This post was submitted before the civil unrest that has plagued our nation since events in Minneapolis. Chances are these words carry even more meaning now. –Thonie
By Mikey, Retired LAPD
We retirees are awed by you, you who are currently walking point. Call it whatever you want, “the front line,” “the jagged edge,” “the thin blue line,” you are keeping it together. Most of us are of the Vietnam era and a lot of us are Vietnam Veterans, mixed with some post WWII and Korean Veterans as well. We had our moments of course: floods, earthquakes, fires, riots, 911 but nothing like this. Today we are hearing the phrase, “the new normal.”
In our day, just like you, street coppers lived “the new normal” every time we hit the streets. It could have been a new MO of a certain crime, a new drug, a new gang, “extra patrol this because of that,” “don’t go there because this”, you name it—our day was always a new normal.
No, you didn’t join up for this yet here it is and here you all are, walking point. People are scared, angry, tired, pretty much running the full course of emotions and you have to deal with them every time you hit the streets. Knowing this, you still do it. We know what brings you back, because it brought us back, everyday, it’s your dedication to one another. Yes, “TO PROTECT AND SERVE” is the LAPD’s motto but the respect, dedication and love for one another has always driven us to go that extra distance to care for your brothers and sisters in blue. We, the gray and bald heads, wrinkled faces, stooped shoulders retirees admire and appreciate what you do everyday. It was our honor, as it is yours. Our time has passed, and we did the best we could. Now it’s up to you. God keep you safe from harm. God keep you vigilant and God, please see these warriors return safely to their homes when their shifts are complete.
The words, address the LAPD copper but apply to all of the first responders, police, fire, medical, transportation, food services, janitorial, to all of those essential to keeping the country going…………you know who you are.
Annually, March 29th
is National Vietnam Veterans Day. At the March Field Air Museum, we celebrate
the day with an open house, open to all veterans, of all conflicts. This year
will be no different but let me tell you about last year’s open house.
In hosting the day, the museum
brings on additional docents to assist the museum’s guests and answer
questions. Nelly, one of our docents was asked to docent at the museum’s
Vietnam support base exhibit. The area contains several helicopters flown in
the NAM and the exhibit is configured to resemble a support base, but, on a
smaller scale. Several hours had passed since the museum opened for the day and
things were going smoothly when I saw Nelly enter the museum. Nelly was crying
and when I approached her, she told me that she needed a little time to compose
herself, but that she was ok.
Several of the vets who had
gone to the support base entered the museum and I could tell that they had been
crying as well. So, what happened? I proceeded to the support base but found
nothing amiss, so I had to patiently await Nelly’s explanation. Nelly finally
approached me in the museum’s hangar and somewhat composed, she told me the
Several vets had gathered
around one of the museum’s Huey (Bell HU-1) helicopters and some small talk
between the vets netted a couple of stories.
The vets were standing next to the aircraft when one of them shared a
story about a lift mission his squad had experienced in 1967 as an Army grunt. He
was standing at the opened cargo door looking at the passenger seat as he told
his story. According to Nelly, who was standing near the vet, he named the NAM
location and other information pertinent to the event. The mission started
normally but as the chopper neared the landing zone (LZ), the machine took hits
from ground fire and the landing went badly. Several of the soldiers were
killed and some injured. As the vet continued with the story, another vet who
had been standing in front of the chopper turned his walker and faced the rear
of the aircraft intently listening to the story teller.
He walked toward the story
teller and stopped next to him. The story teller noticed the vet standing next
to him. Both men looked at each other. The vet with the walker asked some pertinent
questions about the crash. The story teller told the other vet that he was on a
Huey that crashed, and it sounded like his incident. The story teller said that
an unknown soldier had pulled him from the burning helicopter, but he never
knew who it was. The injured soldier was medevac’ed out before he found out the
identity of his rescuer. The first vet asked the second vet to describe what he
looked like at the time of the incident and the second vet described to him his
appearance at the time. The first vet said, “It was me who pulled you
out!” They both went on, through tears
and hugs to describe the event and its aftermath.
According to Nelly, there
was not a dry eye on that support base.
What were the odds for that chance meeting?
“Welcome Home Vietnam
Vets” took on a whole new meaning that day for Nelly and those Nam vets.
This year, I hope the two
men attend this year’s celebration, I’d like to welcome them home personally.
