Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, Characters, part 7

By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD

We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
The following story is true and the character is real. It quite possible that this character, Joe Fierro, is still walking around Hollywood causing trouble for paramedics and police officers.

First my story.
For my non-police friends, your first day at the police academy they give you a serial number. That number will stay with you for the rest of your life—I mean it. When you die they list your serial number on the death and funeral notice published by the police department. They never re-issue a serial number and if you quit and come back at a later time you still have the same number.

I joined the Los Angeles Police Department in October of 1970. I was given a serial number of #16336. At the time that was a very high serial number. The serial numbers only go up and the higher the number, the less time you had on the job. It was common for a senior officer to ask “What’s your serial number?” When you told him he would scoff, and reply, not your social security number. Some of the old timers in my day had four digit serial numbers. I think serial numbers now days are over 40,000. Yikes!!!

When I got my badge, it said, “Policeman.” Female officer’s badges said, “Police Women.” Later when females became patrol officers, the badges all said, “Police Officer.” Older cops cherished their Policeman badges. I still have mine. I fondly remember the last time I qualified on the pistol range. You step up to the range window and give your serial number. I hear this young officer say, “16336, that must be at least thirty years.” I look back and say, “Thirty-four years and counting.” I saw him looking at my targets. Yea, I could still shoot.

On special occasions, officers wore class A uniforms. Those were long sleeves, tie and any ribbons or medals you earned throughout your career. On the left sleeve you had hash marks. One hash mark represented five years of police service. I had six hash marks and enjoyed watching younger officers trying to count my hash marks as I walked by.

I had a young probationer and we had to book a forgery suspect downtown. You were required to get booking approval at DHD (Detective Headquarters Division). They had a really old timer who worked the DHD desk, Detective Fowler, Serial #7602. We got a booking approval and Fowler told us call him back with the booking number after we processed the suspect. I wrote down Det. Fowler #7602 DHD.

Back then the city phones all started with 485- If you were on a city phone you dialed 5 and the last four digits. Example; 5-2504 connected you with DHD. I was finishing the arrest report and it was after 8 A.M. I told my probationer to call Fowler and give him the booking number. I overhear my probationer saying over and over, “No, I want to talk to Detective Fowler at Detective Headquarters Division.”
I asked my probationer, “What number did you dial?” He points to 7602. He had dialed Fowler’s serial number. He’d never seen a four digit serial number. I don’t know what city agency he was talking to. I just hung up the phone.

Hollywood Character: Joe Fierro aka Hollywood Joe

Hollywood Joe
Hollywood Joe
Ramb pic 2 char 7
Hollywood Joe, AKA Joe Fierro

Just about every cop and fireman in Hollywood knew Joe. Joe was on disability of some kind and lived somewhere around Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox. Joe took some kind of medication for mental health issues. When Joe was on his medication he was not a problem and was cordial. He would often say hi to me and I had a pretty good relationship with him.

The problem came when Joe stopped taking his medication and started drinking beer. Joe would act bizarre and attract the attention of the police. Some days when no one paid attention to Joe he would go to a public phone and dial 911. He would tell the emergency operator that he wanted to commit suicide. Of course the paramedics and police would respond and haul Joe off to a mental facility. On some occasions Joe would make small cuts on his wrists or stomach to gain more attention. Joe would disappear from the streets for a few days, then reappear waving to the cops and firemen. Yea, Joe was back on his medication, at least for now.

I remember one day I walked into the rear door of the police station and I recognized Joe’s voice. He was in one of the holding tanks and yelling. I opened the tank door and told Joe to shut up and sit down. Joe replied, “Yes, officer.” See? I have a way with Hollywood Characters, I think they fear that I might be one of them. Joe has been arrested for abusing the 911 system, but never seems to serve any time. I know Joe is out on Hollywood Boulevard right now, I just don’t know if he’s on his medication.


More Street Stories Tales from the Barking Muse

Aw, Crap!


By Gerry Goldshine

Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder is to have said that, “…no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”  People are adaptive, innovative and unpredictable. As police officers, we train to expect the unexpected but at the same time it is human nature to rely on patterns of behavior. We think it likely that when we turn on our patrol car’s emergency lights to make a traffic stop, the driver is going to pull over and most do just that. When we hand a driver our pen to sign the citation, we anticipate they will comply rather that subject themselves to arrest. As an officer gains field experience, they develop skill in reading body language, watching facial expressions and listening to vocal inflections using them cues for when a person isn’t going along with “the plan”. However, even the most veteran officer can find there are times when they have done everything right and yet still be wrong.

