Every once in a while, you see a news story of a pedestrian who is hit by a car. The TV news shows a pair of shoes in the street. I was first intrigued by why the shoes were left in the street. I sadly learned that when pedestrians were hit by a car they were actually knocked out of their shoes. This is my story of shoes in the street.
As always, I’m working grave yard and it’s about 2:15 AM. I’m driving my black and white eastbound on Hollywood Boulevard as I approach the famous hot dog stand at Hollywood and McCadden. The hot dog stand is famous only to Hollywood cops, bottom feeders and dispatchers. If you needed help and gave the location as the hot dog stand, the dispatcher knew where to send help. Prostitutes, drug dealers and anything else out after 2 A.M. frequent the hot dog stand to ply their trade or support someone else’s tax-free business. When I was walking my foot beat, I made most of my arrests around the hot dog stand. Some even bought the hot dogs, I hear they were pretty good. I never had one, Pink’s had a nicer clientele.
So, as I approach the cross walk I see a pedestrian, about a 20-year-old male, walking southbound. Now, I’m in the #2 lane (2nd lane from the center) which means the #1 lane is unobstructed. I could have gone through the crosswalk without interfering with the pedestrian but I thought this would be a good opportunity to yield and check out the patrons of the hot dog stand. I stopped and my attention was on one individual who seems particularly nervous. He could likely be a candidate for an investigation.
As the pedestrian continued to cross I suddenly hear a car to my left! I only had time to say “oh!” The car hit the pedestrian at about 30 miles an hour.
I’ve heard many stories that when encountering a stressful situation your brain slows everything down. I’m here to tell that is true. I saw the car hit this poor young boy and it was all in very slow motion. I still have that image of that boy being slingshot down Hollywood Boulevard, leaving his shoes in the crosswalk.
The car that just hit this kid immediately pulled to the curb. My partner went and got the driver out and I ran to the kid lying in the middle of the street. He was still alive but not responsive. He died soon after, right in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, his shoes left in the middle of the crosswalk.
My story should end right there but unfortunately it doesn’t. A few days, later I got a phone message from some lady I didn’t know. I called and it was the boy’s mother! She bluntly asked me, “Did my son say anything before he died?”
I lied and told her, “No he didn’t say anything. He died instantly and didn’t suffer.” I still think I made the right decision.
For quite a while after that night as I approached crosswalks I feverishly scanned for pedestrians. Fail to Yield to Pedestrians in a Crosswalk became my favorite ticket. A traffic unit handled the investigation and I never heard if the driver that hit the boy was drunk or what happened.
If there is a lesson to be learned, this is it. Even if you’re in a crosswalk, watch for traffic. I see people on the news all the time in marked crosswalks that have been hit by cars. It won’t make a bit of difference if you’re in the right of way but dead!
There’s a message that terrifies both cops and [dispatchers, AKA Radio Telephone Operators] RTO’s. Sometimes a cop will get in his police car and sit on the microphone. That keys the mic and whatever conversation the officers are having is being broadcast to both the RTO and all officers on that frequency—including the supervisors. These conversations could range from the R-rated description laced with profanity of the officer’s date with the captain’s secretary, or to a physical description of that women on your last call. The granddaddy of all open microphones messages is your negative opinion of your supervisor who is driving away in front of you.
I remember one incident when two officers had an open mic. They were on Sunset Boulevard and vividly describing the prostitutes as they drove by. Myself and half the division raced to find them. Funny, the supervisors had all disappeared. In today’s politically correct world the officers would have received a two-month suspension. With today’s radio scanners it would have been breaking news on CNN with racial overtones.
The RTO’s also have incidents where they leave the radio open and make comments about what an asshole that officer is. Probably true but not a career builder. Either way, an open microphone is a disaster for both parties. If the officer makes a comment that results in misconduct and a complaint is made, the RTO will be a witness. Other officers might also be listed as witnesses but some of us have selective hearing!