Occasionally, on busy nights, I’d “buy” easy radio calls to
ease up on the call load so the patrol cars could handle more important calls.
At about 0130 a“415 Man” (man disturbing the peace) call came out at the Jack
in the Box, Sunset and Ivar. The comments on the Mobile Digital Computer (MDC)
read that the man had one leg and was on crutches. The man was approaching cars
in the drive thru and he would ask the occupants for money. If they refused,
the man would strike the vehicle with his crutches.
I arrived at the location and saw the man approaching a car
in the drive thru. I shined my flashlight on him and yelled for him to turn
around and stop.
He turned and said “I ain’t doing nothing.”
“Well, go do nothing somewhere else,” I said.
“I’m staying right here!”
“Get moving or get arrested for trespassing. Your choice.”
He stood there looking at me and I said again, “Get moving!”
The man slowly turned to leave and as he did he kept looking
back at me. Just as he turned his head away again, shots rang out north of my
location. They sounded very close and as I jumped back into
my unit, I looked at the man as he was heading west at top speed. I have NEVER
seen a man in his condition move that fast! I believe to this day he thought I
was shooting at him. He never looked back as he headed north on Cahuenga Boulevard!
The shots had come from a night club a couple of blocks
north from me, but that is another story.
THE 7-11 CAPER
There is a 7-11 convenience store on Cahuenga Boulevard just
north of Yucca Street in Hollywood Division that had an armed security officer
working there. He covered the graveyard shift and for the most part, maintained
pretty good control over the transients, the inebriants, the homeless who lived
or frequented that area of Hollywood. If I was on patrol and wanted a cup of coffee,
I’d stop by and drink a cup with the man.
The weekends in Hollywood
always rocked! The smell of food from restaurants and fast food places filled
the air. Then there was the thumping of the music, folks both locals and the
tourists and their excitement made it a great place to work.
I was once asked if I would ever work Hollywood and I said no. When asked why, I
answered, “If God gave LA an enema, he’d stick the tube in Hollywood. Just
saying.” I did work Hollywood and I stayed there 10 great years. I fell in love
with the division, but I digress.
It was a Saturday night and the division was spring-loaded for a wild night. You could feel it. At around 0100 a 211 (robbery) in progress call at the 7-11 was broadcast. A second call at the location stated that shots had been fired. The first unit on scene broadcasted a “Code 4 suspect GOA” (all is OK, suspect gone on arrival). I arrived on scene and saw that the officers were talking to the security officer, so I stood back and listened. As I looked around the inside of the business, I noticed bullet holes on several walls.
I just had to ask the security guy a question, so I
interjected. I asked him if he had exchanged fire with the suspect and he said,
I asked if the suspect had been armed, he answered, “He had
a big knife.”
“Were those warning shots?”
“Hell no, Sarge, I was trying to shoot the asshole, but he kept ducking and dodging!”
Thank God none of the rounds had exited the store.
As the adjutant to the Hollywood Divisional Commanding Officer
there was a lot things like additional duties, reports, work assignments that I
could do myself or assign to personnel. One of the unpopular duties was to take
celebrities out on patrol to show them what field patrol was like. One of the
additional duties Hollywood Division got was taking actors out on patrol to
“familiarize” them with some of the technical things patrol personnel do on a
daily basis. I received a phone call from downtown that actors Matt Dillon and Ryan
Phillippe were coming to the division for some of the technical training. The men were going to co-star in the 2004
The captain felt that I should be the Hollywood supervisor
to escort the actors during their “training” ride-along. I prepared for the
assignment by asking downtown if this was a generic or specific purpose ride-along.
I was told it was a generic, have a good time ride-along, cool. Matt and Ryan
arrived on a Monday and the informal training started: the wearing of the
uniform, hand-cuffing, searches (no, I did not teach Matt to search with the
baton), the proper stance for a drawn weapon and so on. Ryan stayed the day but
Matt wanted to come back the next day as well. He was very interested in
learning what it was like being a police officer both on and off duty. He
started observing things and got pretty good at it. I took him to jail division
to watch the booking process and several of the “hand-cuffed to the bench”
arrestees gave Matt some broad smiles when they recognized him.
