By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
The following story is true and the character is real. It quite possible that this character, Joe Fierro, is still walking around Hollywood causing trouble for paramedics and police officers.
First my story.
For my non-police friends, your first day at the police academy they give you a serial number. That number will stay with you for the rest of your life—I mean it. When you die they list your serial number on the death and funeral notice published by the police department. They never re-issue a serial number and if you quit and come back at a later time you still have the same number.
I joined the Los Angeles Police Department in October of 1970. I was given a serial number of #16336. At the time that was a very high serial number. The serial numbers only go up and the higher the number, the less time you had on the job. It was common for a senior officer to ask “What’s your serial number?” When you told him he would scoff, and reply, not your social security number. Some of the old timers in my day had four digit serial numbers. I think serial numbers now days are over 40,000. Yikes!!!
When I got my badge, it said, “Policeman.” Female officer’s badges said, “Police Women.” Later when females became patrol officers, the badges all said, “Police Officer.” Older cops cherished their Policeman badges. I still have mine. I fondly remember the last time I qualified on the pistol range. You step up to the range window and give your serial number. I hear this young officer say, “16336, that must be at least thirty years.” I look back and say, “Thirty-four years and counting.” I saw him looking at my targets. Yea, I could still shoot.
On special occasions, officers wore class A uniforms. Those were long sleeves, tie and any ribbons or medals you earned throughout your career. On the left sleeve you had hash marks. One hash mark represented five years of police service. I had six hash marks and enjoyed watching younger officers trying to count my hash marks as I walked by.
I had a young probationer and we had to book a forgery suspect downtown. You were required to get booking approval at DHD (Detective Headquarters Division). They had a really old timer who worked the DHD desk, Detective Fowler, Serial #7602. We got a booking approval and Fowler told us call him back with the booking number after we processed the suspect. I wrote down Det. Fowler #7602 DHD.
Back then the city phones all started with 485- If you were on a city phone you dialed 5 and the last four digits. Example; 5-2504 connected you with DHD. I was finishing the arrest report and it was after 8 A.M. I told my probationer to call Fowler and give him the booking number. I overhear my probationer saying over and over, “No, I want to talk to Detective Fowler at Detective Headquarters Division.”
I asked my probationer, “What number did you dial?” He points to 7602. He had dialed Fowler’s serial number. He’d never seen a four digit serial number. I don’t know what city agency he was talking to. I just hung up the phone.
Hollywood Character: Joe Fierro aka Hollywood Joe
Just about every cop and fireman in Hollywood knew Joe. Joe was on disability of some kind and lived somewhere around Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox. Joe took some kind of medication for mental health issues. When Joe was on his medication he was not a problem and was cordial. He would often say hi to me and I had a pretty good relationship with him.
The problem came when Joe stopped taking his medication and started drinking beer. Joe would act bizarre and attract the attention of the police. Some days when no one paid attention to Joe he would go to a public phone and dial 911. He would tell the emergency operator that he wanted to commit suicide. Of course the paramedics and police would respond and haul Joe off to a mental facility. On some occasions Joe would make small cuts on his wrists or stomach to gain more attention. Joe would disappear from the streets for a few days, then reappear waving to the cops and firemen. Yea, Joe was back on his medication, at least for now.
I remember one day I walked into the rear door of the police station and I recognized Joe’s voice. He was in one of the holding tanks and yelling. I opened the tank door and told Joe to shut up and sit down. Joe replied, “Yes, officer.” See? I have a way with Hollywood Characters, I think they fear that I might be one of them. Joe has been arrested for abusing the 911 system, but never seems to serve any time. I know Joe is out on Hollywood Boulevard right now, I just don’t know if he’s on his medication.