By Hal Collier, LAPD, Retired
Hal is a thirty-five year veteran of LAPD. We are pleased he is sharing his stories with us.
Be sure to click on the links included for some funny illustrations of Hal’s techniques.
To the best of my limited knowledge, what I’m about to describe is not taught in any police academy. That is the art of kicking doors. Admit it, you can’t watch a cop show without the star kicking open a door at least once. It amazes me how easy it looks, sometimes they just lean on the door with a shoulder. Please, all you’ll do is hurt your shoulder.
When I went through the Los Angeles Police Academy, they taught me when to legally kick a door without violating some citizen’s civil rights, but not how! My initial experience was watching my partner kick in a door on my first day out of the academy. The door flew open and we raced in to save an attempted suicide victim.
I learned my first valuable lesson watching cartoons. That’s right. The Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew down the house of straw and wood but couldn’t blow down the house of brick. I know what you’re thinking: Collier is getting fitted for one of those long sleeve shirts with the buckles on the cuffs. No, what I learned is what door you can kick in and what doors you’ll just hurt you.
I learned the hard way. Let’s start with the door itself. Is it a solid wood door or hollow core? Is the frame also wood and how many locks does it have? I know—who has the time to analyze the structural integrity of a door? Well, you had better or you’ll waste your time and energy.
Smart cops will never try to kick a metal door with a metal frame unless you have a big red “S” on your chest. You’ll just pull a hamstring and look foolish. I once had a welfare check on a family in an apartment building. The police had been out there twice but couldn’t get in. The manager didn’t have a key so we finally called the fire department. The fire department had to cut the metal door and frame open. It was a murder suicide including the three young children. I’ll never get over that one.
My partner Gary and I once had a welfare check call on an elderly woman high up in the Hollywood Hills. She hadn’t been seen in days. It was an older house built with solid oak wood doors and frames. We knocked on the doors and then began looking in all the windows. We found a window where we could see the woman lying on the floor. OK, we’ll kick the door and rescue the woman.
As I said the house was well-built and we kicked that door for fifteen minutes. First one kicked, then both of us at the same time. It almost got comical—this poor lady laying of the floor and Gary and I saying, “Ready 1, 2 ,3, kick, 1,2,3, kick.” We finally got in and discovered that her dog was protecting her. You’ll never see that on prime time TV. We finally rescued her and the dog.
Hollow core doors? They are usually interior doors, like bedroom or bathroom doors, but not always. This incident happened in the early 70’s. Hollywood cops got a “Rape in Progress” call. We all arrived and the person reporting (PR) said the girl next door is yelling for help. We knock and the woman screams, “Help Me”
My partner, Jim Moody says, “I’ll kick the door.” He steps back and plants a size 10, double E right in the middle of the door. It was a hollow core door so his foot gets stuck. Moody’s standing there on one leg, the other stuck in the middle of the door. We laughed as we rushed by and rescued the woman, leaving Moody outside.
That brings up where to kick a door. You kick next to the dead bolt lock. That’s where the door will burst open. Be careful not to hit the door knob. That is worth at least a sprained or worse, a broken ankle. Both will give you desk duty, a curse among patrol cops. A cop’s worst nightmare is a 2 inch deadbolt. It may take 3 or 4 kicks before the door frame gives way. If you’re securing your own house, use 2 inch deadbolts, even the cops have trouble getting in. Bad if you’re the one laying on the floor!!!
Another rookie mistake is not checking to see if the door is locked before you kick it open. Don’t laugh—it happens. I once watched an officer kick a door twice before someone realized it was unlocked.
Kicking doors takes practice and a strong leg, but it’s usually the smallest officer who pushes his way to the front and proclaims, “I’ll kick it.” I usually let them try, that’s how they learn. I once had a sergeant who insisted that the mule kick was the best. He would position himself on the floor with his back and butt toward the door. Then he would kick backwards like a mule. It worked for him but I didn’t like being on the floor with my back to the door.
Kicking a door doesn’t always turn out as planned. The department has a term, “Called the wrong Door.” That’s when cops kick the wrong door. I’m sure your wondering how could such highly trained cops make such a mistake? Easy—poor communication, egos, “me first,” and last, poor leadership. We once had an incident high up in the Hollywood Hills at a party where professional gambling was taking place. The sergeant led the charge and kicked the door across the street from the party. The residents were not impressed with their tax dollars at work. The sergeant was transferred to day watch where he could be better supervised. True story
Another time Mike and I were driving around when we see large billows of smoke coming from a four story apartment building. Oh crap, we have to save all those people. We run into the lobby and are met with smoke filled hallways. We start banging on doors and if no answer we kick in doors. After kicking two doors, we run to the fire escape window and suck in some fresh air. The smoke is burning our lungs and eyes. Residents are running into the streets as the fire department arrives. Hell, Mike and I will get a medal for saving all these people.
Guess what? No medal. The smoke was from a trash dumpster behind the apartment building. It was coming in through an open hallway window. I pulled a hamstring and had to get treated for smoke inhalation. Ever been treated for smoke inhalation? They stick a big needle in your wrist and draw blood from an artery not a vein. Arteries are down deep in your arm.
Every once in a while an opportunity comes along to practice kicking a door. I had one such opportunity as a sergeant. A four story apartment building on Argyle was being remodeled and all the tenants were evicted. The construction foreman told me there are squatters in some of the apartments, you can kick any door that’s locked. My eyes light up. I grabbed every rookie that was working that day and had them kick a few doors. I also kicked a half dozen doors myself, it was like a present from the police gods.
Like I said kicking doors is an art only learned after years of experience. There will also be a few wrong doors and failures that come with that experience. One last kick door story. I got a welfare check call for service on another elderly lady. Her porch light has been on day and night for days. Her mail and newspapers are piling up and the neighbors think there a strange smell coming from the house. These are all bad signs. I do my usual check of all doors and windows. Oh crap. I see flies on the windows—another bad sign. I won’t explain what the flies on the windows might indicate. My partner, a smaller officer, wants to kick the door. (See above!) I tell him we’ll call for an ambulance first. The fire department arrives and they said, “We’ll kick the door.” Now everybody loves the fire department and firemen!
The firemen kicks the door we all rush in and guess what? No one’s home. The smell and flies were from a plate of food left on the kitchen counter. A few days later I get a call from an angry elderly lady who wants to know why I kicked her door while she was visiting her sister in Florida. She wants me or the police department to pay to have her door repaired. I told her we didn’t kick the door the fire department did. Here’s the kicker, no pun intended. We kick the wrong door and the police department has to pay to fix the door. The fire department kicks the wrong door they don’t have to pay.
The firemen are still loved!