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Street Stories The Call Box

The Call Box: This is Not My World

polic-call-box-pedestal-lapd-gamewell-DCAL2786_dt1By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
She was probably mid to late 40’s, tall and almost gaunt as very wealthy women are required to be. Her features said she had once been quite beautiful and was still extremely attractive.

The mouth, though, was hard and judgmental. Perfectly coiffed and dressed for a night out she stood to one side in the kitchen of her Bel Aire home as I spoke to her husband. It was almost 1:00 am and I was bone-tired from the double shift.

Eight hours earlier, I had stood in his den while he recounted his concerns regarding his missing daughter, Chloe.

We were there at the direction of the Chief of Police who had taken a call from Mr. Big that afternoon. I was preparing to leave work for home when the captain called me and one of my teams into his office.

Asking us if we knew who Mr. Big was? Obviously yes, a very recognizable name and face and a very powerful man. It seems his daughter, Chloe had not been home to her beach-front apartment for almost a week. She shared it with two roommates while they attended the local junior college.

As this was the early 70’s, the Golden Age of Terrorism and people tended to see bomb throwers under every bush.
Inasmuch as I was assigned to the Organized Crime Intelligence Division, terrorists, anarchists and the like were not our priority. Why do I mention this? Because Mr. Big went right to the top when he wanted police intervention. Maybe to stir the pot, he told the chief he thought his daughter might have fallen under the influence of a “revolutionary” and run off with him.

Okay, so why were we here? Well whenever the brass needed something done outside normal channels or “off the books,” we got the job. As a matter of fact, some people didn’t even know we existed.

I also failed to mention Chloe was 18 years old, legally an adult and emancipated from her parents. The hook then was the fact she had “possibly” been abducted by this ne’er do well and needed our assistance.
Yeah, right.

Our instructions were to find her, take no action except if required, urge her to call home and then brief her father, the captain, and chief.

This blog however is not about how we found her but find her we did—living in a garage in San Pedro with a 30 something-year-old ex-con member of the Weathermen, a militant offshoot of the then defunct Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), both radical groups.

Maybe dad knew his daughter better than I had assumed.

This is however about Mrs. Big’s reaction to the news we delivered that early morning in their kitchen over coffee. We were all standing, and I had just finished briefing her husband. Before he could reply, she stated, and I paraphrase, “This is not my world.” A short pause and again, “This is not my world.” Her eyes were focused for middle distance and she looked toward the back door.

“This sort of thing has no place in my world. I cannot and will not acknowledge the existence of such people. Those actions and behavior are a complete contradiction to my lifestyle and have no place in it. I refuse to believe in such people and circumstances. I will hear no more. You have no further business here.”

We said good night and took our leave.

I made no reply that night and even now so long removed, I am not sure I have the words or expertise to counter her complete and absolute denial of reality.

There must be a message or lesson here somewhere.

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The Call Box

The Call Box: My Short Kidnapping Career

By Ed Meckle, retired LAPD

The 1970’s were known as the “Golden Age of Terrorism” even more so than today. With 9840 incidents with 7000 dead worldwide, the responsibles were the Black Guerrilla Army, Black September, Red Army, Irish Republican Army, Symbionese Liberation Army and on and on.

 

It’s 1974 in LA and the Patty Hearst media frenzy is in full swing: where is she? She is here, she is there, she is everywhere, she is nowhere. She has become “Tania” posing with the seven-headed cobra.

 

Except for an aborted attempt by mobster Mickey Cohen to run a con on the Hearst Family, we have managed to stay away from the circus—until now.

 

“We” are the Organized Crime Intelligence Division (OCID) of the Los Angeles Police Department. I have been assigned here since 1969. I am a lieutenant in my 18th year with the department. It is a very good assignment. No—actually, it is a great assignment and I not only love it, but I am very good at what I do.

My immediate boss is Captain Don E. Miller. He is serious, smart and pretty much by the book. I am now standing in front of his desk as he utters thes seven words, “They want you to kidnap Otis Chandler.”

 

I am seldom at a loss for words but managed, “Who is ‘they’?”

 

“They,” it turned out, is Ed Davis, the Chief of Police. During a “working lunch” with Otis Chandler and their respective staffs, the subject of Patty Hearst’s kidnapping, terrorism, assassination, etc. came up and Davis warned Chandler he could be a likely target. Chandler wouldn’t hear of it and boasted of his security at the Times Building.

 

I now assumed that Davis wanted to prove him wrong and assert “bragging rights.”

 

Let me explain who Otis Chandler is: since 1960 he has been the publisher of the LA Times, with the largest circulation west of the Mississippi. He is also one of the most powerful men on the west coast.

I asked, “Does the chief want me/us to get inside the fortress (Times Building), find and confront Chandler and do a “Gotcha?”