On the other side, sometimes the RTO will have the microphone open waiting for the frequency to clear. Her conversation with the dispatcher next to her might not be what you want the whole division to hear. Now days everything is recorded. It’s a 2-edged sword!
I know what a difficult job RTO’s have. They have to deal with a mostly male, often a chauvinistic audience and often under extreme stress. I also know that they frequently send us out on a dangerous call and anxiously await the outcome. After the call, an officer will put himself out of service at the station. That leaves the RTO to wonder, “What the hell happened?” It’s like watching a really good suspenseful movie and missing the ending when the phone rings.
In a large city like L.A. you had to be careful what you said or typed to the RTO. I responded to a welfare check which turned out to be a murder/suicide with a wife and two very young children. I needed the fire department to cut open the metal frame door. When I requested a fire engine and ambulance the RTO asked what I had. Is that standard procedure? I know that the news media monitors radio frequencies so I responded, “read the comments of the call and imagine the worst.” The RTO acknowledged and sent me the required fire personnel. I know she wanted to know what was going on. That’s got to be a hard part of the job.
Dispatchers also handle officer emergencies and are left wondering is the officer safe? Did I do everything right or did I screw up? After the first two episodes of my Dispatchers Ramblings, I received a comment from a former partner who told me of working one night when an officer put out a help call, “Officer Needs Help, My Partner Has Been Shot.” The officer kept screaming, “I need help and an ambulance!” The RTO was crying but remained professional and directed the necessary resources to the incident.
Bet you never saw that on the TV cop shows!
RTO’s and cops? Are we the same? No, but we have a bond that only we understand. We often laugh together but we cry separately. We care about each other but don’t always show it and that’s a shame.
I’ve given you some of my true stories of the good and bad dispatchers. They can all be verified by listening to me talk in my sleep.
I was not brought up in the computer world but was dragged into it by my employment and my kids. I think my first experience with a computer was an Atari 2600 and playing Space Invaders. My kids beat me regularly.
Before computers in the cars you received radio calls by voice from the dispatchers. On a busy night in Hollywood it went something like this: I’d pick up the microphone and in my ‘please don’t give me all the crappy calls tonight’ voice say, “6A65 Morning Watch Clear, Good Morning.”
The RTO responded, “Good morning. Stand by for five calls.”
The RTO would then pause to give you time to get out my #2 Ticonderoga pencil and a 3”x5” note pad. The RTO would then read off the five calls. I had to write down the time, address and nature of the call. High priority calls came first. That 3”X5” note pad was your log (or DFAR as we called them in the LAPD; DFAR stood for Daily Field Activities Report).
Often at code-7 you would transfer your notes to the DFAR. On real busy nights you spent a ½ hour after end of watch completing your DFAR. That was on your own time, by the way. I wished I’d taken short hand in high school instead of print shop. I heard that some officers that didn’t like RTO’s would make them repeat the calls a second and third time—not my style. I knew where my next call was coming from.
After handling the first high priority call you notified the RTO and tried to move on to the next call. Well, if another high priority call came in the RTO gave that for you to handle first. Some nights it went like this for most of the night. That was why we sometimes handled loud party calls three to five hours late. Hell, the party giver had almost sobered up by the time we showed up. That was Hollywood in the 70’s.
Sometime around the mid 80’s they started putting computers in black and whites. They were called MDT’s (Mobil Digital Transmitters or terminals). A marvelous piece of technology when they worked. Somehow putting a computer in a hot car is asking a lot from a machine invented by a geek. I don’t know what caused the problems with the MDT’s other than most cops resist change. Some old timers refused to even turn them on and others vandalized them. The fact was, an officer either adjusted or rode the pine bench (desk).
The RTO now gives you your five calls by transmitting them to your MDT. I missed her sweet voice as she destroyed the next two hours of my career! Like them or hate them computers are here to stay. Adjust or go the way of the Dodo bird.
