By Hal Collier Hal is a thirty-five year veteran of LAPD. We are pleased he is sharing his stories with us.
The following story is true. The names are true to best of my memory. In past ramblings, I talked about my experiences working the Hollywood Jail and Station Security. This is the third in the trilogy of the worst jobs in the LAPD, unless you count kissing the butt of some staff officer. I heard of one sergeant changing his religion to gain the favor of a deputy chief. Of the three, the desk was the best—you were inside, warm, and had someone to talk to.
The desk, to a young officer who wants to save the world from evil, is not a career goal nor is it included in the pamphlets to join the LAPD. Some days, ok, maybe weeks go by without any event worth mentioning. Most of my desk duties were on Morning Watch, 11:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M.
Watching a wife come in at 3 AM to bail out her husband for drunk driving or picking up a prostitute was always an adventure. Picture your wife walking into the lobby of the police station. She will usually have one to three kids in tow, in their PJ’s. The wife is pissed, the kids are cranky, and the desk officers are amused. The story the husband told his wife is usually a little different than what he was charged with. She insists that he was working late in some other part of the city. The desk officers often bet on when the wife will challenge his story or explode in a rage—in the lobby where he’s safe from spousal abuse, or outside on the sidewalk. The wife will ask if the desk officers know a good divorce lawyer. Some officers do—their ex-wife’s lawyer. Desk officers never follow them outside. They might find themselves in the middle of a domestic fight. On a quiet night, you could hear the yelling as the couple walked to their car.
The Hollywood desk in 1971 was antique to say the least. The desk itself was a big wooden monster. The phones were rotary dial— remember those? We had an old switch board (PBX) for calls coming in from the Gamewell call boxes. It had the lights on top and you pulled out the cord and plugged the cord in under the lit light. You flipped up the toggle switch and talked into a head set. Just like that Lily Tomlin skit as Ernestine. Go ahead—Google it.
My first night on the desk, I met Mrs. Simpson. Mrs. Simpson lived a block away, she was elderly, and had placed all her marbles in a bag then misplaced the bag. She was not allowed to come into the station lobby anymore, because she had the mouth of a sailor and hated anything in a uniform. Some nights Mrs. Simpson was content to stand outside the front door and yell obscenities at the desk officers. Other nights when there was a medication problem, she would stand in front of the open lobby doors, open her coat, and show the desk officers her birthday suit. Not a pretty sight, but sometimes the highlight of the night.
I was fortunate to work with a veteran, Charlie, a Medal of Valor officer. He treated you like an equal while he taught you the ropes. The first night he told me if you get in a fight at the desk, drag the asshole over the desk to your side. That way you have help. I’m wondering why would a desk officer have to fight anyone? My second night I understood. No one comes to the desk at 2 A.M. to tell you what a great job you’re doing and please accept this donation to the Policeman’s Ball.
People come to the desk to make a report that their car was broken into, they got a ticket they didn’t deserve, or to bail out someone who was wrongly arrested. No matter what the reason the cops were wrong or not doing their job. I don’t think there is a police officer who hasn’t heard, “I pay your salary.” Working at the desk required you to complete reports, and answer the phones, which always ring, even in the middle of the night. I know Hollywood never sleeps, but explain to me why a guy who lives in Castaic, gets his car broken into at Disneyland in Anaheim, stops by the Hollywood desk at 3 A.M. to make a crime report?
When answering the phones you meet an unusual mix of people. There’s the rich folks who remind you of how much they pay in taxes and name drop all the important people they know. I’m laughing to myself because I’m at the bottom of the barrel. I don’t know Jack Shit. Then there are the nuts who only call late at night, because the daytime cops hang up on them. If you’re working the desk in the middle of the night, you get bored and are willing to listen to the crazies to break up the night. The following characters I met over the phone.
I don’t know of any cop alive today that hasn’t talked to Laser Lady at one time or another. For my non-police friends, Laser Lady calls and tells you about lasers coming into her windows, usually from aliens. I understand she has been transferred all around the city, including the Chief’s Office and Air Support (Helicopters) who should know about aliens. She was fun to listen to unless you were busy. She was advised to put aluminum over her windows to reflect the lasers. When she called back and said it didn’t work, she was told to change the foil every two weeks. Put foil between the mattress and box spring, in the freezer, aluminum hats, etc. If I had any money, I would have bought stock in Reynolds Aluminum. She was intelligent but I think her marbles were in the same bag as Mrs. Simpsons. I’m convinced that there was more than one Laser Lady or she is about a 100 years old.
This nut case use to call the station desk with the hope of a rookie officer answering the phone. The phone conversation went similar to this.
Officer: Good morning Hollywood police station, may I help you.
Big: Hi, how big is yours?
Officer: Excuse me?
Big: How big is yours?
Officer: How big is what?
Big: I’ll bet you have a big one!
The next question by the officer depends on where he graduated in his academy class.
The upper 10% hung up. The lower 10% still didn’t know what “Big Dick” was asking.
True story. Ask anyone who worked the Hollywood desk in the 70’s.