 

“Yes, and you can’t use police ID. Also, can you do it tomorrow?”

 

For some strange reason, the motto of the Seabees came to mind, “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer.”

 

As I sat at my desk I formulated a ridiculous plan that just might work.

 

More to follow—

 

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Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, Supervisors, part 3 of 3

By Hal Collier, LAPD Retired

We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.

This is the last of my suggestions on being a good supervisor, I promise!

Another thing I learned as a supervisor is you can’t take your reputation as a street cop with you. I felt I was a good street cop in Hollywood and made some pretty good arrests. I made Sergeant and I was transferred to Southeast (Watts) Division. Only a few officers there knew me and I had to establish my reputation all over again. Your reputation, good or bad is earned and that takes time. Be patient.

 

I got this advice in sergeant’s school and I used it the rest of my career. Don’t ask your officers to doing anything you won’t do. Get your hands dirty too. Don’t tell your officers to stand out in the rain or cold while you sit in your warm dry car. Once, I was working the Hollywood Christmas Parade and it was bitter cold and the wind increased the chill factor. The parade was over and the citizens scurried home. Our captain made us stand out in the cold for hours as he drove around in his car with the windows rolled up. A large number of us got sick. I was often the Watch Commander and on weekends we didn’t have a custodian. I could have asked a probationer to empty the trash cans but I remembered the lesson I learned in sergeant’s school. I emptied the trash myself.

 

Write the officers commendations when warranted. Everyone needs to be appreciated. I know it’s extra work but if an officer did a good job, don’t ever tell them, “That’s just your job.” Commendations are in your personnel package forever. If a commendation is not warranted at least verbally commend the officers, in roll call if possible, in front of their peers is even better. Never ever chew out an officer in public or in front of other officers. I hated Hawaii Five-0 and Kojak because the boss belittled his people in front of others.

 

Roll call—the start of a new day. What mood do you want the officers in when they leave roll call? I attended nineteen roll calls a month for eleven months a year for thirty-five years. That’s over 7,000 roll calls so I consider myself an expert on roll calls. If you’re the supervisor in charge of roll call it’s your responsibility to keep them happy. A while back we had a Chief of Police who publicly stated that officers’ morale was not his job. He was not well liked! Don’t send them out in the streets in a bad mood. The paperwork they will create for you is not worth the aggravation. If you have negative issues, say them early and then leave them on a happy note. We use to call that the sandwich method. Good, bad, good!

 

Last but not least, this was not required but I found it was a morale booster. I would bring in homemade cookies and See’s Candy at Christmas, a cooked turkey at Thanksgiving, and tubs of red licorice just because. It was much easier to get the officers to meet the goals of the department when they’re happy. I once decided to bring in a big basket of fresh fruit from Costco. I filled the basket with apples, oranges, bananas and pears. I thought it might be healthier than chocolate first thing in the morning. After roll call the remaining fruit was taken to the Watch Commander’s officer to share with the rest of the division. My captain walked in and asked who brought in the fruit. I said “I did, I have to take care of my officers.” 

He thought they were his officers. Ha ha, I let him think that.

 

It’s not easy switching hats from being one of the boys to being a supervisor. You show up at a coffee spot with three patrol cars and they all get busy and leave you there alone. I had one officer that I knew quite well. We fished together and talked all the time. I made sergeant and he refused to call me Hal. It was now ‘sergeant’. Get used to it.

 

Being a supervisor can be a hard job and lonely at times but it can also be rewarding. I remember one officer talking about a supervisor who held his retirement party in a phone booth—he wasn’t liked.

These are my suggestions and might work for some newly promoted supervisor or help an older supervisor. 

Good Luck.  

Hal

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Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, What Scares Cops?, part 2

By Hal Collier LAPD, Retired

We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.

Ok, so what does scare a knight in armor?  Be prepared to be shocked. 

 

First and foremost, the number one thing that scares a cop is that radio call, “Go to the Watch Commander.” Really, how bad can that be? You’ve spend half a shift doing everything right—well, maybe mostly right. You and your partner immediately go over all the radio calls and traffic stops you made that night. Did we piss off some tax paying citizen and he’s making a complaint? Did the Watch Commander discover that I missed court to go on that three day water skiing trip? Whatever, it can’t be good.

 

When I was the Watch Commander I would monitor the patrol units to see who was working and who was goofing off. If I had a simple request for the transportation of an arrestee to court or the downtown jail for medical treatment, I would get on the radio, and in my best “oh shit” voice tell the goof-off unit to come to the Watch Commander immediately. The officers would come into the watch commander’s office with their tails between their legs just like your dog did the last time he got into the trash. I enjoyed that—they weren’t doing anything productive anyway.

