By Hal Collier, LAPD, Retired
Hal is a thirty-five year veteran of LAPD. We are pleased he is sharing his stories with us.
I was assigned to the Community Relations Office with the other Senior Lead Officers. Again, Hollywood was having a business burglary problem on the west end. It was all along Melrose Avenue and, of course, after midnight. We had just been pulled out of patrol and became a ready work force, or gophers, to our Captain. Anyway, I found myself on a roof top with Chuck. Dale and Jim were on a roof top about three blocks east of us.
A little history: this area of Melrose is a known area for gay men to meet and have a five minute exchange of passion. We’re not here to enforce lewd conduct violations so we concentrate our attention to business burglars. After a couple of hours we spot a man driving a black Jeep. He’s driving back and forth on Melrose; maybe he’s staking out a business. His next pass, I look through my binoculars. He’s not wearing a shirt. It’s November and Chuck and I are bundled up like the little brother on Christmas story. His next pass, I notice he’s not just shirtless, he’s naked. Right hand on the steering wheel, left hand on his shift handle. Chuck radios to Dale and Jim to be on the lookout for the black Jeep. A few minutes later they radio back that he’s ambidextrous, his right hand is now on his shift handle. That’s what you get for working Hollywood.
We hear a noise coming from the rear alley. I walk to the back and look down, a tagging crew has picked our building to spray paint graffiti. We call in the chase car and they are arrested. At least we didn’t strike out.
One of my favorite stake out locations was on Ivar north of Sunset. The cheapskates would rather park on a dark side street that had free parking, than pay a few bucks to park in a well-lit parking lot. Ivar was adjacent to the Cinerama Dome, a strip club and a block from Hollywood Boulevard. I could sit on a second story parking lot of the Mercedes building and watch two parking lots and the surrounding streets.
My first night, I caught a car burglar within the first hour. The next time, it took two hours but we caught another. The third time was a chore. I spot this guy looking into parked cars. He tries the doors their all locked. He walks to the corner looks both ways and returns to a Jaguar. Then he walks away. What’s wrong with this guy? I’m ready, the chase car is ready–oh yea, I forgot patience.
He returns then sits on a planter right underneath me. Where’s my chewing tobacco? Another car drives slowly northbound on Ivar. That car stops and backs up, two guys get out and look at a car with T-Tops. Ok, these guys are going to steal the T-Tops. My suspect steps out and warns them that he will call the police if they touch that car. I’m getting irritated at this guy, he won’t break into a car and now he’s stopping others from committing a crime.
All through this I’ve got my chase car two blocks away and ready to swoop in for the arrest. The chase car is beginning to think I’m seeing things and their losing interest. My suspect walks back to the Jaguar, he looks up and down the street. I’m mumbling, “Break into the car, you dumb ass.” I shouldn’t have had a Pink’s hot dog before getting up on this roof.
Ok, the first suspect breaks into the Jaguar, the chase car swoops in and arrests him and I just make it to the bathroom. Great night. You know, I always caught a car burglar at that spot.
My last stake out story shows how the best laid plans don’t always work out. At the time the big arcade games were in all the businesses, liquor stores, bowling alleys, even laundromats. They were quite expensive. Hollywood was experiencing a rash of burglaries. Suspects would smash out a window, grab an arcade machine, throw it into the back of a truck or van and drive away. Witnesses say they only took five minutes.
My partner Bob had a snitch who worked at an arcade store. He overheard that this group had stolen a van and was going to steal an arcade machine at one of two stores in Hollywood. We convinced our Watch Commander to let us stake out the two stores. Bob and I picked a laundromat on Vine Street. We hid our police car behind a car wash and waited.
The stolen van drives by the laundromat. We radio for the other black and white (police car) that our location is the target. They set up three blocks north of us. I request a helicopter. They advise they have landed for the night and will only respond if it’s an officer emergency. We watch and wait. The van parks in the parking lot and four guys get out. They walk up and down the street looking for the police.
Bob and I are ready. The suspects smash the window and drag the arcade machine out through the window and into the back of the van. We move in followed by the other black and white. The van turns eastbound on a residential street. Were right behind them. Our plan worked out. The suspects drive right through a stop sign at El Centro. As we approach, a trash truck pulls into the intersection, blocking our path. Damn, we drive around the trash truck. The suspects’ van is 3/4 of a block ahead of us. They turn northbound on Gower then westbound in an alley. We’re about 100 feet behind them when they push the arcade machine out the back of the van. It blocks the alley. The suspects abandon the van and run southbound through the houses.
We set up a perimeter and our helicopter decided this was an officer safety issue and helped with the search. After hours, we catch all four bad guys. See? It worked out ok but on TV it would never happen like this.