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 stories are true. The character unfortunately is also true. Stinky Steve
This is a tale of the malodorous smells that cops have to endure. I suggest not eating within an hour before or after reading this Ramblings. Trust me! There isn’t a cop alive who wore a badge that can deny that familiar smell of a decomposed human body. There are also a lot of cops who thought a live human smelled the same. Walk down skid row sometime, it smells like death.
There are a few calls that cops hate to get. The first is the call, “Go to the Watch Commander.” Nothing puts fear in a cop’s heart as fast as that detail. Your mind starts racing, “What did I do now? Who did I piss off? Was it that last guy I gave a ticket to or the dirt bag I told to do something anatomically impossible?” You and your partner start getting your story straight as you take the long way to the station. That means making up a lie that you both will stick to. If you’re working with a Forrest Gump type, you start thinking of job opportunities outside of police work. Maybe UPS; they wear shorts in the summer. I used to have the legs for shorts.
When I was a watch commander, sometimes I would broadcast for a certain car to, “Go to the Watch Commanders Office,” when I suspected they were not giving the city a full day’s work. It was nothing more than transporting paperwork downtown, but I wanted them to sweat a little. See? I could be mean when I wanted to. I could also broadcast, “Send any unit to the Watch Commanders Office,” meaning no one was in trouble. See post from May 1th, 2015 for more on “See the Watch Commander.”
Another call is possible DB (dead body). Notice I underlined possible. That’s means someone hasn’t seen a loved one or neighbor in days and suspects that the person may have passed away. Sometimes the days are actually weeks or even months. Cops hated a call that said the neighbor hasn’t been seen in weeks and there’s a smell coming from the apartment. Uh oh, it’s been hot for weeks. This can’t be good. I won’t go into third generation maggots, or flies on the windows. Bet you won’t see any of that on those CSI shows on TV.
Ok, my story. I’m working morning watch and after working all night the sun is just starting to rise in the east. I’m hungry and ask to eat (note: officers have to be cleared to take a meal break by dispatch who knows how many calls are backed up in the officers beat—or area of responsibility). Communications has different ideas. They give me the call from hell, ”Possible Dead Body, see the manager. Resident hasn’t been seen in over a month, strange smell coming from apartment.” I reply, “Thanks,” instead of “Roger.”
I park in front of the apartment building and get two cigars from my duty bag. Most cops know that smoking a cigar will help with the smell of a decomposing body. I’ve watched many a female probationer smoke their first cigar at dead body calls. Burning coffee grounds on a stove is also another method used to kill the smell. The coroner has a spray that cuts down on the smell but it’s not in the police budget.
We meet the manager and he tells us that some of the neighbors have been complaining of a foul order coming from this apartment. They haven’t seen the resident, an elderly man in weeks. I’m wondering, can’t you call back in 2 hours, when I’m home in bed? If this guy’s dead he not going anywhere. Suddenly I’m not hungry anymore.
We walk up to the third floor with the manager. He hands us the keys and walks to the other end of the hall. I unlock the apartment door and crack it open just an inch. I take a very small sniff. Experienced cops know never take a big whiff because the smell will stay in your nose for weeks. I smell nothing that resembles a dead body. I open the door a foot and take another small whiff of air. Anybody want my job with all the great benefits now? It smells like a trash dumpster but not a dead body. You know, I’m an expert on smells.
I turn to my probationer because he’s going in first. Rank has it privilege. Maybe not, he’s greener than a fresh Christmas tree. I open the door all the way. It’s a studio apartment with a bathroom and a kitchenette. From the hallway I can see the room is filled with trash, newspapers, magazines stacked to the ceiling. The bed is covered in trash and the kitchen sink has old food stacked two feet high. I spend ten minutes inside before I’m convinced that no one is in the apartment. It smells bad but not as bad as I was expecting.
We walk back out and tell the manager that his tenant is a pack rat but he’s not inside. I suggest that he evict the tenant. I saved two cigars and my probationers color is coming back. We get the ok to eat. I have a hearty breakfast. My probationer’s color is coming back but he only orders tea. He’ll learn, I hope.
Hollywood Characters: Stinky Steve
I booked Stinky Steve once and still carry the scars. Steve came from one of those Eastern European countries and I can’t remember his last name. I nicknamed him Stinky Steve, for obvious reasons. Steve did speak a word of English.
Every morning some apartment building tenant would wake up and leave for work. They would open their apartment door and be overcome with an odor that would make a coroner eyes water. Steve might have been wearing the same clothes that he came to America in. Steve had a scent that made some dead bodies smell like a bed of roses. It might have been a defense mechanism, somewhat like a skunk.
Stinky Steve would somehow make his way into a multi-story apartment building west of La Brea. He would curl up on the floor in the hallway and go to sleep. Every morning the first Hollywood police car to clear for radio calls got to evict Stinky Steve from the apartment building. Steve never argued, but then again he might never have understood the cops telling him to never come back.
After months of evicting Steve before my morning coffee, I determined that Steve need to go to jail. I finally convinced one tenant to make a citizen arrest of Steve for trespassing. This is where I pissed off the Hollywood Judicial System. My partner and I handcuff Steve, hold our breath in the elevator and put Steve in our police car. We roll down all the windows and race to the station with unauthorized red lights and siren. We clear out a holding tank, place Steve inside and get some incense to light outside his tank. Bet my non-police friends never thought the brutal LAPD used incense.
The Hollywood Jailer is not pleased but he owes me a favor and books Steve. Steve gets a cell all by himself. Steve refused a shower, go figure. I call the Hollywood Court Liaison, Kurt Rizzi and tell him that I don’t want Steve released for time served, as was the usual procedure. Otherwise I’ll be kicking Steve out of apartment buildings into the next century.
The next morning, I’m in the parking lot cooling off from my run. The jail bus is loading the prisoners to take to court. I pause as Stinky Steve boards the bus. The other jail birds on the bus won’t let Steve sit near them. I’m watching from up-wind.
The next day I hear from the Hollywood Court Liaison that the court sheriff’s hate me for sending Stinky Steve to their house. The Judge complies with my wish and prohibits Stinky Steve from being west of La Brea after midnight.
I didn’t have much dealing with Steve after that but I removed my name tag whenever I walked into Hollywood Court.