 

So what else scares cops? You handle a call with a drunk or drug crazed individual and you end up in a fight for your life. These fights are never pretty. You win the fight and go home. The next day you discover someone filmed the fight and it’s all over the news and YouTube. You watch the news broadcast and discover the media has edited the fight and only shows you beating the guy who just seconds earlier tried to take away your gun. They show the clip over and over again. Even you begin to think you over reacted.

 

Soon a maelstrom of vocal people are calling for an investigation including the President of the United States. Later a jury sees the entire video and acquits you. But it’s too late, you have been tried and convicted by the media. Your career is over. I’ve seen cops arrested then later acquitted when all the facts were presented. Rodney King happened over twenty-four years ago and is still brought up regularly. This is happening all across the United States. That scares a cop. These types of incidents are usually followed by a large lawsuit filed against you, the city you work for, and the Chief of Police. I’ve seen police officers homestead their homes so they don’t lose them in the lawsuit.

 

“Officer Needs Help” calls scare a cop.  In the 70’s some LAPD car radios had what we called cheaters. A cheater was a second radio that allowed everyone to hear an officers broadcast. This allowed an officer to know what other officers were doing and where they were doing it. The main point was you could hear the officer’s voice inflection. Was he excited or calm?  Ok, the scary part—the cheater radio suddenly blasts out “Officer needs Help.” The officer is screaming into the microphone. Your adrenaline has jumped so high you can hardly breathe. It doesn’t matter how close or how far you are from this officer you’re going to break all department rules to go to his aid. If the officer adds, “Shots Fired or Officer Down” to his broadcast, you’re glad you wore your ballistic vest and you unlock the shotgun. Are you scared? Bet your ass you are! Scared for the officer, scared for his wife and family. It may take hours for the adrenaline to leave your body.

 

Here’s another one that scares cops. You’re on a day off or just off hours. You’re relaxing in your living room watching the ball game. They break into the game to announce, “Breaking News.” An LAPD officer has been shot in the division where you work. Of course it could be any division, we move around in LAPD. They don’t have much information and they hopefully don’t give out the officer’s name. So you sit there and rack your brain, who’s working today and what are my partner’s days off? Yea, you could call the station and try to get some information but you know their busy, so you just wait. You just wait and listen to the news men report what they don’t know. That scares you.

 

Even after they report the officer’s name, and if you don’t know him/her, you’re still scared. Is he or she married and a father or mother. How old are the children? It scares you because you know that could be you someday.

 

You finally retire and figure nothing is going to scare you anymore. Wait, your son or daughter has decided to follow you into the noble profession of police work. You’re proud but you know the dangers. Suddenly all the above fears come rushing back only with a few new ones. Now you know what your spouse went through all those years. A late night phone call or knock at the door will send chills up your spine. Ok, the phone call was a drunk asking if this is Madam Whoopee’s all night massage parlor, but try getting back to sleep after that. The knock on the door is never good, especially if the people on your front porch are wearing uniforms.

 

Ok, now you know some of the things that scare cops and I’ll bet I missed a few. Give me your fears and I’ll add them to my list.  Oh by the way some cops really are afraid of snakes.       

Hal

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Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings: Promoting, part one

By Hal Collier

Promoting!  This is a question that every police officer ponders once in a while.  By the way, these are my observations and certainly don’t reflect the opinions of the Los Angeles Police Department or officers everywhere.  These observations are based on a large city police department.  We all have different reasons for wanting to promote.  Actually, some think about it all the time and base their police decisions on, will this hurt my next promotion?  More on these individuals and my own reasons later.

March 23, 2007-Almost Sgt: Last week, Officer Kris Werner informed Arts District residents that he passed the LAPD Sergeant Promotional interview with flying colors--and that he may soon leaving his post of Senior Lead Officer. Standing By: Werner now reports that his "Sgt School" is delayed, so he will be sticking around. Seen behind Werner is the panel of a dancer in a digital mural called "Gabriela", at the Regent Gallery.
March 23, 2007-Almost Sgt: Last week, Officer Kris Werner informed Arts District residents that he passed the LAPD Sergeant Promotional interview with flying colors–and that he may soon leaving his post of Senior Lead Officer. Standing By: Werner now reports that his “Sgt School” is delayed, so he will be sticking around. Seen behind Werner is the panel of a dancer in a digital mural called “Gabriela”, at the Regent Gallery. photo by viewfromaloft.org

There are many reasons for wanting to promote.  Everyone starts out on the bottom of the police food chain.  Some linger on the bottom longer than others.  Some of those on the bottom might have made bad decisions, or they just don’t have any ambition to promote.  Others planned their climb up the ladder from their first day in the police academy.