Our last night was very
interesting. It was extremely busy, and I took him to any call that I thought
he’d get something out of. We were stopped facing south on Las Palmas Avenue at
Selma Avenue waiting for cross traffic when a west bound vehicle deliberately
steered into us and turned away at the last minute. We had just been baited for
a following or a “stop us if you dare.” I started a following and explained to
Matt what was happening. There were four occupants in the ride ahead and they
all had their hoods up over their heads. I explained to Matt that our chances
of getting back-up in a timely manner would be difficult and the civilian
traffic would make it difficult for any kind of proper stop. AND I told him
that the remainder of the year and the beginning of the next would be the worst
for me if HE was injured or seriously killed.
I checked the plate and found no wants
or warrants, the address came back to a residence in the south side of the
city. I looked over at Matt and his eyes were as big as saucers.
He looked at me and asked, “Do
I said “no.”
He asked, “Do mind if I light up
As we were pulling into the
parking lot of Hollywood station, Matt said, “You said my charter is a training
officer, and would have two stripes.”
“Yup” was my reply.
“You are a Sergeant; could you be
a training officer too?”
“I’m training you. I’m gonna were
three stripes if I can swing it, thanks for all of your help.”
Matt went on to get nominated for
best supporting actor in his role. The day of the Academy Awards, I arrived at
the station and walked into the watch commander’s office heading for the sergeant’s
room when one of my female officers and a female communications tech stopped
“Sarge, Matt Dillon called for
you. I recognized his voice, and here is his number.”
I looked at his number then at
the two women. They had that LOOK in their eyes.
“No, I’m not calling him
Later on that night I arrived to
Hollywood and Highland to where the awards were being held and saw an off-duty
copper I know who was working security for event, in a tux, ear piece and all.
“Dave, when Matt Dillon comes out,
let him know I’m here.”
“What?” Dave asked.
I repeated myself and I told him
that he was expecting me. Fifteen minutes later, Matt and his entourage came
out of complex and Dave approached Matt. Matt spotted me and waived me onto the
red carpet. I was introduced to his people and after a warm conversation; he
went to his parties and went back onto patrol.
Friday and Saturday nights in Hollywood rock, so I made
every effort to be outside as the Watch Commander or assistant W/C. At the
time, the clubs on Vine north of Hollywood Boulevard were some of our problem
bars/clubs. Usually, if we anticipated trouble, we’d stop a cruiser or two in
the center turn lanes of Vine Street just north of Hollywood Boulevard. The
area was known for attracting opposing “groups,” so this location was a good
place to be.
One summer night two officers and I had our units stationed
in the middle of the street when a fight between four men broke out in a club parking
lot. Officer Manny and I took off for the fight as his partner got on the radio
requesting back-up. While running I pulled my collapsible baton from its
holder, snapping it back to let gravity do its work. I got to where two of the
combatants were on the ground and yelled, “police, break it up!”
The men kept fighting so I struck the guy who was on top and
he fell to the ground holding his right shoulder. The guy on the bottom took
off, so I concentrated on the guy on the ground. Knowing Manny was behind me I
holstered the baton and began handcuffing the guy.
Just then I heard Manny say, “Sarge, we need to talk after
After I got my arrestee handcuffed, I looked up at Manny and
saw that he was bleeding from the top of his forehead. “What the hell happened
“I was running behind you when you struck me with your baton,
Sarge. I fell to the ground and damn near passed out.”
Oh crap, this was not good!
Arriving back-up located all four guys thanks to witnesses
and I transported Manny to the hospital. I cracked his head pretty good and he
required some stitches. Manny was put off work for a few days. I was working
the Watch Commander’s position when I got a call from Manny telling me that he
was at the hospital obtaining a back to work release. I sent a field sergeant
to meet Manny and complete the paper work. The sergeant phoned me and said that
Manny was with his mother and added that they were enroute to the station.
When Manny and his mother walked into the office, I
immediately apologized to the man. I said, “Manny, let me buy you a bottle of
your favorite Tequila.”
Manny said, “Don’t drink, Sarge.’”
But before I could respond his mother said, “Tequila es
bueno.” Well, at least she wasn’t angry
It was New Years day, 2004 and I was on patrol west bound on
Hollywood Boulevard when I observed a rather portly man at Cherokee Avenue
standing outside the crosswalk half way into the street. He was leaning on a
cane, totally ignoring the cars that had to go around him to avoid hitting him.
I stopped, exited my cruiser and approached the man. “Sir,
are you okay?”
