By Hal Collier
The following stories are true. After 35 years of working patrol, I have been exposed to a variety of partners. Some were rookies, some became your close friends, some were your immediate supervisors, and some were the captains of your station. Some were “good,” some were “bad,” and some were just plain “ugly.”
I read in the paper recently where the L.A. Sheriff’s Department has a program where they rate their leaders, anonymously of course. Some of their quotes were amusing and some probably true. I’ll pass on a few.
“I wouldn’t follow him to a free buffet lunch.” “I wouldn’t follow him out of a burning building.” “He couldn’t lead a sing along.” “He couldn’t inspire a flea to jump.” He plays favorites like a DJ at the VFW.” “Couldn’t make a decision if he had a pocket full of quarters.” OK, the last two were mine.
In some business environments, you work around a co-employee. If you’re talking about a patrol partner, you spend eight hours or now days, ten to twelve hours in a car with your partner. After a few days working with the same person, you know everything about them. Their financial situation, how their marriage is working out, and yes, even their sexual history. You know their kids and their wife’s/husband’s names and in some cases, you know her menstrual cycle, like it or not. Partners become very close, or bond as they say. Some are easier to bond with than others.
I’m going to break down partners into four categories. Those partners you work directly with, those who you supervise, or who supervise you and your commanding officers (if you’re lucky they don’t even know your name).
First, I’ll talk about probationers, or rookies to my non-police friends. Probationers graduate from the police academy, wide-eyed, and ready to save the world. They are going to turn prostitutes away from a decadent sex life into the adults their parents hoped they would become. Drug addicts will turn into health freaks, and bums into productive members of society. After their first month in patrol, their balloon has burst or you hope they have come to their senses. Cops deal with the shallow gene pool of humanity and our short interaction won’t change their lifestyle.
In the early days, the training officer probably told them the first day, “Forget everything they taught you in the academy, I’ll teach you the right way!” That means search and seizure rules went out the window. It’s the way you write the arrest report and laws of arrest are a little stretched. If force was used, it depends on how many independent witnesses were present, if it was excessive. Your first day or night, you talk about an hour to get to know your probationer.
The first question you ask is, “Is your gun loaded?” Don’t laugh, some forget or think they’re still in the academy. One real story goes like this. The officers are enroute to a shooting in progress call and the training officer is advising his brand new partner to be careful and stick close to me. The probationer turns to his training officer and asks, “Should I load my gun now?” Never mind, we’ll get coffee first! Don’t laugh, it happens. I’ve had partners with college degrees but not a lick of common sense.
Some partners had the same views and values that you have. You could spend six hours on a stakeout and never be at a loss for words. Then again, I once spent three hours with a probationer who didn’t say a word. No kidding, not a word, for three hours. We didn’t have much in common, I liked John Wayne and she liked sci-fi movies. She didn’t even get out of the car for coffee.
I’ll start out with the bad and in some cases, they were also ugly. You’ll see. I was blessed with some very good probationers which I’ll talk about in later Ramblings. One of the bad probationers didn’t seem suited for police work. I was looking for a common bond to talk about and I asked him his hobbies. I said, “I hunt, do you hunt?” He replied, “No, I don’t think I could kill anything!” Stop the car!!! A lot of cops don’t believe in hunting but do I want to work with a partner who might have reservations about using his gun to save a life, maybe mine?
Part of the training program is letting the probationer drive. Driving a police car is more than just driving down the street. Officer safety is very important to his partner who is looking forward to retiring alive. Probationers have a tendency to park right in front of the location of a man with a gun, or they will look for a legal parking spot. They often park next to a trashcan, mailbox, or fire hydrant so the passenger can’t get the car door open.
I had one probationer who thought that red lights were for non-cops. I let him drive twice and both times, I took the car keys away from him. He kept driving through major intersections against the red light figuring that no one would hit a police car. I once supervised a probationer who had never driven a car. He lived in New York and always took a taxicab. I watched his training officer’s hair turn grey. We had a few female probationers who weren’t use to driving big four-door cars with a powerful engine. We didn’t have any two-door police equipped BMW’s.
The worst probationer I had was Jeff. Jeff was a graduate from USC and thought that being a cop would be fun. Jeff couldn’t write a sentence without help. No, he wasn’t an athlete. He told me that he paid someone to write all his college papers. I thought that was strange because Jeff was the cheapest cop I ever met.
We were eating at Denny’s one morning and I just had coffee, Jeff had steak and eggs. Jeff wanted to split the bill down the middle. Another time Jeff and his partner walked into a restaurant to eat and spotted a wanted burglar sitting at the counter. The whole watch was looking for this crook. They grabbed him and Jeff objected. He wanted his half price meal instead.
The worst trait about Jeff was that he was a coward. Yep, Jeff wanted to wear the uniform and collect the paycheck but didn’t want any of the danger that came with the badge.
We had a “man with a gun” radio call and the witness told us the armed suspect went into a parking lot. Jeff and I were to go down one side of the parking lot and two other officers were to check the other side. We started searching the parking lot. I was in the lead after about thirty yards I looked back, Jeff was still out on the sidewalk hiding behind a building. I motioned for Jeff to join me; he refused and said it was too dangerous!
Another time Jeff and his partner got into a pursuit. The suspect’s vehicle crashed and the driver fled on foot. Jeff’s partner chased and caught the suspect. He looked around and no Jeff. The partner walked back to the police car and there was Jeff. Jeff said he was guarding the police car! Jeff was asked to leave the LAPD.
I had another probationer, Tom, a nice enough guy, but he use to sit at code-7 (meal break) and tell me he had the next day off. He would ask me if he should get drunk and go to bed or sleep then get up and get drunk. I sent Tom AA cards for years after we worked together. Another time, he informed me that he went to a Doobie Brothers concert in Santa Barbara instead of sleeping. Tom asked me if we could coast tonight. I told Tom that if I caught him with his eyes closed, I’d send him home. He’s my back up. Am I hard ass or just a music critic? Come on—the Doobie Brothers!!
During the height of affirmative action hiring, I had a probationer who had no common sense and couldn’t make a decision. We once were given a bag of possible narcotics to book. He took custody of the bag and then informed me that he had gotten some of the powder on his hand and had touched his lips! I told him that if he started acting strange, I might have to shoot him. I hope he’s now working as a Wal-Mart greeter.
Some thought my hair loss was hereditary. I think it was probationers. We all learned the hard way.
Next I’ll describe some of the best, or good, partners I worked with or for. Hal
I loved this one.
Thanks, Marilyn. Hal really strips the veneer off the romantic notions of the job. Yet he still loves and honors it. A great perspective.