Computers had some drawbacks as anybody knows who ever accidently deleted that nice letter to Aunt Millie before you sent it!
Next: How computers changed police work forever! Hal
Since I am currently thus afflicted, I bring you this lovely post by another dispatcher-blogger I have recently discovered: Dispatchers Are Amazing!
Yes, yes, we are.
And, yes, our department also suffers from the types of officers mentioned therein. Yet, we love them still and work our tails off so that they get safely home to their families each day because we’re all in this together, yes, we are.
And, while I’m in the mood to refer you to other dispatcher-bloggers, you might also want to check out Scratchy Glitter, who recently celebrated her 27th year as a dispatcher… my word. I only hope I get to kick it around that long since I started so late in life!
With that… enjoy your week. Hopefully, my brain will be on demand next week.
In his most recent ramblings, Hal has been talking about 5150s, so I thought I would continue the topic but from the perspective of a much smaller police department. There were times that it sure seemed like Petaluma, with a population of just over 33,000 in 1980, was the 5150 capital of the San Francisco Bay Area. From my very first call with Petaluma Police to the completion of my “rookie” year, I was convinced that the dispatchers had conspired to assign me every 5150 call the department received including one where the bipolar lady forgot all her English and would only speak in Italian.
(In 1983, one of my sergeants insisted that there was a giant tuning fork under the city. He might have been right–Thonie)
That first call came in while my FTO and I were still in morning briefing. Our sergeant wanted us to Petaluma Valley Hospital and relieve a graveyard shift officer, who had been standing by an injured suicidal man who was on a 5150 hold. The man, in his mid–twenties, and went by the name of Raincloud Mudball. I’ve only slightly changed the name that was on his Driver’s License. Bear in mind, this is the San Francisco Bay Area after all. He had declared to those who would listen, that he was Jesus, or something like that. He was having the urge to visit his father in Heaven. In order to do this, he proceeded to strip off all his clothes and then flung his body at passing cars on Highway 101 until one inevitably hit him. Surprisingly, he sustained relatively minor injuries, considering a car going 55 MPH had struck him. While he was being treated in the Emergency Room, Raincloud was completely lucid, refusing any pain medication or local anesthetic while the doctor stitched him back together. He even called his mother, who told us that her son was a schizophrenic and had obviously stopped taking his prescribed medications. Our job was to follow the ambulance carrying Raincloud to the psychiatric facility at Napa State Hospital just in case he got the urge to visit heaven again. It was our good fortune that he did not.
Back in the 1980s, all law enforcement agencies in Sonoma County took those being held under 5150 WIC to the county psychiatric facility in Santa Rosa, known as Oakcrest. While much smaller in size compared to the University of Southern California Medical Center’s psych ward, the attitudes of the people working at Oakcrest were similar to those Hal described. I got to know a lot of dedicated Psychiatric Technicians and some of the Psychiatrists. Sad to say, because of funding cuts, staffing shortages and an overload of patients, many of these dedicated people suffered from job burnout. Some of them no longer cared about what was best for the patients, while others made due the best they could but just went through the motions.
Far worse, were those arrogant techs and doctors who viewed police officers as ignorant, uneducated “jack-booted thugs” who couldn’t possibly have an intelligent inkling of what constituted mental illness. They were the ones “outraged” when it took four of us to bring in a combative person in the violent throes of some type of a mental breakdown. Usually, they would purposely delay us by rejecting the 5150 paperwork we had completed, either because they discovered some picayune mistake or because they just felt like it. They were also the ones who insisted we immediately remove the handcuffs from a “patient”. I learned the hard way before developing Hal’s mindset; the cuffs don’t come off until the combative patient is in a secured room, all the paperwork is approved and I’m on my out the door.