“What do you want,” was his reply.
“Can I help you back onto the side walk?”
“I’m fine right where I’m at!”
This back and forth went on until I felt that the gentleman
was not about to move. I asked for a unit to meet me. When they arrived the
three of us escorted the “protesting” and angry man to the side walk. The guy
had not been drinking but his attitude was terrible. Now, I have never been a
ticket writer, but this guy needed to start the New Year off with an attitude
adjustment. I borrowed one of the officer’s citation book and I issued the man
a citation for “pedestrian in the roadway.”
Several months later I received a subpoena for traffic
court. Yup, my Hollywood and Cherokee guy, Mr. Smith. So here we are, in
traffic court. Mr. Smith is helped up to his podium by two men, maybe his sons.
I’m standing at my podium as the judge tells Mr. Smith he can tell his side of
the story. Smith jumps into a story of bad cop nothing better to do, harassment,
didn’t happen, crippled, on and on. After Smith completed his tirate speech the
judge looked at me.
“Sergeant Diaz, do sergeants usually issue traffic
“No, your honor”
“How long have you been with the department, Sergeant?”
“Over 30 years, your honor”
The judge looked at Mr. Smith and stated the following, (he did because I was there……..) “Mr. Smith, we are about ready to put this man out to pasture. Something happened out there that made the Sergeant get out of his police car. Something you caused.”
So, there I was a police sergeant at the LAPD Wilshire Division on the roof looking north toward Hollywood and crying my eyes out! I was mad, sad, and upset. The real kicker was that I had absolutely no control of the situation. I was in full uniform, the supervisor of 40 some field officers possessing the powers granted to a sworn sergeant of police of the LAPD and yet there I was on the roof of the station, crying!
It was 1992 and four F-16’s were swooping down over a Gulf I parade which was in progress down Hollywood Boulevard. Oh, and get this, they were allowing Westmoreland and Viet Nam vets to march in the parade, at the rear, but nonetheless in their parade.
God, I was beside myself. Do I have to explain to you that feeling? The feeling started when the Flying Tiger 707 bringing me back to the world had to make an emergency landing at Seattle-Tacoma Airport because of a blown main gear tire whose pieces were picked up on the runway back at Yakota AFB, Japan. Well, we landed, and no one got killed so off we went to a “no steak” dinner (supposedly you got a steak dinner at Mc Cord AFB or Fort Lewis, I can’t remember who told us that one) homecoming.
Because of the diversion to Seattle-Tacoma we would be starting our 30-day leave 2 hours earlier. Before we could initiate the task of getting a military stand-by flight home, we found ourselves in a “debriefing” room with an Army guy telling us to keep a “low profile.” Well I understood that! Getting shot at a few times at the beach gate on Phan Rang’s north east perimeter made a believer of filling those sand bags to the max and then “low profiling” behind the bulging blessed things!
But I digress here. He went on to tell us how unpopular we were in this part of the world (home?) and how we should not display any ribbons or acknowledge the fact that we had been in the NAM. That was my welcome home from war, hooray for our side!
I got a ride on a United 727 to Los Angeles and found myself at a window seat separated from a middle-aged female passenger by the empty middle seat. After about 20 minutes in the air, I ordered a scotch and soda. I turned 21 in the NAM but got asked for ID anyway. Not having eaten for a while the go juice hit me like it was meant to. The lady was talking to the stewardess, but my mind was on seeing my family at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), so I paid no attention. The stewardess got my attention when she plunked another plastic cup of go juice on my tray. Before I could say anything, she nodded toward my air companion and left. The woman asked if I was coming back from the war but before I could answer her, I saw the sand bags going up in the middle seat. Heck, she looked innocent enough and there was something in her eyes that said, “Please answer the question,” so I told her, “Yes.” She lifted her glass of red something and asked that I join her in toasting those who were not coming back.
My mind raced back to the night at LAX when I left for the NAM. An Army guy walked off the plane as we were boarding the TWA fight to Seattle and told an older man and a teenage girl, “I’m not going.” I still don’t know why, but the image played in my head for a couple of seconds.
I did not know what to say to my flight companion, so I just took a long drink from the cup. She said, “thank you” and until we said, “good bye” at LAX, we did not speak again.
