By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD
Ramblings: Drunks in the Park
I was reading Mikey’s blog about “Short Dogs” and it sparked a very old memory. I started the police academy on Oct. 5, 1970. The first month they crammed our brains with criminal law, self-defense tactics, PT (physical training), which I was told was rougher than Marine Corp boot camp. They also had us throw some lead down range at some silhouette targets. The second month they sent us out to patrol for one day on weekends. We were as green as could be, but we were dressed as real cops and even had loaded guns.
My story begins with our fourth month. We’re getting a little cocky. Our walk is getting that swagger, but we still don’t have a clue how to do real police work. In the past your fourth month was spent in the field. You got to work patrol for two weeks, had driver training, a couple of days working with detectives and, don’t forget the thrill-packed trip to the coroner’s office. They showed you dead bodies and maybe even an autopsy. A lot in my class had been to Viet Nam so dead bodies were not a shock.
We were all looking forward to a whole month of no PT instructors yelling at us and making reference to our heritage! Our class was assigned to station security; guess where? That’s right, the police academy. I guess I was lucky, I got assigned day watch. That’s right, I’m guarding the police academy where just about everybody has a loaded gun. Weekends were nice not too many people around, but I still had a loaded gun. I felt kind of sorry for my classmates who got graveyard shift. Not too much going on after dark unless you wandered into the “Rock Garden.” The Rock Garden was behind the Academy Lounge where cops would have a refreshing beverage and unwind, often with members of the fairer sex. I heard the rock garden was like the last row of a drive-in movie. I have no personal knowledge; remember, I was married.
So, after two weeks of walking around the Academy I finally get to play policemen in the field. I’m assigned to Rampart day watch. Rampart is just west of downtown Los Angeles. My first day I’m assigned to work with a foot beat officer whose assignment is to patrol MacArthur park. I asked my partner what we do in MacArthur park on day watch and he says we arrest drunks. I’m thinking I ran 5 miles up and down hills around the academy and did push-ups as the sun was setting to arrest drunks? I then had an inspiration—arresting drunks beat the hell out of doing pushups at sundown.
After coffee we head to the park. We drive up the ramp on the sidewalk and head down the foot path into the park. I’m not familiar with the drunks that might be in the park. At the first park bench, my partner stops about three feet away. The biggest Great Dane I ever saw walks up to my car window and sticks his enormous head inches from my face. I believe the dog had just completed some personal hygiene. I guess my expression was funny because my partner and the owner laughed.
The next park bench has a couple of old-timers. Sitting on the ground between them is a plain brown paper bag wrapped neatly around a cylindrical glass bottle. My partner asked them who does that bag belong to. Both deny any knowledge of the bag. My partner confiscates the bag and much to my surprise it contains a bottle of red wine. The bottle is emptied in the trash can in front of the men. I thought I saw a tear in one of men’s eyes.
The next bench has four men sitting upright. We get out of the car for this group. Again, there’s a bottle in the brown paper bag on the ground. The men all have bloodshot eyes and one’s starting to lean to the port side. My partner asks the men to stand. None of them can. They seem to be a happy bunch as we put them into the back seat of our car.
This bottle of wine is placed in our older model Plymouth black and white.
We drive to PAB (downtown) where the local jail is for Rampart Division. We pull into the back of the misdemeanor section of the jail and then my partner taught me a lesson I used for the next 35 years. He handed the bottle of wine that we had found in the park and handed it to the four men. They each took a long drink until the bottle was empty. No one complained that they preferred white wine. I walked the first drunk up to the booking officer and the officer called my first arrestee by his first name. They were happy and gave us no problems during booking.
My partner said to me, “Remember, they’re people and treat them with a little respect. They’re easier to book when happy.”
He also said, “Remember to use good officer safety tactics because even a drunk can be dangerous.”