By Hal Collier LAPD, Retired
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
The following story is true. I call this one, “The Radio Call from Hell.”
In a recent Ramblings, I talked about the radio calls cop hate the most. Well, here is another I saved for your reading pleasure—“Death Notifications.”
I don’t know of any cop who likes telling someone that a loved one has died. Sometimes it’s expected, like an elderly aunt or grandparent. Other times, it’s unexpected, telling someone about a spouse, or relative who died in an accident. These calls usually come in through the Watch Commanders office from a coroner in a distant part of the country or state. Another reason why cops hate “The go to the Watch Commanders Office,” radio call.
I’m working morning watch and it’s about 3 A.M. “Go to the Watch Commanders Office.” Uh oh, I’ll bet it’s that citizen who wanted to make a hit and0 run traffic accident report and we told him to go to the station and wake the desk officer gently. We drive slowly to the Watch Commanders Officers. Maybe we’ll be hit by a drunk driver which will cause short term memory loss.
The Watch Commander tells us that a 28 year-old man was killed in a traffic accident in Bakersfield. We need to notify his wife. Whew, I almost confessed to a police department misdemeanor. We get the address which is on Beachwood Drive. I hate this call—wife alone, young. I hope she has family close by.
We drive to the address and park our car on Beachwood. Her apartment faces Temple Hill Drive, a cross street. We walk to the stairs and knock. The apartment door doesn’t have one of those peep holes to see who’s at the door and the windows all face the street.
A voice calls out, “Who is it?”
I answer, “Police.”
She says, “I didn’t call the police. What do you want?”
I didn’t attend the Ann Landers school of etiquette, but I’m pretty sure that shouting through a closed door at 3 A.M., “Your husband is dead,” is not the way to make this notification.
I reply, “I need to talk to you.”
This is not going well. I tell her, “I really need to talk to you in person.”
She says, “How do I know you’re really the police?”
Fair question. I tell her I’ll stand outside her living room window in the middle of the street.
I walk downstairs and stand in the middle of the street. I’m in full uniform and looking pretty sharp, if I say so myself. I see her looking out her window at me. She again asks, “What do you want?”
I didn’t want to tell her that her husband is dead through her front door and I’m definitely not going to yell it from the middle of the street.
She asks, “Where is your police car?” Ok, that’s another fair question. I’ll go get it. I walk out to Beachwood, drive our official black and white police car and park it in the driveway across from her window. As I’m parking the police car I hear an emergency call for all Hollywood units, “Man impersonating a police officer Beachwood and Temple Hill Drive.”
“Any Hollywood unit, handle Code 3.”
Oh crap, she called the cops on us! How could this get any worse? I cancel the radio call. No use in another cop getting hurt racing to this call from hell.
I finally convince her to open the apartment door and let us in. Now comes the hard part. I had five months training in the academy, I’ve got over seven years police experience working in the field and I’ve never been trained in telling someone that a loved one is dead. She has no family in California and doesn’t know the neighbors. There’s no easy way to say that your husband is dead. I tell her the worst news she probably will ever hear.
Her first reaction is denial, disbelief, and then anger. She’s now sobbing uncontrollably. There’s nothing I can say or do that will ease her pain. I won’t go into all the options we offered her but in the end we left her alone in that apartment. Boy, I hated my job that night.
Now you see why cops hate death notifications. They are never easy. This one still bothers me thirty-four years later.
Hal’s “Character-Angelyne” will post tomorrow.