A substantial number of my family met me as I walked off the plane and they had a big sign that read, “WELCOME HOME SERGEANT DIAZ.” Holy smokes, didn’t they know that we were deep in Indian country and they were blowing my cover? Throw them some sand bags!
Little did they know that 22 years later THAT sign, my family, the Air Force, the Marine Corps Reserve and two police departments would positively acknowledge my service in the NAM. But for now, I was being assigned to the 63rd Military Airlift Wing, SPS, at Norton AFB, in San Bernardino, California. I was home, but not the same home I had left. The feeling started to run deep the more I ventured around in “the world.”
I went to an apartment complex in the city of Upland, about 22 miles west of Norton, to apply for an apartment. I found myself sitting next to a guy with short hair too. He looked military, so I figured I was going to have competition for the one available apartment. He asked if I was military and I said, “Air Force.” He asked if I had returned from the war and not seeing any sand bags, I told him that I had.
I asked him, and he said, “Navy, back from North Korea.” I was talking to a U.S.S. Pueblo guy, didn’t know which one and didn’t know if he was telling me the truth. I never found out, but I just put the application back on the manager’s desk and humbly left.
The next apartment manager was not a nice person. He didn’t like the military in any form and said so. Vietnam veterans were out of control, drug-addicted, spring loaded and on short fuses. He said other things, but this is what I related to my father, a WW II veteran who served in the Pacific.
The, “WELCOME HOME FROM THE GREATEST WAR” veteran who was proud to have served, and still removed the manufacture tags from anything “made in Japan.” He said what I began to truly believe: “Just because you served in Viet Nam doesn’t mean life or anyone owes you a living.”
I can talk about his parenting ways, but I am after all, preaching to the choir, the children of depression era kids, you know. So, I shut up like all the other guys at Norton and did not talk about the NAM to anyone but them. In November 1971, three months after my discharge, I joined the Ontario Police Department. I got “extra points” for being a veteran and Hispanic and got hired with six other guys, beating out 350+ applicants. Ain’t bragging, it’s just part of my story.
In 1973, I was eyeballing the LAPD. I took the tests, got the same “extra points” and joined the “Marine Corps” of Law Enforcement. About 90% of my class were NAM vets and we quietly talked about the war. No one cried telling stories of the bad stuff, we were young. The same stories today are probably slightly distorted because of the distance from the events and we do cry, just take a look at Randy Cunningham, the first Navy Ace of the war. When he was young and telling his stories, he used his hands like aviators do and he displayed a lot of the John Wayne “do or die” syndrome. Today, the same stories bring tears to the man’s eyes.
In 1975, I was assigned to Central Division (downtown) and was walking a foot beat with a classmate of mine. Steve was an ex-Army LRRP (Long Range Recon Patrol) and was as tough as they come. We got to interact with the first Vietnamese refugees who had been displaced from the south and sent here. It was very interesting.
One incident that stands out in my mind was a Vietnamese gentleman who approached us and said that he had been duped by a store advertising an item, but had been given another item of lesser value, boxed in the container that showed the advertised item. All was going well until the “victim” told us that he was not to be treated this way because he was a “high classed” Vietnamese. Steve picked the guy up by his shirt and the guy grabbed Steve’s wrist to hang on for the ride up to eye level. I won’t repeat what Steve told him, but what would you have said? Did I mention that Steve was tough? That was the last time that I can remember the NAM being “up front” in my mind. Like most of us NAM vets, I put it in a closet somewhere; remember what my dad had said?
Fast forward to1991. So, now Gulf I commanders are talking, “no Vietnam this” and “no Vietnam that,” remember? They actually wanted to win this one. Well, they did. They were allowed to and there was no Johnson or McNamara to hand them a bite of the shit sandwich. Then they came home (welcomed) in uniform, with ribbons, folks waving at them (with all their fingers), no sand bags and now they get a parade—with “us” allowed to march in the back. Remember the start of my story?
Heck if I was going to march behind as an “after thought.” If we, Nam vets, have a legacy, we showed them how NOT to fight a war and how NOT to treat returning service veterans. The antiwar protestors learned something too. Forward to the Gulf II, 2002. I am now assigned to Hollywood Division where we get our share of protests, marches and the like. So, I am working a major protest as the Adjutant to the Divisional Commanding Officer and we can pretty much go where we want. We were at the corner of Hollywood and Highland where I see a female with gray hair, maybe my age holding up a protest sign and taking pictures. She was dressed, almost like she must have looked in the sixties as a protester. Now, I am a 55-year-old “Sergeant Pig.” She doesn’t say that, she “looks that.” I figure what the heck and say the following, “You know, this is quite unique to me.”
