by Hal Collier
Hal is a thirty-five year veteran of LAPD. We are pleased he is sharing his stories with us.
The following story is true. In my last Ramblings I bragged a little— ok, a lot about my best arrest. This story is about a business burglar who fooled me. The name of the suspect is real. It’s funny that I can’t remember the name of my best arrest, but this guy’s name is always on my mind. It’s probably because I had him and I let him slip away.
I’m working A.M. Watch and I have been studying the Daily Occurrence (D/O) sheets for crime in my area. I patrol the central area of Hollywood which is largely businesses along Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. I notice a pattern of burglaries in small businesses. Some don’t have alarms and the items taken are small. I find myself driving through rear alleys and parking lots along Hollywood Boulevard. I jump on any alarms that are dispatched but don’t have any luck. The crimes continue and I’m getting frustrated.
Hollywood is unique in that there are always people out in the middle of the night. Most cities don’t have pedestrians walking the side streets and alleys at 3 AM. I remember once I’m working with Frank, who just transferred into Hollywood. I’m driving down Hollywood Boulevard at 4 A.M. and Frank yells, “Stop. Turn around; go up that side street.” My adrenalin starts rushing. I whip the police car around and I just miss hitting a homeless man. I figure we got us a crime in progress. Maybe the Watch Commander will get off my back for not writing enough tickets.
Frank directs me to stop this pedestrian. Ok, we got him stopped. I ask Frank, “What do we have?” Frank looks at me like it’s my first day on the job. He says, “You’re kidding, right? We have this guy walking up this dark side street at 4 A.M.” In all fairness, in the Hollenbeck where Frank came from a guy walking up a dark side street is suspicious—in Hollywood nothing”. Remember Hollywood never sleeps.
Back to my burglar. I hear a broadcast of a burglar alarm in my area on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m only a block away. I immediately drive to the back. I approach this common courtyard which serves about ten businesses. This guy exits the courtyard. We grab him, I’m sure we got our burglar.
The questioning goes something like this. “What’s your name?”
“What are you doing back there?”
“I know it’s wrong but I had to go to the bathroom. Go ahead look under the fire escape”.
I have my partner fill out a Field Interview card. I check under the fire escape and sure enough, someone has defecated. It’s fresh. I won’t go into a description of how I know it’s fresh, just trust me. I check the rear doors and windows of the business where the alarm was activated. Nothing. I look around at the other businesses. I can’t find any evidence of a burglary. We run him for wants and warrants over our police radio. No wants or warrants. I’ve run out of ideas. We release him.
Two days later, I have the burglary detective yelling at me. Steven Cox is a wanted business burglar and he wants to know why I didn’t arrest him. The detective says that Cox has a warrant. He’s calling me all kinds of names because I didn’t check him. I explain that I did run him for warrants and the detective cools down. His boss is on his case because Cox is stealing Hollywood blind. The detective wants to know why I didn’t recognize Cox. I arrested him two years earlier inside Mike Smith Volkswagen on Cahuenga. He used the name Mark Johnson then. Hell, the detective had to look at my nametag to see who I was and I have worked with him in the same station for years.
Cox was caught a few weeks later and sat down for an interview. He was one smart burglar. He pre-planned his crimes. He would case the business during the day when they were open, then come back at night. He always urinated or defecated somewhere close to where he was breaking in. That way he would have an excuse for being at the rear of a business. He would take two swigs of alcohol before going out and act drunk if stopped in an alley. He would breathe in an officer’s face and stagger around. He fooled two Metro Officers that way when they caught him at the rear of a Mercedes Dealership. He would take out a whole windowpane so it didn’t look broken. He would go inside a business run around and see what property he wanted, then exit and wait for the police to check out the business. If the cops left, he knew he had all the time he needed.
Cox discussed the time I stopped him. He panicked and gave me his real name and date of birth. Why his warrant didn’t show up when I checked him is anybody’s guess. He admitted he fooled me and was burglarizing a business five doors away from where the alarm was activated. I still have the tape of Cox’s interview. Cox was one smart burglar.
Sometimes even when you’re lucky you miss a big one.