By Hal Collier
Ok, you’re a cop, big city, small city, Mayberry, it doesn’t matter. Are you ever off duty? I’m about to explain why a cop is never off duty, even after retirement. Are we paranoid, maybe a little, or maybe were just a product of our environment.
There’s an element in society that resents authority–any authority. The focus might be the leader of a country or a local politician but they are usually well protected so let’s look smaller. Who doesn’t see a cop every day, especially if you make an illegal U-turn? Cops are everywhere, if you can’t find a cop go to the donut shop! What cop hasn’t heard that? In the business world everyone has coffee breaks, it’s just not in the public view and wearing a uniform that tells everyone what you do.
So just when are cops off duty or not a target? When can a cop relax and be a normal human being? Taking the uniform off? Driving home? Eating at a restaurant with your family? How about off duty in uniform, but in court, or just eating your only meal of a 12 hour shift? LAPD considered your meal time off duty. If you relax you can die. Paranoid? You be the judge.
Most non-police will not understand what I’m about to describe but I doubt there is a cop in America who won’t be able to relate to some of what I’m saying. You are sitting in a restaurant eating and some citizen walks up and say’s “I don’t want to interrupt your meal,” then they do just that.
Let’s start out with the tame stuff. I’ll start with a very old story. 1971: I’m at Tiny Naylor’s a 60’s drive inn restaurant at Sunset and La Brea in the heart of Hollywood. A car hop places two cups of coffee on a tray that rests on a half rolled up window. After one sip from your coffee, two cars race from the intersection. Everyone at Tiny Naylor’s looks at you and their look says, are you going to do something? Yea, you place the tray on the ground and race out of the parking lot. The truth is you go to Winchell’s down the street for the cup the coffee you just gave away.
You’ve worked all night and finally get a break to eat, your first meal in 18 hours. You walk in and sit in a booth. You notice a man at the counter who doesn’t have any shoes. Strange, it’s winter and cold outside. You waitress tells you he had steak and eggs for breakfast. Question do you order food or see if he can pay for his meal first. Right, he couldn’t pay and had to go to jail, we’ll eat tomorrow!
How about this story, you worked all night and then spent all day in court. You grabbed a few hours’ sleep and went back to work. You’re going to eat as soon as you hit the streets. You go to one of those all night Mexican food places and are eating some carnitas on the hood of your police car. You hear glass break. Crap, some miscreant is breaking into the business across the street. Next time I’ll park with my red lights on.
Here’s an interesting story of an encounter I had. I’ve had a really bad night. I’m tired and hungry. All I want is a break and some food. I’m sitting in a booth which is next to the window on Hollywood Boulevard.
I get served my meal and after my first bite this homeless man leans on the window just outside. The only thing separating us is the glass. He’s looking down at my plate and tears start to come from his eyes. I try to ignore him but now the rest of the restaurant patrons are watching.
I can feel my blood pressure rise. Now he comes inside and I reach for my baton. He stops at the cash register and asks for change. He steps outside and goes to the newspaper rack. By now the whole restaurant is watching him and me. I should have been an electrician like my father wanted.
He puts his money in the news rack and it won’t open. The patrons all moan. He reaches into his pocket and grabs some more coins. This time the news rack opens and he takes out one paper. He walks into the restaurant and heads right for me.
I’m thinking, do I choke him out, or just wrist lock and handcuff him. He’s walks up me and hands me the newspaper and says, “Have a nice day officer.” He then walks out of the restaurant and disappears. The other patrons laugh and continue their meals. Me, I’m not hungry anymore and the paper is the LA Times–that anti police rag.
Next I’ll describe some more off duty incidents that were not so tame.