She asked, “What is?”
So, I told her where I was when this sort of thing was going on in the sixties. (By the way, I missed the sixties, graduated high school in 1966 and joined the USAF in 1967, do the math.) She said, and I quote her because the words went right through me, vest and all, “We did that wrong back then. We attacked you guys, not the war like we should have.”
Now, let me get this straight—a generation of military men and women were sacrificed by the government and the folks back home took it out on them. Remember people yelling, “baby killers,” and the jerk apartment manager?
But today, they are attacking the war/government and leaving the troops alone. I told you about our legacy and the protestors learning something. But who paid the price? Need I say? We are an exclusive club of brothers and sisters in arms. Let’s not forget those beautiful selfless nurses. I recently heard on a talk show where serving in the military was the subject. Some guy called in and started lamenting the fact that going to Canada got him out of the military but “someone had to take my place,” during the NAM war and that someone might have gotten killed. WELL HELLO!!
I’ll finish with this; I have been in uniform since I was 19. I have carried a weapon every day of my adult working life—I will be 57 this year. I am in the twilight of my Law Enforcement career with retirement just three years away. When several incidents on the LAPD caused us to go through periods of really bad press, guys would ask me, “You don’t have to be here. Are you going to retire?”
My response was, “When I left Viet Nam, we were winning, and we lost that one. I ain’t leaving here until we are winning again.” My late aunt, God rest her soul, once asked me, “You are always looking for trouble or something wrong, that is your job, but what will you do when it is over, if you survive?” I/we are survivors. We are brothers, sons, fathers and in my opinion, are the second greatest generation who took up arms, WWII veterans being the greatest.
We will never have full closure; we will never get our homecoming parade and not everyone will agree why we went there in the first place. We meet on the street and nodded, “welcome home” to each other. We see a NAM decal on the back of a guy’s car and if he looks old enough, we give each other the thumbs up.
Some of us have gone back to the NAM for various reasons. Over 58,000 never made it home physically, some of us never made it home mentally. How will our NAM experiences come back to us in our minds and hearts now that we about to retire and will have the time to really think this through? When I hear a NAM veteran say he’s been back 30-something years, what is he really saying? What did he leave there? What is missing? Most veterans of other wars don’t make statements like that, why?
I can still smell the country, the war. I can dream it in color and “don’t tell me no.”
When “Big red” (the sun) hits me just right, I am at the beach gate or main gate with the Korean MPs. I can go back there anytime I want to. I can’t remember where the car keys are or why I left the Watch Commander’s office and went to the front desk, but I remember the NAM and the 20-year-old kid who went there. Do I feel sorry for him, admire him, mourn him or try and comfort him? I’ll know soon enough because that Army briefer and his words, “DON’T MEAN A THING” now. And I don’t give a damn about those SAND BAGS.
When we who served in the NAM are gone, what will generations of military and civilians say about us?
It was 1993 and I was working Rampart morning watch patrol as a field supervisor. I had a lot of fun there. One particular shift at about 0100 in the morning an “officer needs help” call went out at 6th Street and Bixel. On the LAPD, calls go this way in order of severity: “Back up,” means ‘no need to rush but get there ASAP.’ An officer “Requesting assistance,” means ‘get here quicker than ASAP.’ “HELP,” yeah, send everyone and everything instantly, or sooner.
When I arrive at 6th and Bixel there is a suspect in custody, injured and an officer injured. The suspect claims that the officers hit him in the head with their flashlights. If the claim were true, it would be an out of policy use of force. The officers said that the suspect had been in an altercation prior to their arrival. When they discovered him bleeding from a head injury, he became combative and attacked one of the officers causing her injuries. I could find no witnesses and there were no surveillance cameras at or near the location.
The next night I went back to the location at about the same time to see if I could find any potential witnesses–someone who may have left to avoid involvement from the prior evenings incident. There, on a bus bench, I found a homeless man and his dog. Mike and his dog Queenie had been there the night before and had seen the incident. Mike said he had seen the suspect fighting with two other men and one of the men struck the suspect in the head with a long object. The suspect fell to the ground and the two men fled. Shortly after that the officers arrived. Mike said the man attacked the officer. He said the officers used physical force only. From his bus bench, his view was unobstructed with good lighting.
