Police Work Was Easier in the 70’s
By Hal Collier
Police work in the early 70’s was so simple. You saw a crook and you arrested him or her. If they resisted you overcame their resistance with a degree of necessary force. On occasion a citizen witnessed the arrest. Most times the witness stated, “What an asshole” and he was referring to the culprit.
Modern technology has changed police work forever. I was watching one of those car pursuits on TV, you know the ones famous for Southern Calif. Mainstream media is describing the pursuit and how dangerous they are and the fleeing suspect is endangering innocent citizens. The media never mentions that the cops chasing this guy are also risking their lives. I hated car pursuits. Of all the guys I chased only a few went to prison for their crimes.
The bad guy finally crashes and flees on foot. The cops chase him down and wrestle him to the ground. Routine police work for the cops. Wrong, the news media, has videotaped the entire incident. But on the 5 o’clock news, they only show the cops beating the suspect, who, by the way, was a choir boy. If you look at the bystanders they all have cell phones and are taping the arrest.
The complaints come streaming in and the officers are under investigation. The media is now critiquing the officers’ tactics. The poor suspect has obtained a lawyer and is suing the cops, the city and the poor citizen who caused his crash. Six months later, the officers are exonerated, but the media has moved on—they have other fish to fry. Of course, years later a civil jury will award this thug millions of dollars because he was potty trained late. This is nothing new to street cops.
Video cameras have become a very big part of police work. Not all of it bad. Wasn’t it video cameras that helped identify the Boston Marathon Bombers? Now, the end of my career was near the beginning era of the video camera. I didn’t have a cell phone until the 90’s. It didn’t take pictures or videos. Hell, I now have a camera that takes videos but the instructions were on page 78 and I only read to page 36.
Everyone is familiar with the video of the Rodney King arrest, excuse me, the Rodney King “Beating” as the media called it. Well, the media edited that tape to only show the police hitting King with their batons. They showed it over and over but only once did I see the part where King charged the officers. When a jury saw all of the evidence they acquitted the officers. The city broke out in riots.
During the L.A. Riots, numerous news agencies provided the Hollywood Detectives with video tapes of looting. One particular tape showed an entire neighborhood looting the Sears store. Two police cars arrive and the looters were streaming out the back door. Most had stolen loot in their hands. The tape showed a Deputy Chief butt stroking the thieves with a shotgun as they fled with arm-loads of goods. He was from the old school of police work. Made me proud.
The fact of life is that now days, whatever you’re doing as a cop, there’s a chance that someone is watching you with a camera. It’s a thin line between taking care of business and stepping over the line that will cause you to look for a new career, like maybe doing laundry in an orange jail jump suit. More businesses have video cameras both inside and outside their business. Police cars have video cameras in their cars as well as inside the stations. Hell, even parents video tape their babysitters. I’m wondering if I should dress before going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Some incidents are being shown on You Tube before the officer has finished writing the arrest report.
As I stated before, cameras can be good and bad for police work. There was a Sears store in Hollywood that had video cameras throughout the store. A security guard would sit in the control room and watch for shoplifters. Some of the tapes were of shoplifters stuffing items in their own clothing and a few that really caught my attention.
I watched one pair of crooks. One approached a register to buy a pair of socks. When the cashier opened the register he dropped the money on the floor. When the suspect and the cashier bent down to pick up the money the second suspect grabbed the large bills from the open register. The cashier didn’t even know that the money was taken. The security guard had to chase the second suspect down Santa Monica Blvd and wrestle him to the ground.
Another time Sears was closed and it was the middle of the night. A motion detector alarm kept going off and the doors were all locked. After 2 hours of alarms we called the Sears security department. They let us in and the security agent went to the video room. We had a K-9 officer with his dog. The Sears in Hollywood was 4 floors and had numerous stairways and elevators. The Security agent advised that he would monitor the 4 floors and stairways on cameras while we searched. The suspect was taken into custody hiding among some clothes. He made a complaint against the officers for excessive force and dog bites. The video tape showed the entire arrest and the officers were exonerated.
One of my favorite dispatches was, “See the security officer holding a lewd conduct suspect at Sears.” My curiosity was piqued, lewd conduct in the middle of the day at Sears? I walked up to the security office and the guard told me, “You have got to see this tape.” I sit down and watch as the security camera followed a rather young attractive girl shopping in the clothing department. As she stopped to look at clothes, this guy knelt behind her and sniffs her backside. He pretends to be looking at clothes but after watching him sniff this girl’s backside 6 times. It’s obvious he’s not shopping for clothes. The girl doesn’t notice because he never touches her.
The suspect, I dubbed the “Sniffer,” then goes behind a sock bin and relieves his pent up tension. All this in the middle of the day in one of the busiest Sears stores in America. Only in Hollywood. His lawyer plead him guilty after viewing the video tape.
It’s a nice Saturday and I’m the Watch Commander at Hollywood Division. I’m playing a game of Free Cell on the computer and my desk officer walks up and says, “Hey Sarge, I have this guy at the desk and he wants to see you, he has a video tape.” Oh crap, this is post Rodney King and a cop’s worst nightmare is a video tape. I run through my mind if this is police misconduct, where’s my list of notifications? If I miss one notification, I’ll get an unpaid 2 day vacation.
I take the tape and walk into the Captain’s Office, the only TV/VCR in the station. I hold my breath and hit the play button. The video shows the north side of the police station. I’m intently staring at the screen. I watch for 10 minutes waiting for the cops to appear. They don’t. This citizen was filming rats running from the storm drain to the station trash cans. I counted at least a dozen rats, a problem—yes. My problem—no! I called Police Facilities to handle the rat problem. I’m used to dealing with a different breed of rat. I breathe for the first time in minutes, no days off without pay and I can get back to my Free Cell game.
Police work is harder now days and cops have to be careful what they do and say, or end up as the 5 o’clock breaking news story.
Police work was easier before all this technology.