By Hal Collier LAPD, Retired
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
The following stories are true. Hell I couldn’t make this stuff up. These subjects are a sort of miscellaneous collections.
A senior officer was teaching a female probationer out to make sure a gun was unloaded before booking it into evidence. It was a tube feed 22 caliber rifle. The officer was in the station report writing room and showed the probationer that the gun was now empty. To demonstrate he pointed the gun at the ceiling and pulled the trigger. Guess what? A round was stuck in the tube and has now been fired into the ceiling. As luck would have it, the bullet pierces a water pipe which starts to leak water on the computers. The report writing room starts to flood and is spreading to the Watch Commanders Office. How’s that for an “Aw Shit?”
The city decided to stop redecorating the offices of elected officials and spend some money on cops. They started with the detectives’ room. They took out all the old tables and replaced them with cubicles. I found this humorous. Detectives were at work 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. Street cops were using a report writing room 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The report writing room had 5 computers, only one worked, 4 chairs of which only two were not broken. Hell, the detective interview rooms had new chairs. I certainly wouldn’t want a suspect to be uncomfortable.
I printed up a sign and posted it on the door leading to the detectives’ room. “People who work in cubicles are expected to think outside the box.”
My captain was not amused.
Earlier I talked about searches and telling citizens that we had Patty Hearst cornered years after she was arrested. As you’ve read in the papers, we often search a neighborhood and discover that the suspect has escaped. I’m an old timer and after the search was determined to be over, I would call out, “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free.” The young cops would scratch their heads in bewilderment and the old cops would bust out in laughter. Guess what? No one ever surrendered. I guess the audience that runs and hides from the police are a younger crowd. Even the younger cops would ask, what’s “Ollie Ollie Oxen free.” No wonder they call me a dinosaur. If you forward this outside the U.S, you might have to explain “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free.” Some of you might have to Google it for the meaning.
In the early 70’s, the department decided that the Plymouth police car was not good enough for the LAPD. They bought the Mercury Montego and began distributing them to patrol divisions. The Mercury had a big 429 C.I. engine that could out run any car as long as it was a straight road without dips or bumps. The big engine caused the front end to be very heavy and the car would bottom out at the slightest change in road surface. You couldn’t turn around in a driveway without getting hung up. To turn around in the middle of the block took three turns. The engine ran so hot that even in the middle of the night, you ran the air conditioner to keep from cooking inside the car. Cruel and unusual punishment was making your suspect place his hands on the hood of your police car with the engine running. The cars sucked for street patrol.
The only good thing I remember about the Mercurys was the backfire trick. Bored officers discovered that if you got the Mercurys up to 35 MPH and turned off the key, then turned it back on, the car’s engine would back fire. The backfire was so loud it woke up pigeons and made nearby cops dive for cover thinking they were being shot at. Great fun.
Bored cops would see another pair of cops stopped on an investigation. You would drive by and shut off and on the engine and watch the cops drive for cover when the engine backfired. My partner Jim Tomer was driving one night, and we had this ongoing practical joke with some other cops. Late one morning we saw them stopped on Ivar just south of Hollywood Boulevard. We circled the block and timed the traffic light just right. We drove by the officers at 35 MPH. Jim turned off and on the engine. We traveled about 50 feet past the officers before the car backfired. I looked out the passenger window and watched this elderly lady just getting out of her parked car. The loud backfire startled her and she fell back onto her car seat.
Another year without a pay raise; my kids will never go to college.
Being a big city cop is an ongoing learning experience. I prided myself in learning from other officers’ mistakes and trying not to make the same ones. As you already know, I spent a lot of years working morning watch, or grave yard as it is commonly called. During your 8 hour shift you’re busy until about 5 A.M. When things slow down the cops try to take Code-7. That’s “eating” for my non-police friends. The problem is that only a few cars can eat at a time. If you’re the first to request code-7, you get to eat. If you’re last to request you get put on the code-7 list, which can be longer than a DMV line.
Ok, my lesson: I’m on a search perimeter. It’s in the Hollywood hills and I’ve been standing on a street corner for 2 hours in the cold and dark. The sun is coming up and I’m tired and hungry. This story takes place before each officer had a hand held radio for communication. The radio in the car squawks, “The suspect is in custody.”
Like most cops, I head to the scene. I want to see the guy that made me stand in the dark for two hours. As I follow other officers toward the handcuffed hombre, I see Butch Harris going the other way. Now Butch was an old timer who had street savvy and taught me a lot.
I’m wondering why he doesn’t want to see the bad guy. Seconds later I know, as I pass another patrol car, I hear Butch clear and request code-7. He was the only Hollywood car that ate that day. I went home and ate cold cereal for my code-7 while watching “Adam 12” with my son. I used Butch’s lesson for 20 years after that. I discovered that I could see the bad guy in the holding tank at the station after eating breakfast.
You thought I was slow, huh?