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, best to my fading memory. Some of my earlier stories dealt with pursuits. One was about my worst car pursuit and one my worst foot pursuits. Even the bad pursuits are a fond memory of an eventful career. As in life, not everything is bad. I actually had a lot of good moments. I remember my lucky arrests. Ok, this story is about the best and longest car pursuit I was ever in.
If you remember, I said I don’t like car pursuits. They’re dangerous and they seldom seem worth risking your life. Think about hurtling through the streets at breakneck speeds, because someone doesn’t want a ticket, they’re drunk, or they’re driving a stolen car. Even a stolen car will only get them a few months in county jail. A lot of cops die chasing cars. I knew of one cop who loved pursuits. He would hide out on Forrest Lawn Drive, see a speeding car, and let him get a good head start, before turning on the red lights and siren. The speeding car would figure he had enough of a lead to outrun the cops and take off.
Ok, back to my story. I’m working; yep you guessed it, Morning Watch. I’m working with Bill, a good partner. Some partners you just click with. Bill’s driving and I’m keeping the books. Books are police slang for keeping the log and writing all the reports for the night. Bill and I had a great system for running license plates that were going away from you. The driver would look at the first three or four letters/numbers and the passenger would look at the last three letters/numbers. That way we would have the whole license plate to check to see if it was stolen or wanted. If you’re following behind the car, it’s not a big problem because you can read the license as you talk to the dispatcher downtown.
We’re stopped at a red light at Franklin Avenue and Bronson Avenue. A car drives southbound on Bronson past the front of our car. The driver looks at us then quickly looks away. Ok, if you’ve got kids you know that look when you catch them doing something wrong. Bill and I look at each other, without saying anything. We both know he’s dirty. We pull in behind the car, a 70’s Pinto, and run the license plate. The dispatcher tells us the car is stolen, taken in a robbery, the suspect is considered armed and dangerous.
The adrenalin is starting to flow. We request back up and an air unit (helicopter). This is where the action begins. We have a backup police car behind us, a helicopter overhead, and a full tank of gas. That’s important as you will see later. We cinch up our seatbelts and turn on our red lights and siren. The Pinto accelerates to a top speed of 45 mph. To my non-police friends, Bill is responsible for driving the car. I’m responsible for broadcasting streets, direction, and suspect description. Both officers watch for oncoming cars, cross traffic, pedestrians, and Department Brass.
The Pinto drives westbound Hollywood and northbound Cahuenga. I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble keeping up with this 4 cylinder Pinto. After all were driving a high performance, police equipped V-8 that the city bought from the lowest bidder.
The next 20 miles is pretty boring. The Pinto drives onto the northbound Hollywood Freeway (101). The Pinto is straining to get over the Cahuenga Pass. I’m broadcasting our location as we pass the off ramps. We are now in the San Fernando Valley and as we pass each on ramp we see two police cars waiting to get into the action. The Pinto is now up to 65 mph. We have a sergeant with us who keeps our pursuit from becoming a 30-car procession of police cars.
As we head into the west end of the valley, our radio begins to break up. Another item bought from the lowest bidder. Communications advises us to let the helicopter broadcast the pursuit. Ok, I hang up the microphone, put up my headrest, and tell Bill to wake me if the Pinto exits the Freeway. Ok just kidding, but the Pinto is not going to outrun us or the helicopter.
We leave L.A, County and enter Ventura County. I see Ventura County Sheriffs sitting on the on ramps. We travel through the communities of Agoura, Westlake Village, and Thousand Oaks. The Pinto strains to get up the hill on the Conejo pass. On the down side it reaches speeds that top 70 mph. We are driving into Camarillo when our helicopter advises us that he is low on gas and has to turn back. Ha ha, we filled up at start of watch. I think were in Ventura when the Pinto slows and exits the freeway at Victoria Ave. He’s out of gas. Hum!
The end of a pursuit is usually a dangerous, tension-filled occurrence. Cops are mad because of the danger this dirt bag has put them through, the adrenalin is flowing and after a close call, revenge is on most cops minds. These are the times when police officers lose control of their emotions and end up on You Tube and in court unemployed. This was different. After this slow, long pursuit, the adrenalin has left us. We order the driver out of his car and he complies, unlike Rodney King. He lays down on the street and I handcuff him. I put him in our car and we begin the long drive back to Hollywood. Our Sergeant has to stop and get gas, to get back to Hollywood. The pursuit was 56 miles in 53 minutes.
We’re on our way back and I ask the suspect, “Why did you run?” He said, “I was in West Hollywood and I saw the Sheriffs kick a guy’s ass for flicking a cigarette. I’m driving a stolen car, I was just putting off an ass kicking. You guys didn’t even hit me”. I told Bill, “Stop the car. Let’s kick this guy’s ass.” The guy’s eyes got big and Bill and I both laughed.
The robbery involved a gay man who picked up our suspect for a date. Our suspect took his wallet and car. Not the kind of Armed and Dangerous you see on TV. The pursuit lasted longer than it took me to write the arrest report.
I think my sergeant is still trying to cash a check in Ventura to buy gas so he can get back to Hollywood.
We don’t miss him.