I was helping another officer search a house for a woman, well known to us, who had a no-bail warrant for her arrest. In past encounters with her, usually involving public intoxication or possession of minor amounts of drugs, she had always been cooperative. After about thirty minutes, we found her in one of the bedrooms hidden beneath a four-foot high pile of dirty laundry. I offered to take her to the station and book her, because the other officer had a mountain of reports to complete. As I walked the

Woman in Handcuffs photo courtesy of
Woman in Handcuffs
photo courtesy of

woman out to my patrol car, I kept one hand firmly gripped around the links of the handcuffs she wore behind her back. We chatted amicably about her situation; she talked about having difficulty getting into a rehab program. When we got to my car, I did another pat down search for any weapons and finding none, I opened the back door for her get inside. Standing next to the rear of the door, I let go of the cuffs and raised my other arm so that I could shield the top of her head from hitting the door frame, as I had done on countless other arrests. She had just about planted her derriere on the seat when she suddenly sprang back up. She was just small and flexible enough to duck under my arm and take off running with her arms still handcuffed behind her back.

Staring at her in disbelief, the first thought that went through my mind was, “Aw crap!” At the same time, I wondered how in the hell a 40 year-old man, in reasonably good shape but with two bad knees and wearing a cumbersome ballistic vest plus least 10 pounds of police gear, was going to catch this lithe twenty-something year old woman, sprinting as though she had just left the chocks at the Olympics. I took off after her, letting dispatch know that I was in foot pursuit in between gasps for breath. I rounded a corner just in time to see her execute a perfect Fosbury Flop” into the back of a passing Chevy El Camino pickup. Fortunately, at least for me, the driver saw what was happening in his side mirror and immediately slammed on the brakes. I caught up before she was able to get completely out of the pickup bed, that task made difficult because her hands were still handcuffed behind her back. She apologized profusely for being “stupid” all the way back to my patrol car, while I tried to raise my oxygen levels back to some semblance of normalcy as nonchalantly as possible. I knew that I was in store for not only considerable ribbing from my fellow officers but more than likely, an ass-chewing from my bosses as well.

No sooner had I arrived at the station then I received the expected call, over the station’s public address system, to report to the sergeant’s office after I finished booking the prisoner. His first question to me was a simple, “Well?” I told him what had happened and after he digested it for a bit, he suggested we go out to my car so that he could better visualize what had happened. Along the way, the Lieutenant joined us and almost immediately began yelling at me about losing control of my prisoner. My sergeant cut in and explained the situation and we went going to see what I could do to prevent it from reoccurring. That seemed to mollify the Lieutenant for the moment.

I showed them how I got her into the back seat and the way in which she had made her escape. The Lieutenant proceeded to put me through a variety of different stances in front of the open door, most far removed from common practice and many more out of the realm of practicality. When it became apparent there was no simplistic solution, the Lieutenant glared at me and warned, “Don’t let this happen again or I’ll be writing you a reprimand!” With those sage words of wisdom, the Lieutenant stormed off back to the Watch Commander’s office.

My sergeant offered a more insightful analysis. He told me that while a larger person more than likely would not have gotten past me, perhaps my past experience with the woman caused me to anticipate one set of behaviors, missing the body language cues signaling a new set, namely that she was going to bolt. Then, with a slight grin, he added, “…but sometimes, despite our best efforts, shit happens.”

To coin another saying, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”

More Street Stories

Guest post-Police Reserves part 2

Almost a pursuit…

One night, we had gotten into a pursuit with a man driving a stolen motorcycle. Traffic was light and the suspect was flying down one of the main streets at a high rate of speed. He managed to make a sharp turn onto the freeway in an effort to evade us. I came into the same turn a tad too fast and had to brake hard; really hard or we were going to crash. The car skidded across a wheelchair ramp, across a sidewalk, across a dirt shoulder and came to a stop between a streetlight and traffic signal with about a foot to spare on either side. As the dust and tire smoke filtered past us, we realized that somehow, I had avoided doing any damage to the car nor had I hit anything. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and Tim summed it up by saying, “Well, as they say in basketball, no harm no foul.” We got back on the road and resumed the pursuit. That’s the way we worked together.

As to the bad guy, though we were not able to apprehend this guy that because he dumped the motorcycle and fled on foot. About a year later we stopped him for a minor traffic violation and discover a warrant for his arrest; it was for evading a police officer.

Still, for all the good things that Tim and I accomplished together, there were still those elements in the department that felt a reserve officer should be assigned to take care of mundane tasks that many officers find tedious, such as operating our holding facility, booking prisoners and transporting them to county jail. Also, I felt there was an undercurrent of resentment at the successes Tim and I achieved working together. Usually, it was from officers with less than admirable work ethics or who were stuck in another less contemporary age of policing.

