Ramblings by Hal

Police Burglars, epilog

by Hal Collier

Epilog to the Hollywood Police Burglar scandal:

After the smoke cleared and believe me this took years, I pieced together the following events of the Hollywood Burglaries. Ron Venegas made a deal and cooperated with investigators. He resigned from the LAPD and last I heard he was driving a truck for the movie studios. He was sentenced to probation and never did any jail time. Jack Myers died in an automobile accident shortly after his arrest. It was ruled accidental, most speculated he committed suicide or was run off the road by an unknown officer to silence him.

Twelve officers and supervisors were either charged criminally or administratively. One sergeant was actually tried in court. The judge found him not guilty. The only evidence was Venegas’s statements and the Judge said, “Venegas is an admitted criminal and I wouldn’t believe him if he said the sun will rise in the morning.” All resigned and were never charged, one other officer got probation. Those of us left behind were on probation for decades. In an earlier Ramblings, I described ugly partners who tarnished the badge. There wasn’t enough Brasso to clean my badge because of these officers.

Venegas, Myers and others were responsible for over 100 Hollywood business burglaries. Some resulted from taking property after a business was already broken into and others they went “shopping.” Shopping involved businesses that had something the officers wanted. The officers carried a slingshot and marbles. They would smash out a window and wait for the alarm call. They would then request backup officers to search the premises for suspects. When the uninvolved officers left, they would take whatever they needed.

Some of the businesses they broke into baffled me. Lido Cleaners, where we all cleaned our uniforms! They broke into the cleaners a couple of times. They not only took cash but their clean uniforms. Some of businesses were video stores and they took video players and video discs. They broke into a couple of pharmacies and took prescription drugs. Hardware stores, auto repair shops for batteries or tools. Strange but IA couldn’t find out if they sold anything or pawned it. A lot of the stolen property was piled up in their garages.

In an odd twist, one sergeant was suspected of being a burglar and his house was searched. Nothing was found and Internal Affairs returned a month later and wanted to search again. They didn’t have a search warrant and ordered the sergeant to give up his civil rights. The sergeant sued the department and won a million dollar settlement. We all have to play by the rules!

One of the officers was rumored to be involved with a prostitute on the west side. She was later found dead in a motel. Last I heard her murder is still unsolved!

All supervisors were transferred out of Hollywood. Captains, lieutenants, sergeants, even if you’d never supervised the involved officers. The department was cleaning house! To some, it was a blessing. Hollywood was not a fun place to work anymore. Most were given the division of their choice, closer to home. Of course, in their new division they were looked upon as guilty, just not caught. Think about it, you transferred out all the supervisors, now you have to replace them. We get a bunch of new Hollywood sergeants, who probably don’t want to work in a slowly decaying division. I’m wondering who to trust and I’m questioning my own judgments on a person’s character. The new Captain, Bob Smitson and my Lieutenant, Tom Elfmont, were hand-picked by the chief to clean up Hollywood Division.

I remember one sergeant, Doug Campbell, who befriended me. He seemed like a good guy, but I’ve been burned and not very trusting. Doug turned out to be a great guy, a good street cop in sergeants stripes, and still my friend today. He made the transition much easier.

Last few paragraphs, I promise. The Department’s conclusion was that poor supervision led to the burglaries. That’s partly true since a few supervisors were involved in the thefts. It was also suggested that some of the officers, although not involved, should have known. As I said before I was looking for burglars, I just wasn’t looking in my own yard! I have received many responses from former Hollywood officers. They saw patterns after the arrests that might have made us more suspicious of our co-workers.

Most of the involved officers moved on with their lives and put their past behind them. I’d hear that so and so was working for this company and doing fine. I once was told that Ron Venegas was at a movie shoot in Hollywood, and asked if I wanted to see him. Now, Ron and I had been friends but I had nothing to say to him now.

I thought I was over the scandal when I attended a Department school for Watch Commanders. It was 1996, fifteen years after the scandal. I sat quietly in the back row of the class—I got there early. In the front of the classroom, this young sergeant was talking about police corruption and the Hollywood Scandal. I let him finish and when he asked for comments, I jumped up. I’d been silent for too long. There were two sides to this story and he was only telling the command staff’s side. I was there and this sergeant was still in High School when it occurred. After I vented, I sat down. A couple of old timers approached me at the break and thanked me for speaking up, but I still carry the scars of betrayal three decades later.

Lt. Dan Cook, LAPD spokesman at the time said, “We’ll recover from it but we’ll never forget it.” I’m not sure I’ll ever recover or forget.


Ramblings by Hal

Rookie Mistakes by the Brass

By Hal Collier

The following story is true, the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed.  Rookie mistakes are not all made by new police officers.  Some of the biggest police blunders are made by senior sergeants, lieutenants, and captains.  Often they make these blunders because they haven’t worked in the field in years.  We call them “building boys”.  To my non-police friends, building boys work non-patrol assignments to further their careers.  I don’t fault them for their ambition to promote as long as they listen to those who have spent their time in the field.  As usual I’ll only use first names to protect their identity.   I’ve found most of my cop friends are willing to pay me to learn their real names.  Nothing like a little dirt on a supervisor to get your requests granted.  No coins this time guys.



