Ramblings, “Officer Needs Help”
February 7, 2016
by Hal Collier, LAPD, retired
There is nothing that scares a cop more than hearing, “Officer needs help!” If you can hear the almost panic and fear in their voice it will send your adrenalin pumps into high gear! It will send shivers down your spine and suck the air out of your lungs. The only thing worse is when what follows the help call is with, “Shots fired, Officer Down!”
“Officer Down” means an officer has been hurt or shot. You might not even recognize the voice, even if it’s a close friend. It doesn’t really matter. You’re about to break every department rule and state law regarding safe driving to get there.
Believe it or not, there’s a protocol for requests on the police radio. This is based on LAPD radio procedures and I’m sure other departments have different standards. I never understood the 10 code used by many departments, but math was my weakest subject in school. We’ll start with the lowest in priority, “Officer requests a backup.”
To most cops this still means an officer has stumbled into something that they can’t handle alone. It’s not an emergency, yet, but may become one soon. In my early days on the LAPD when an officer responded to a burglar alarm at a business or a residence and found a break in, they would request a “Back Up.” The only trouble with requesting a backup was you had the whole division risking life and limb to get to your location because it beat the hell out of telling some Woodstock veteran to turn down his stereo. It was often a contest to see who got there first.
What you really needed was one unit to secure the perimeter while you searched the premises. We later modified our procedure to “Requesting one unit for a backup on a burglar alarm.” If it was a slow night you still got the whole division and both sergeants. You probably hoped the sergeants were sleeping or busy. They can sometimes screw up the simplest incident.
Ok, foot pursuits were automatic, “Officer Requests Assistance.” Foot pursuits were dangerous, especially if you can outrun your partner. I got in more than my share of foot pursuits. I’m guessing that a suspect would look at me and think, I can out run this old fart. Fact, I wasn’t fast but I could run forever. I didn’t lose a foot pursuit for the first eight years I was on the job. Foot pursuits can be dangerous. You also run the risk of a suspect turning a corner and waiting to ambush you. A lot of police shootings occurred during a foot pursuit.
I once requested assistance and the dispatcher must have thought I was a rookie. She calmly told me to slow down, take a deep breath and give my location. I advised her that I was running after an armed suspect on foot and I was taking all the air in I could. Bye the way I caught him. The dispatcher later called my Watch Commander and apologized.
Ok, let’s get to “Help Calls,” the grandfather of all requests! I’ll admit that in my thirty-five years of patrol, I broadcast a lot of back up and assistances calls, but I only put out one “Help Call.”
I was known as a mellow officer who had a calm demeanor and could defuse any situation. At least that’s what my rating reports said. Of course, I spent my days off mowing the rating supervisor’s lawn.
It’s the late 70’s and I’m driving westbound on Sunset Boulevard and I just passed La Brea. It’s about 02:30, that’s 2:30 AM for our non-police friends. The bars have closed and the prostitutes are making more money than I will for the next two weeks. Theirs is tax free and no contribution to a 401 or pension fund. I hear a loud boom and suddenly jump up in my seat. I recognize the sound as a gunshot of a large caliber. My eyes scan the streets for the location of the gunshot. I see citizens running and even the prostitutes are fleeing. It takes a lot to scare a veteran whore. I notice that they are all running in an outward circle from a motel on the south side of Sunset.
I slow the car trying to spot where the shot came from. My probationer next to me is yelling, “I don’t see him.” Hell, I don’t see him either. I suddenly see a young adult run from the motel with a shotgun in his hands. Ok, half the problem solved. I angle the car toward the curb and suspect. I broadcast “Officer Needs Help Sunset west of La Brea.” My partner and I both swing open our car doors and crouch behind the doors for protection.
Suddenly the car starts to roll forward. Shit, I left the car in drive, a rookie mistake. I stand and reach in with my right leg and push on the brake. I’m half in the car and half out. I have moved my finger from the gun frame to the trigger. I’m just a few pounds of trigger pull from having an officer involved shooting. I tell the suspect to halt and drop the gun, or something similar; maybe in less proper police vernacular. I hear my probationer rack a round in our Ithaca shotgun, always an attention getter.
For a fraction of a second the suspect and I make eye contact. The moment of truth!
Oh, somewhere in this favored land, the sun is shining bright. The band is playing and hearts are light. When the sun rises it will be a nice sunny day, mild temperatures and kids will dance and play on the playgrounds. Ok, just kidding. Humor is the only way cops avoid heavy medication and one of those jackets with the long sleeves that buckle at the wrists.
I repeat my order to drop the gun. I think my voice squeaked that time. Our suspect drops the shotgun and drives headfirst into the grass with his arms outstretched. We will all live to see the sun rise in a few hours. The professional that I am, I reach in and put my police car in park. We approach the suspect and handcuff him. My partner and I breathe for the first time in minutes. It will take some time before the adrenalin leaves our body.
Epilogue: Our suspect had come to Hollywood to have sex with a prostitute. The fact that that he brought a shotgun with him is suspicious. As is what usually happens in Hollywood, the prostitute had ripped him off. He retrieves his shotgun and returns to the motel room. The prostitute has fled so he goes to the motel office—he’s going to get his money back from someone. The motel clerk slams the office door on him. Our suspect fires a round at the motel office door, striking the wall.
That’s where we come in. As the saying goes, he came to Hollywood to get screwed and he got screwed. He was booked for attempt murder but we’re all alive.
After completing the arrest report, we booked the suspect and the shotgun and headed home. We have missed breakfast and lunch. We have to be back at work in six hours. Maybe then we’ll grab a chili dog at Pink’s on La Brea—we just won’t drive down Sunset.
Go to www.thoniehevron.com for Hal Collier’s latest post on the call all cops dread.