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. I’ll use only first names to protect the embarrassed. My last ramblings dealt with good arrests that resulted from luck. Most officers have an arrest that they deem their best. This was mine. It didn’t involve saving a life or a heroic act. It was the result of good old-fashioned police work, involving determination, perseverance, and patience. Doesn’t sound like me, does it?
I’m working A.M. Watch. I was a firm believer in the D/O sheet. For my non-police friends it was a Daily Occurrence of crimes that occurred the day before. I would study it for suspect descriptions and crime patterns. I would write down license plates of wanted cars in my officer’s notebook. I always had one or two D/O sheets in my sap pocket.
My theory was: don’t just drive around, hoping to stumble on a crime in progress. Later the department called it “random patrol produces random results.” Look for patterns and concentrate on those areas. Holy cow, I sound like one of those building boys.
I was working with a strong-headed probationer. I believe he was the beginning of the “Why Generation.”
Me: “Skip, do this.”
Me: “Did you check under the back seat?”
I was trying to teach my probationer how to study a D/O sheet. “Why?” In the beginning, it was all uphill.
Hollywood has an area in the foothills west of Ferndale Park, and north of Franklin, called the “Oaks” because all the streets are named oak something. Live Oak, Mountain Oak, Spring Oak. etc. It’s not hard to get lost in the Oaks. The houses are all expensive and celebrities dot the neighborhood. Elvira, “Mistress of the Dark” and our former Chief of Police, lived in the Oaks.
My patrol area was central Hollywood, miles from the Oaks. Like most cops, I couldn’t resist the adrenalin rush of making a good arrest. Checking my D/O sheets, I noticed a pattern of hot prowl burglaries occurring in the Oaks during A.M. Watch. “Hot Prowl” means the burglar enters a house when the residents are home. They are the most dangerous. They sometimes just take property, sometimes they rape or if caught in the act, murder.
The odds of catching a hot prowl burglar in the hills at night is similar to winning the lottery. It’s quiet and a suspect can hear cars coming for blocks. The winding roads and hills cut down on your field of vision. It’s almost impossible to stumble upon a burglar entering or leaving a residence.
Almost nightly, a hot prowl occurred in the Oaks. The suspect description is male black, NFD. (no further description) Whenever we get a few available minutes, we’d drive up through the Oaks. We don’t see anything but deer, skunks, and an occasional flat opossum in the roadway. We usually only get a few minutes to snoop around before we get a call taking us back to the flatlands. This goes on for weeks. We talk to the Burglary Detective. He says the suspect doesn’t seem to care that he’s seen. He once tells a witness, “You won’t be able to identify me anyway.” We even end up handling a few of the crime reports. Now it’s personal and we’re pissed.
My probationer is getting involved. He’s collecting his own D/O sheets. I must have found that soft spot in his hard head. One night after handling a bunch of radio calls, my probationer says, “Can we head up into the Oaks? I’d sure like to catch that SOB.” Ok, he’s got the fever that inspires cops. I break regulations and tell him don’t clear until we get up into the Oaks, that will give us a few minutes to look around.
I drive up Brier Cliff to Verde Oak. It’s all uphill. We crest a hill and as our headlights lower I see a flash of something run behind a car. I thought it might be a coyote or one of the smart opossums that actually made it all the way across a street. I drive up alongside the car and it’s a male black crouching down in front of the car. I can’t believe our luck.
I question him. He lives at 42nd and Western and he says he jogged to Hollywood. Funny, he hasn’t broken a sweat. His sweatshirt matches one that was described by a witness on an earlier burglary. The rest of his story is also unbelievable. An alarm company car comes by and tells me he stopped the same guy a week ago in the Oaks. We place this prize in our back seat. The radio operator is trying to give us a radio call in the flatlands. Sorry, we have bigger fish to fry.
I can hardly control the adrenalin rush. This is what most cops work for. The hours suck, the pay is below standard, you work holidays, you get spit at, called names, and the media portrays you as a bottom feeder. This arrest was better than that old E-Coupon ride at Disneyland. We got a couple of commendations, but they pale in comparison to that feeling cops get when they catch a bad guy.
Ok, we caught this guy, now it’s up to the Hollywood Detective to connect him to the crimes. We caught a big break. This detective is an up and comer in the LAPD. He makes our suspect on two burglaries, with prints, three more with witness identifications. He contacts Northeast Detectives and learns they also have a rash of hot prowl burglaries bordering our division. The detectives connect our suspect and clear by arrest, fifty residential burglaries in both Divisions.
Sometimes you’re lucky, and sometimes hard work pays off! That night I was rewarded with a little luck, due to my hard work.
Epilog: This suspect was convicted and spent four or five years in state prison. He was released and later caught again committing hot prowl burglaries in the Oaks. So much for prison reform.