By Hal Collier, LAPD Retired
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
The story you are about to read is true, the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed. In thirty-five years as a police officer I have worked with hundreds of partners, some good, some not so good. Some have been great, some have caused me sleepless nights. This story will deal with probationers. All cops have worked with probationers, boots, and rookies. Hell, we were all probationers once. I was a training officer for over nineteen years, so I guess I could be a department expert.
My son is a training officer and he recently asked, “How much time will I get if I kill my probationer”? I told him, “None if you make it look like an accident.”
My first night with a new partner was to get a little background. Not personal stuff, just looking for a common ground to talk about. If you spend eight hours in a police car with someone you need something to talk about. I would start out with “Why did you become a cop?” The following answers would amaze the department shrink.
Female: “I’m looking for a husband, cops are clean and they have a good paying job.”
Male: “This was the only job that paid close to my last job.”
Female: “I was making over a hundred grand a year but was bored with my last job.” I heard that a lot from both male and females. See? Money isn’t everything.
Male: “I want to right all the injustices done to my people.”
Male: I got into the wrong line at the civil service test. Ok, I made that one up but sometimes I think it applied.
I would ask what their hobbies or interests were to see if we had anything in common. One probationer asked what I liked and I said hunting. He said he didn’t think he could kill anything! Not what you want to hear from someone who might be asked to take a life to save yours or his.
I had a female probationer with a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. Nice girl but one night she didn’t talk for three straight hours. I like westerns, she liked science fiction. Her parents hated her because their culture didn’t like cops.
I had a female probationer, who sat in the car seat with her knee up on the seat and back turned toward her door, as if we were on a date.
I had a male probationer who spoke five languages, unfortunately English wasn’t one of them.
I had a female, just off probation, tell me she felt sorry for the male probationers. I asked why and she said that all she had to do to make probation was sleep with her training officer. I wasn’t surprised because her reputation had preceded her.
In the early 70’s, I would ask, “Did you ever cruise Hollywood Boulevard? Most would say “Yes.” I’d tell them that my wife and I cruised Hollywood during our dating years. I would then tell them that they were now paid to do what they use to do for nothing, and if we saw something interesting we could stop and question that person. I remember they interviewed an officer on why you would become a police officer. He said, “They pay me $60,000 a year. They give me a gun and a club, a new car and tell me to go out and look for trouble. What a great job.”
Probationers come from all walks of life. Some were Vietnam veterans, some from small towns in the mid-west. Some were married, some divorced. Regardless of where they came from, most were about to become Los Angeles Police Officers.
What I’m about to tell you next is not news to anyone who ever wore the badge. Being a cop gets into your blood. It’s like an E-Ticket at Disneyland or a roller coaster ride. Hours of boredom, followed by thirty seconds of sheer terror. When there’s gun fire, most people are running away, the cops are running toward the shots. It’s not about the money, because most business people have better hours, and pay.
Not everyone is cut out to be a cop—it takes a lot of desire and sacrifice. I heard of a recruit that said he had to have weekends off because he dated a lot. A probationer is lucky if they get one weekend off a month. They’ll work all the holidays, miss birthday parties, anniversaries and graduations. It’s a known fact that if you have five days off and a trip planned, you get a court subpoena for the middle day. The kiss of death is telling your partner you need to get off on time.
The hardest to teach were the naive. They led a sheltered life and think all people have a little good in them. I remember a female probationer from Texas. She had a degree in interior decorating. She lost her job and came to L.A. One day at start of watch she asked her training officer why we keep dynamite in the trunk of the police car. Her training officer, trying to keep a straight face, informed her they were road flares.
Another male probationer went out in the middle of a cold night to sit in the police car while his training officer finished up some paper work. When the training officer got into the car the probationer remarked that the car heater was broken. The training officer started the car and the heater came on full blast. The probationer didn’t know that the ignition had to be turned on for the heater to work. I think he’s now employed as a Wal-Mart greeter in Bakersfield.
Being a training officer wasn’t easy but damn it was sure fun!