By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
I’m going to shift gears from my Characters Ramblings. I received a lot of positive comments and I still have a few more Characters stories. I noticed that some officers were afraid that they might be remembered for an incident that they thought was long ago forgotten. Ha ha, no one is safe. I’m very careful about civil rights issues, statute of limitations, but revenge by another officer is forever.
The following stories are true. In the past I’ve talked about the fun and disappointments of working the streets. For every good arrest you make, there is a downside—court. The bad arrests never see a court room. Court is a part of the job that they don’t tell you about in those join the LAPD flyers. When you receive a subpoena to be in court, it’s never at your convince. You must appear.
It doesn’t matter what your work schedule is, or if you’re on a day off. Plan a four day trip out of town, have pre-paid tickets, non-refundable of course, and you’ll get a subpoena for one of the middle days of your trip. You work six days straight, you get one day off and then work another five days. You plan your day off, you’re going to sleep late and then sit around in your underwear all day. Wrong, you have court on your only day off in two weeks. Guaranteed, Murphy’s Law. Court was hit and miss. Some weeks you were in court four out of five days and other times no court for two weeks.
Court for four of the five watches is a nightmare. These are before the compressed work schedules. I spent thirty years under the old eight hour work day. If you work PM’s, you get off at midnight and have to be in court at 8:30 A.M. If you live sixty miles from the court house, do you drive home, grab a few hours’ sleep in your own bed, or do you try to sleep on a cot at the station for six hours and hope the desk officer wakes you?
If you work mid PM’s, you get off at 3:00 A.M. Do you try to sleep for four hours and then go to court or hope for three hours overtime? If you’re on AM’s you get off around 7 A.M., drink a couple cups of coffee, and then go to court. If you’re on day watch or mid days, you go to court on duty with a city car, have breakfast at the courthouse–it’s no sweat. You’re also not in as much of a hurry to get out early. If you’re held over after the noon break you can have a second meal on the city—that is, if you can afford two meals.
Speaking of money, they had a waiting room on the third floor for officers. Some officers would sleep if they just got off work. Some would read and a few would play cards. Not poker, just a friendly game of hearts. I watched one officer lose over a hundred dollars in a friendly game of hearts.
In the early days, if you’re off duty, you were compensated for three hours, no matter how long you were there. Some days you got out in thirty minutes and other days you help close the court room at 5:30 P.M. You only got three hours either way.
Court can be a one hour appearance or a nine hour marathon. Sometimes you can figure if you’re going to need to testify. You still have to show up or run the risk of getting a complaint. A failure to appear complaint can cost you days off without pay. Ouch. You also could have an angry judge issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Double ouch. When the judge is through with your butt, the department has its turn. It’s a kind of double jeopardy.
For over nineteen years, I’ve worked all night. I really want to go home and sleep before I have to go back to work. One of my last court appearances, I was working Day Watch. I walk into court and the DA isn’t there yet. I sit down and when the DA walks in, he declares, “I’ll take Morning Watch Officers first.” When he’s done talking to the sleepy cops. I walk up. I ask the DA, “Where the hell were you when I worked Morning Watch for nineteen years?” He tells me his dad was a cop and worked morning watch and knew that officers who worked all night needed to testify then go home and sleep. My kind of lawyer.
I show up for work after three days off. In Roll Call they give me a “be in court subpoena” for the next morning. Crap! My mind races, which dirt bag is this that I have to go to court for? Double crap, I remember this jerk, I found the evidence–I’ll have to testify. Triple crap, I didn’t bring my suit, I’ll have to go to court in uniform.
I’m proud of my uniform but walking to court in uniform, you become an information booth. “Officer, can you tell me where, this or that building is?” The questions were endless, I hated going to court in uniform. Some officers had an extra suit in their locker. I only owned one for weddings, funerals and court.
Once, I was in my suit walking to court. This guy comes up to me and asks for advice on a charge he was arrested for. He must have thought I was an attorney. Damn, I hate to think that I looked like one of those bottom feeders. I told him he needed to speak to his attorney or the Public Defender (PD). He persisted as we wait for the traffic light to change. I told him three times he needed to talk with his PD. Finally I told him, “I can’t advise you because I’m the officer that arrested you.” The snickers from the crowd around us were priceless. An hour later I testified against him. Dumb ass, no wonder he got arrested.
I worked with a sharp training officer during my probation. One time we were looking for a knife used in an ADW (Assault with a Deadly Weapon). I was searching on one side of the street and he was on the other side. He called me over and told me to look around here, pointing to the ground in front of him. I looked down and there was the knife. He smiled and said “you found it.” I was in court until after 3 P.M. He left after ten minutes. Valuable lesson learned—we both got three hours overtime.
Court parking was another story. All most all of my court was downtown. The first year or two I went to the old Hall of Justice. I remember walking past Charlie Manson’s girls during his murder trial. They had shaved heads and those swastika’s carved into their foreheads.
Parking changed over the years but free parking downtown for officers always involved a four to five block walk. Walk to court in the morning sun and walk back in the rain in the afternoon. The courts later moved to the Criminal Courts Building, a brand new building, but the wheels of justice didn’t turn any faster.
There are four different courts that I attended. Felony prelims, misdemeanor trials, felony trials, and civil trials. Prelims are a pretrial to see if there is enough evidence to hold a defendant over for trial. Misdemeanor trials are for minor offenses. Felony trials are for the real bad guys, robbery, murder, assaults anything that if convicted can send you to state prison for at least a year.
Civil trials can be something minor where one party is suing another party involved in a traffic accident you investigated. The other side is where someone is suing you for some act you committed or failed to commit. Being a defendant is not fun. Some officers had to homestead their house during a civil trial so they didn’t lose it to a low life who was suing them. Think about some career criminal sitting on your front porch smiling at your former neighbor’s daughter.
In my next court installments, I’ll describe some of the judges and court cases I was involved in. Some outside of law enforcement world think the court system is a well-oiled machine. My 1940 ringer/washing machine has more oil than our justice system. Yea, I really have one, pictures available for a minimal cash remittance. No checks or tokens to Angels Flight.