I bought Mike and Queenie breakfast, gave him my business card and completed a follow up report to the use of force. A week later, toward end of watch, 0800, I was called to the station where I found Mike sitting in the lobby. He had been crying and told me that he had been arrested for public intoxication and Queenie had been shipped off to the dog pound. The folks at the pound informed Mike that he needed $56.00 to bail out Queenie or no more Queenie. The pound was closed so I bought Mike some breakfast as we waited for the pound to open up.
We got there shortly after it had opened. To my surprise there were a lot of folks there, mainly gang-type folks. A vice unit had taken down a pit bull fighting ring and these folks were there to bail out their dogs.
I was still in uniform, so I had everybody’s attention as Mike and I made our way up to the counter. I informed the desk guy why Mike and I were there and that we had Queenie’s bail money. Mike was handed some paperwork and as he was filling out the information he asks me what address he should use. I told him to use the station’s address. About this time, I noticed several of the pit bull guys paying attention to what Mike and I were doing.
One of them asked, “Dude, are you helping him to get his dog?”
I said yes and I swear, the guy, dressed down like a gangster was holding back tears.
Now the attention was totally on us. “Dude that is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Then the murmurs of approval began. I really hadn’t thought about what I was doing; only that Mike had come through for my officers and now he needed help. We got Queenie, gave and received some warm good byes and headed home.
Never saw the two again and I wonder what happened to them. As street coppers, we see and deal with the best and the worst of what the city has to offer. We compartmentalize events, good things and things we don’t want to remember but from time to time do. I’ve been retired 10 years now but once in a while I feel an emotion, before I remember the event.
Review Ed and Hal’s stories and mine. Our most pronounced memories are of our time in the field, on the streets in the cruiser, Ed’s “radio car.” Once the torch is passed that is all that is passed–not the memories.
I was just assigned PM Watch patrol at Rampart Division and I’m excited that as a brand-new P-2, I’ll be working with another brand-new P-2!
Oh yeah, it doesn’t get any better than that and the best thing is that we get to make our own decisions! Real adults! So, I find that my partner is another Hispanic (We are both Mexicans. Just say it) and he is as excited as I am. We flip as to who is going to drive and the other partner is TGOTR, he is the “guy on the right.” He keeps the books and does the talking on the radio.
Before clearing we grab a cup of mud and discuss tactics, back up gun positions, driver officer’s responsibilities, passenger officer’s responsibilities, who is first up to scratch a traffic ticket, and so forth.
Pretty important stuff as you may not have the time to figure out these things if you get into deep serious. Then we discussed our training officers, supervisors, the hot records clerks, and most important, where we were going to take code 7, eat.
We were westbound Temple Avenue approaching Bonnie Brae Street when we see two guys in the middle of the street in a throw-down, one guy on top of another on the ground.
We go code 6 (busy) at the intersection and break up the fight. After the guys are handcuffed, we sit them on the curb and discover that they speak only Spanish. S—t, cause neither of us “Hispanics” speaks the lingo worth a crap. We talked about it a long time before we made the decision—to request a Spanish speaker to our location. Then we did it.
The first to respond was our supervisor. He got out his cruiser, walked up to us and yelled, “What the hell kind of Mexicans are you two?”
“Ones that don’t speak the language very good, Sarge.”
“You don’t speak English very well either.” He began. “If I ever find that you two possess more than $5. 00 between the both of you I’m gonna arrest you for theft, ’cause you are ripping off the city. Two Mexicans and you don’t speak Spanish.”
He shook his head as he walked off.
And from the curb came the spoken words, “He don’t like you, huh?”
Back in the day, there were no holds barred when it came to messing with rookies—NONE. Of course, I fell victim early on.
One shift, I had court all day and made it back to the station just in time to get ready for PM Watch roll call. I opened my locker up and stripped down for a shower. I must have been in the shower for maybe 8 minutes—TOPS! After drying off, I returned to my locker to find my uniforms GONE. Yup, GOA (Gone On Arrival-an often used disposition the reason for the call was not present when the officer arrived-Thonie)!