Unfortunately, many of these “patients” were released well before the 72-hour hold period had expired. Sometimes, this was a result of someone deciding that they were no longer a danger to themselves or others, based on a 5-10 minute intake interview. On other occasions, they simply walked out the front door because there had been insufficient staff on duty to watch over them. More than once did I discover that in the 20 to 30 minutes it took me to get back to Petaluma, someone had released a 5150 I had just taken to the facility or they had walked out the front door. It was frustrating, not only to me and other officers but to the subjects’ family as well. In many cases, the family had exhausted all means to get their loved one help and the 5150 hold was their last refuge.
In the case of a “walk-away”, sometimes the good folks at Oakcrest would actually take the time and notify the Santa Rosa Police or us. More often than not, they didn’t and before the individual could make their way back to Petaluma, their behavior would bring them to the attention of law enforcement in whatever jurisdiction in which they happened to be. That department would then have to initiate a completely new 5150 hold. Sadly, once and awhile an early release, regardless of how it came about, would have tragic consequences.
One October, about three or four days before Halloween, a very despondent man walked into the garden section of a local “Paymore” Drug Store. He opened a bottle of Malithion insecticide and proceeded to drink the contents. Fortunately, someone witnessed what he had done and had the store manager call 911. Police and Fire responded and took the man to the local hospital. In the Emergency Room, he told everyone that he had been trying to commit suicide, the reasons for which I no longer recall. I think most would agree that anyone doing what this guy had done, was in need of some serious mental health treatment. He obviously met the criteria for a 72-hour 5150 WIC hold, assuming that he survived, which to everyone’s surprise, he did. Before the day was over, he was well enough for an officer to take him to Oakcrest. However, someone at the facility, made the decision that downing a Malathion cocktail in a drug store was insufficient evidence that someone posed a danger to himself. They released him well short of the 72 hours.
Come Halloween night, at around 10 PM, dispatch sent Officer T and me to check the welfare of a male subject whose family had been unable to contact him; however, we were to call dispatch on the telephone before responding. Officer T and I met up near a payphone – this was in the dark times before cell phones. We learned that the man whose welfare we were supposed to check was the same individual who had swallowed the Malathion a few days earlier.
The man’s house was a run-down old Victorian with a large detached garage; both were completely dark. Naturally, there was no response to our knocking at the front door, which was locked. As we started around to the back of the house, several kids who were Trick or Treating asked us if the house was haunted. That’s how creepy the place looked. Luckily, the back door was unlocked. Being the smaller officer, I did not relish having to climb through a window. None of the lights inside worked and the “décor” was in a state that you would expect from someone seriously depressed. It was a two-story house and of course, every damn tread on the staircase creaked loudly with each step we made. I half expected to find Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Freddy Krueger or Bela Lugosi around one corner or another.
I can’t say we were tremendously relieved at finding nothing inside the house, because that still left the garage, which was even more dilapidated than the house. The back door to it was open with the obligatory cobwebs all around the frame. Stacks of boxes, scraps of lumber, furniture, auto parts and parts of old wooden shelving blocked the view from outside the door. Officer T discovered a light switch just inside the door but, as was the case inside the house, it didn’t work. As we made our way around inside and past one stack of boxes, we both looked at each other wide-eyed when we suddenly heard a long low creaking emanating from the darkened unseen depths of the garage. Finally, our flashlight beams played over the corpse of a man, hanging from the rafters by a rope tightly noosed around his neck. At his feet was a car battery and it was gruesomely evident that he had drank its liquid contents before hanging himself. Clearly, this man had really wanted to die.
Of course, this begs the question; would a longer stay at Oakcrest have prevented this from happening? For several years afterward, I thought so; however, with experience on the job, I gradually came to understand there are some people, whose minds are so broken, that no amount of psychiatric intervention is going to help. These people see death as the only solution and their only salvation.
I never did learn what ultimately happened Raincloud Mudball. Napa State Hospital has long since closed its doors. I hoped that once he regained an even keel, he continued to take his medications. At the risk of corniness, I like to think that the world is a much more colorful place with someone going by the name of Raincloud Mudball, in it.