answering the phones for detectives and being their Girl Friday. What am I going to tell my wife and kids? I want a “do over”.
The doctor comes in and tells me it’s only a contusion, not broken. I can breathe again. He’s going to give me two days off with pay and sends me home. My partner had to stay, book the dirt bag and write all the reports. I had to go back and get my baton, the house belonged to a ninety-year-old lady who doesn’t go outside anymore.
I could have given her a clear picture of her yard and it obstacles.