My last Ramblings described why some officers promote and others choose to remain street cops. Here’s my story. I was a young twenty-one year old kid who was going to save the world when I graduated from the police academy. I spent five months having law, physical fitness and street survival crammed into my small brain. I was taught when to shoot, when not to shoot, if you get in a fight, win or you die.
Ok, I graduated on a Friday and worked my first patrol shift on Saturday night at 11:30 P.M. I spent three nights working patrol and enjoyed it. Then I came in on my fourth night and discovered I was working Station Security. What the hell is Station Security?
This was 1971 and the Viet Nam War was on the news every night. The anti-everybody groups, like the Black Panthers, Weathermen Underground and SLA were targeting cops everywhere. Anti-war groups were demonstrating in front of any government building.
Ok, I’m a member of the finest police department in the world and after three entire days of patrol experience they put me out in front of the police station. I’ve got my six-shot revolver, no radio, but a very sharp #2 pencil. About two hours of standing in front of the station, I’ve got it figured out. I’m an early warning system. I start shooting and the desk officers have time to take cover. I suspect the Watch Commander will be locked in the captains’ bathroom. It happened once–come on, even lieutenants don’t go to the bathroom for three hours!
Another night, I’m assigned to the desk. Oh boy, another fun assignment for a young cop who’s going to save the world. I spent the night bailing out criminals that couldn’t have committed the crimes they were charged with, according to the family member bailing them out! I also take a lot of reports with my sharp #2 pencil.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, you get assigned to the jail. You now spend all night fingerprinting drunks, drag queens and DUI’S. Near the end of your shift you get to feed them a delicious TV dinner which some compare to cruel and unusual punishment.
Being on probation, you do what your told and don’t complain. The pecking order for cops in Los Angeles was, P-1 probationer, if there’s a dirty job a P-1 gets it. After a year I’m automatically promoted to P-2. You were called “P-2 dogs” and if a P-1 was not available, guess who got the dirty job? P-3 was a training officer. To be a training officer you had to take a test and then pass an oral. You were then placed on a department list and when a training officer spot opened you took another oral for the job. As a P-3 you were given probationers to train, not always an easy task. You were assigned a regular patrol area with another P-3.
So I have about two and a half years of street experience and I’m bouncing around, from car to car with different partners every month. One five day working period, I’m assigned to Station Security twice, the desk once and the dreaded Jail twice. The LAPD is wasting my talents. The P-3 test is coming up and I want to promote. I start studying and every time I want to take a break, I think of standing outside the station at 3 AM on Station Security. How am I going to save the world if I’m always at the station?
I pass the written test and do well enough on the oral to get into the outstanding pool for P-3. As luck would have it, Hollywood was expanding from six basic patrol cars to nine. That meant six new P-3 spots. I was swept into a training officer spot and was allowed to stay on graveyard which I wanted. Graveyard was where the real police work was done in Hollywood. Did I mention that I also got a 5% raise? No more Station Security, Desk, or the Jail. I did get a brand new probationer every few months, some almost got me killed but that’s another Ramblings.
So I’m a P-3 and happy on graveyard shift. I stay for 14 years, I could have promoted 10 years ago. I pass up all the sergeant tests. My reasoning–I’m not done being a street cop. I need to get it out of my system so I don’t find drunks in alleys to hand over to the P-2 dogs. P-3’s can also work vice or become a detective trainee. Neither of those two assignments appealed to me. I once had a Captain ask me, “Hal, did you ever consider being a detective?” I told the captain, “I hate working inside and I don’t like talking on the phone all day.” The captain replied, “Hal, your right, stay in patrol.”
The next step up the LAPD promotion ladder is P-3+1, a senior lead officer or SLO. A P-3+1 is another 5% pay raise but the drawback is you can’t work graveyard. The other plus is I can still be a street cop and my wife will get off my back about always working graveyard.
I take another oral and get the promotion. P-3+1 is just below the rank of sergeant. One day, I have fourteen years’ experience and no one asks for my opinion. The next day, I’m sitting in the supervisors meeting and the Captain asks what I think. I’m also asked to instruct at training days. Now this is where I excel, training. I can sell sand in the desert which comes in handy as a SLO. A SLO is a link between the police and the community. I had monthly meetings where I had to explain why the police can’t be on their street every half hour. I was a SLO for nine years and my wife happy. I’ve been working day watch and sleeping at home at night. She now has someone to nudge in the middle of the night to check out that strange noise.
I’m in my early 40’s and believe it or not, I’m thinking of my retirement even though it’s fifteen years away. Sergeants make more money than P-3+1’s and I’ve given up the thought of winning the California Lottery as my retirement plan. Your pension is based on your final salary. It’s 1991 and I take my first sergeants test. I studied for months and pass the test and the oral. With my seniority points, I place pretty high on the sergeants list. The only thing that will hold up my promotion is a promotional freeze due to budget cuts. Guess where I sat, on the list, three away from promotion for almost two years.
My last year as a SLO, all the SLO’s were pulled out of patrol and assigned to Community Relations. At first I resisted, but they let us team up and go into the streets every day. I still dressed in my uniform and I could make all the arrests I wanted as long as I went to my community meetings. Then I found out I could schedule my days off and if a fishing trip came up, I could change a day off and go fishing. Promoting might be a mistake.
In July of 1993, I’m going on vacation. We’re going to Alaska to visit my sister and her family. The Personnel Department calls me two days before we leave and asks me if I want to go to Sergeants school the following Monday instead of going on vacation. She has obviously mistaken me for a building boy! Gee fishing for king Salmon on the Kenai River or sergeant’s school.
In case you’re wondering what I did, I’m in Alaska fishing when my son calls me and tells me I made sergeant and being transferred to Watts. That’s South Central LA, for you that are out of town. That’s another 5% pay raise for my retirement.
I’m now a full-fledged sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department. I’m even working graveyard. One very slow night, I’m driving around Watts–you have to keep moving or they take pot shots at the police. It suddenly comes to me, as a SLO in Hollywood I was making my own schedule for days off. I was working all the movie premieres and off-duty jobs I wanted. I had the captain’s ear and now I’m driving around Watts, “What the hell was I thinking.” Oh by the way, in the LAPD when you promote to sergeant you lose seniority. With over 22 years on the job I took a $300 a month pay cut. “What was I thinking?” I spent fifteen months in Watts and it was a valuable learning experience and I got to work with some of the best cops on the LAPD. I was transferred back to Hollywood and graveyard. I’m happy, my wife not so much.
Promotion is not for everyone. On some small departments you only promote if someone dies, retires or gets fired. Then you have to be related or know someone important. We use to get a lot transfers from smaller departments, because there’s was no chance of advancement.
Motor cops are a different story. They only way they will give up their bikes is a serious accident or a doctors warning, “Stop riding or get a wheel chair ramp for your house.”
The best promotion I got was March 22, 2005. That was the day I retired from the Los Angeles Police Department. No I didn’t take an oral but the test lasted over 34 years, 168 days.
What a ride!