I’m going to break down some of the reasons for promoting.  Money, ambition, retirement, power and the urge to get out of patrol.  Some put off promoting because of the love of what they’re doing.  Some recruits in the academy thought they would someday run our department or another department.  Only a very few did, none in my academy class, and I was in a good academy group.

We all had ambitions as a young child.  I was going to be a professional baseball player until I discovered that I couldn’t hit a curve ball and when running, I was slower than a turtle.

Like a lot of my partners, I wanted to be a street cop. You know–wearing a blue uniform, driving a black and white police car, chases both on foot and in cars, hours of boredom followed by thirty seconds of sheer terror.  It gets into your blood, it’s addictive and hard to kick.  You make life and death decisions and enjoy the adrenalin rushes.  Your chest swells when you put a bad guy in jail due to your superior observations and tactics. Oh yea, luck entered in a lot.   In my 35 years on the LAPD I observed a lot of cops who pondered over the decision whether to promote or not.

I worked for a lot of good street cops who promoted too soon.  They still wanted to do police work but the LAPD frowned on supervisors being street cops.  By the way, the department told sergeants not to even write tickets.  I remember one sergeant was told turn in your ticket book or turn on your stripes!!  Street cops hated a sergeant who makes an arrest then hands it off.  It’s like someone else catching a fish and giving it to you to clean. Whoopee.

I once had a sergeant drive through a dark alley and found a drunk sleeping in a doorway.  He called me to come book him downtown, he then had the nerve to tell me he was going to eat.  After medical treatment and booking, I had to have my police car checked for crabs, not the Alaska kind.  I worked 3 hours overtime, itched for two days and no, I didn’t get to eat that night.    See who your friends are when you stand naked in the locker room and ask some cop to look for bugs on you.

Those with aspirations of being the Chief of Police got out of patrol as soon as possible.  Patrol produces complaints and complaints slow promotions.  Cops couldn’t take a promotional test until they had four years of seniority, but that didn’t stop them from transferring to an inside job.  We use to call them “building boys.”  The building boys would take a job in Manuals & Orders or Planning & Research, where the biggest danger was a severe paper cut.  They took two hour lunches and hobnobbed with the Department brass.  Now days, they call it networking.  They usually took a promotional test the day after they were eligible and most did very good.  Of course, they helped write the test.

I don’t begrudge the building boys for promoting–that’s what they wanted.  My only problem was when they promoted they were then sent back to patrol to supervise us street cops.  They often made poor tactical field decisions based on very little experience in the field.  I once had a new sergeant respond to a scene and when asked to make a decision, he opened the department manual looking for the answer.  It wasn’t there!  He actually asked for another sergeant to respond and make the decision.  I respected any new sergeant or lieutenant who asked the senior officers for advice.  It was still their decision to make but at least they asked.

I saw a lot of supervisors who didn’t make a decision at all, for fear that it would stall their next promotion.   If the lack of a decision was newsworthy, like during the riots, the supervisor’s career was over and forget about the retirement home in the marina.  No more promotions and something they call freeway therapy.  That’s where you live in northern LA County and your next assignment is in the southern most division in the city. Nothing like an hour and half drive to and from work to get your mind straight.

I use to think that the LAPD needed a promotion tree with two forks.  One fork was for the building boys who promote, they can stay inside and read policy books. The second fork was for street cops who had experience in patrol and knew what worked regardless of what the psychologists said.  I once expressed my two forked tree theory and found myself peeing in a cup and taking a Rorschach exam.  After that I kept my opinions to myself and the dog.

One of the problems with my theory was that the building boys made policy for us street cops and worse yet, they sat as jury on our discipline boards.  Swell, some building boy wearing a uniform that only needs dry cleaning once a month, is going to decide if the decision I made in a split second in a dark alley will determine if I’m employed next month.

Not all supervisors were building boys, thank goodness.  I also worked for some of the best street cops who promoted.  I remember one sergeant showed up at a scene where the suspect was acting up–ok, he was being an asshole.  The sergeant stood back, let me handle the uncooperative miscreant, then turned and walk away, saying, “Good job, Collier.”

Police range training Photo by lastresistance.com
Police range training
Photo by lastresistance.com

I also worked for two of the best captains the LAPD ever produced, Bob Taylor and Garrette Zimmon.  On more than one occasion they would take off their captain bars and work a patrol car, handling any radio call that came in. “Walk in my shoes.”  That’s leadership.  Most captains will ride around with a sergeant for an hour and never get their hands dirty.  Those two captains had the respect of the whole division.  They also showed up at shooting training days and went through the different scenarios, same as the street cops.  They showed the cops that they could shoot just as well as run the division.  If they hadn’t promoted, I might still be working Hollywood patrol.

My next Ramblings will deal with my motivation to promote or not to promote.

Hal

Next Ramblings will be the “why”–what made Hal want to promote?

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