The senior guys were getting ready. They said nothing; the other rookies dare not say anything. Didn’t want to sound like a baby so, I said nothing. The guys began exiting the locker room for roll call and I stood there, thinking. I wasn’t going to be late for roll call, so I started eyeballing my civilian clothes when my military training kicked in.
“Overcome and conquer.” Whatever, so I made my moves. All the “rooks” had to sit in the front of roll call and the senior guys in the back. Our PM watch commander and supervisors entered the room and the lieutenant took his place at his desk, at the head of the room, facing us.
He started calling the roll and our assignments when the snickering and muffled laughs became overwhelming. He looked up and began scanning the room when his eyes hit the front row left, last seat, against the wall. His eyes bugged out of his head.
He was looking at the rookie wearing his cover, his yellow rain coat and boots and his Sam Browne waist level outside of the rain coat.
He bellowed, “Diaz, what the hell are you doing, son?”
Now the laughter was overwhelming, and I had to wait to answer until the noise settled down. “Misplaced my uniforms sir, returned from the shower to my opened locker and found that I had misplaced them, sir.”
“G-D D—N it! Whoever find’s Diaz’ uniforms gets an early EOW, (end of watch).”
I heard scuffling in the back of the room and then voices yelled out, “We found where Diaz misplaced his uniforms, lieutenant!”
I think I saw a slight twinkle in the lieutenant’s eyes when he made his declaration.
One of my passions during my law enforcement career was officer safety and I preached it at every opportunity. Officer safety is a philosophy not a program; programs fail, and you can’t fail at officer safety. It is all about situational awareness. In terms of cognitive psychology, situational awareness refers to a decision-maker’s dynamic mental model of his or her evolving task situation. In other words, what you perceive, and your response is all about experience vs. the situation. It all starts at the threshold of the event. What do I have? Do I understand what I have? Can I handle the situation/event with what I have at my immediate disposal?
A good example was a radio call of a robbery in progress at a bank. As a training officer and his probationer rolled up to the front of the bank an armed suspect with a shot gun exited the front door. He saw the officers and immediately dropped the weapon. Back at the station the probationer asked the training officer why he hadn’t shot. He said he did not observe the suspect’s left shoulder drop or the barrel of the shot gun swing in their direction. If any of those two events had occurred, he said he would have shot. The training officer asked the probationer why she hadn’t shot, her answer, “’Cause you didn’t.”
Another point I would emphasis is “partners can not get stupid at the same time, ever!” On the LAPD, the majority of patrol is conducted with “A” or two officer patrol cars. There are very few “L” or one officer patrol cars. On smaller agencies, “L” cars are the norm. Depending on the patrol policies of the agency, two or more “L” cars can be dispatched to a radio call, depending on the seriousness of the call. So, the point is made regardless. Cool heads must prevail, or partners will suffer the negative consequences of an internal/external investigation, lawsuit or termination. I responded to an officer involved shooting in Rampart in ’92. Because of the officer’s bill of rights, there are few questions me as a supervisor can ask. Before I asked the questions, one of the officers involved said, “Sarge, we didn’t get stupid at the same time. We didn’t get stupid at all. We just want you to know that.” They displayed effective controlled fire and communicated throughout the event. Guess they were listening at roll call training.
“O.W.B.E” or Over Whelmed by Events is not an option. Stay in control is the overall theme here. For some reason in critical situations that I have been in, I visualize a light switch. Who is going to turn it off? Is it my switch? Is this it, and is this how it ends? No, you work the problem because there is always something else to do. I have often said that if the light switch is turned off, it’s because, “I didn’t see it coming.”
In training, I put LAPD on the chalk board and ask the officers if they are willing to die for these letters? Next, I put a street gang name on the board and ask why a banger can take multiple gunshot hits and live? Because he willing to die for his gang and will continue to fight to the end. That’s what he lives for—expecting the worst. He expects the worst!
Most coppers don’t have that mind set going into a critical situation. A good example was a sergeant I worked for at Northeast Division in 1977. He rolled up on a ‘415 man with a gun’ call at a bar and as the sergeant entered the bar, alone, he confronted the man and was immediately shot. I am going to quote the sergeant. “I got shot and said to myself, well I’ve been shot so I guess I’m supposed to fall down.”
And that is what he did. He said he was lucky the guys didn’t stick around to see if he was dead.
I hope this ROLL CALL sends a message and stimulates some critical thinking.