Officer Gerry Goldshine (in the pig hat) and Reserve Officer Tim Aboudara behind the wheel-Halloween sometime in the 1980's
Officer Gerry Goldshine (in the pig hat) and Reserve Officer Tim Aboudara behind the wheel-Halloween sometime in the 1980’s

Halloween Cruise

On one particular “Cruise Night”, it happened to be Halloween. Tim and I decided to both wear a hat that had a pig nose, tail and ears as a way of improving our image and rapport among the multitudes of young people, whom were most often the recipients of our numerous traffic citations. It did so beyond our best expectations. However, a very “traditional” minded sergeant felt otherwise when our attempt at bettering community relations was brought to his attention. We both received some “counseling” from him for crossing the line in decorum and demonstrating conduct unbecoming a police officer. There came the day that these negative elements all came together and someone in the upper echelons of management made the decision it would be better if Tim and I didn’t work together so much.

It was decided, Tim could be of better use working our “jail” (a temporary holding facility); after all, he was just a reserve. Eventually, common sense and less rigid minds prevailed and it wasn’t long before we were “allowed” to work together.

Aboudara assigned as emergency contact

As partners are wont to do, I designated Tim to be person to notify my wife should I be seriously hurt or killed in the line of duty; little did I know he would have to do exactly just that for me a few years later. Near the end of May in 1986, I was training a new officer and showing her how to use moving radar. An inexperienced teenage driver lost control of his vehicle while adjusting his car’s radio and slammed head-on into my side of the patrol car at over fifty miles an hour. Among my many injuries, I sustained serious head trauma and lost consciousness. I later learned that many of those officers who had responded to the scene had concerns as to whether I was going to survive. Someone called Tim, who then had to do a job no one would envy–notifying my wife. There is no hiding the nature of such a visit when fellow officer shows up at the front door unannounced, late at night. I could not have placed my family in more capable hands; my partner handled everything in an exemplary manner.
The end of reserves at PPD

The end of reserves at PPD

Despite Tim’s and the other reserve officers’ stellar record of service to the Department, in the 1990’s, those who looked down upon them began to prevail once more. This time liability fears, training and alleged financial constraints were the reasons given to gut the reserve program. To the best of my knowledge, no one in management had really made much of an effort to find solutions and keep it running. Stunned, Tim and a few other senior Reserve Officers were forced into “retirement”; they were given a hearty hand clasp, a nifty certificate and a handsome plaque. The younger Reserve Officers, still working toward their Level One status, were essentially told that their services were no longer needed. With a silent whimper, an important part of the department disappeared.

The invaluable role reserves played at PPD

Many a full time officer had got their start in the reserve program. The reserve program had been an excellent recruiting tool for full time service at a time when qualified prospects were few in number. Those that made the transition were better, more polished officers because of that experience. The program was a conduit to the community as to the workings of police department. It was a valuable source of extra manpower for special events. When the town was hit by a disastrous flood, it was the reserve officers who volunteered to help an overwhelmed patrol force, some coming in even while their own homes were at risk. When animal rights activists protested at a local beef processing facility, it was the reserve officers who manned the booking station in the event the situation turned nasty. When the Department began running DWI Checkpoints, it was the reserve officers who volunteered to assist with some of the more routine tasks.

Reserve programs in other jurisdictions

Though no longer a member of the Petaluma Police, I do know that they eventually began a volunteer Reserve Community Service Officer Program. It is my understanding that they assist in many administrative tasks, supplementing an overwhelmed civilian staff that has been pared to the bone by budget cuts. Whether they ever go back to having a Reserve Police Officer program in the future remains to be seen. The largest agency in California, the Los Angeles Police Department, has been running a reserve program for generations and now has over 650 active reserve officers. They are still one of many police agencies that still count on Reserve Officers. I suspect that when the need for supplemental man power in an era of shrinking budgets outweighs the liability fears having such a program, my old department might revisit such a notion.

A new day dawning for reserves

Shortly after I had written the prior paragraph, I received the monthly informational bulletin from my old department, which had recently hired a new Chief of Police. After several months of settling into the job and learning about some of the issues facing the Petaluma Police Department, Chief Patrick Williams has apparently begun to implement his vision as the direction the department should head. Among some of the new programs described in the bulletin was this; “For the first time since the early 1990’s, Petaluma Police Department will begin screening applicants for the position of Police Reserve.”

Gerry Goldshine

Born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California.

Upon graduating California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry

enlisted in the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

After leaving active duty in 1979, he worked for the Sonoma County

Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement in 1996, he was a patrol

officer, traffic officer and at Petaluma Police Department.

He’s married, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California.


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