We had a lieutenant–Phil, nice guy but a building boy.  LAPD policy dictates when you bring in an arrestee who has a large amount of cash, a supervisor has to do a money count.  This cuts down on complaints that the officer stole money.  Ok, the officer brings in the cash and asks the supervisor to count it.  The supervisor counts the money and initials a money envelope.  So this “building” lieutenant takes the cash out of the envelope, all bills and begins counting.  He licks his finger after every few bills to separate them.  After a few seconds of this, he asks the arresting officer who he arrested.  The officer stated he arrested a female prostitute in rather skimpy clothes. The lieutenant licks his finger again and asks the officer where she had the money.  The officer says, without missing a beat, she held it her love vault.  OK, if you need a further, more graphic description of a love vault, you need to get out more.  This same lieutenant bought some ocean view property in Hawaii, sight unseen.  Problem was no roads, electricity, and water, none planned for twenty years, but it had a nice view.


Couldn't find the Wrigley's ad Hal talks about.
Couldn’t find the Wrigley’s ad Hal talks about.

The second supervisor was again a nice guy, not a building guy. Hell, he’d get lost in a building with more than one story.  He sits in the Watch Commander’s office with the narcotics scale and weigh things.  I walked in one night and he asked for my badge.  He wanted to know if a sergeant’s badge weighed more than a policeman’s badge.  Duh.  He also weighed a pack of Wrigley’s gum.  At the time, there was a commercial on TV with a person walking around with a pack of gum under his arm.  This sergeant calculated that the pack of gum would be too heavy to carry.  Your tax dollars at work.  He was a sailor.  Always talking about sailing and buying a bigger boat.  His wife was a home decorator who made a good salary. They bought a home in the marina with a boat slip, closed escrow, and then found out their boat was too big for their boat slip.


The third rookie mistake is all mine.  I’m driving and responding to domestic violence radio call.  I drive to the location and park two houses away. That’s an officer safety tactic so you don’t get ambushed.  See, I’m cool and thinking.  We approach and hear arguing coming from the house.  We deploy, which means taking cover in case someone comes out shooting.  We knock and yes, there’s a family dispute in progress.  They really look surprised to see us and ask who called.  We never tell them.  We separate the parties and determine there is no crime.  We offer our expert advice and tell them we don’t want to return or someone will go to jail.  That always scares the shit out of them.  Yea, right.


We get in the car and I’m telling my probationer, John, “See, that’s how you handle these domestic calls.”   I drive to the end of the block and look at the street sign.  I’m on the wrong block, just like the song, “Silhouettes on the Shade”.  I drive to the next block and the right address.  Guess what–a domestic dispute.  Again, we handle a domestic dispute.  This time, I didn’t offer any advice to my probationer.  John didn’t make any comments which might have been the reason he made it off probation.


Practical Joke


I worked with a Viet Nam Veteran, a quiet unassuming guy.  He did his job and never talked about his war experiences.  If you spend 8 hours in a police car with someone you get to know the person. That’s why police officers are so close and protective of each other.  We found out that we both grew up in Eagle Rock and played in the same Little League.  I later found out that he was awarded the Silver Star for heroism. One day, were driving around and he says to me, “Hal, lets catch us a pigeon.”  I’m thinking, why? They’re flying rats, and my previous experiences with pigeons was not fond.  He tells me that pigeons are blind at night and you can catch them easy.  I remind him we’re working day watch and I don’t want some busy body citizen calling the Watch Commander, complaining about two policemen chasing pigeons.  I was the senior officer so I won the argument. At least that’s what I thought.


The next day, this mild-mannered officer was working with someone else.  I’m driving into the station as he’s leaving.  We smile and wave.  I go into the station for about 30 minutes.  When I come out to my police car I have 4 pigeons inside.  Not only are they on my head rest, front seat and MDT (that’s the computer in police cars), they have all relieved themselves numerous times.  Lesson learned, don’t ever trust the quiet guy.


This same quiet officer, had a habit of tying a fishing line to the inside police car door handle and to the siren switch.  When the unsuspecting officer opened his car door the siren would wail and the officer would relieve himself in the parking lot.  This officer later went to the Bomb Squad.


Your tax dollars at work.

Ramblings by Hal

Rookie Mistakes

By Hal Collier


The story you are about to read is true.  The following mistakes were mine and mine alone.  Some I have repressed for over three decades, but I have come to the conclusion that my career is over.  I was a slow learner when it came to my career.


LAPD Academy graduates
LAPD Academy graduates

I mentioned station security in one of my earlier stories.  One of the important jobs of the station security officer was that the flags be posted at dawn.  The old station was two stories and the flag pole was outside a second story window.  To attach the flags to the pole you had you lean way out the window and attach both the American and California flags.  One morning after eight hours of standing in the dark and leaning out the window, I hung the California flag upside down.  I was tired and didn’t notice.  The Captain drove into the station parking lot and wanted to know who thought the California bear should be on his back.  After apologizing to the Captain.  He suggested that I have two more days of Station Security to practice posting the flags the proper way. It never happened again.

Most probationers are pretty proud of being a cop. Unfortunately most citizens aren’t that impressed.  I’d been in the streets for about 6 weeks and I learned that people were always watching you. I want to make a good impression.  It’s Saturday night in Hollywood, the streets are crowded, young ladies stare as you drive down Hollywood Boulevard.  I’m pretty impressed with myself.  I’m the passenger officer in a 1969 Plymouth black and white–the best police car the department ever used.  It’s only 2 years old but already has over 70,000 miles and the dash has holes in it.  The seat belts are tied in knots so you couldn’t wear them if you wanted to.  In the hands of a good driver that car could take a corner on two wheels and not lose speed.  My partner Rick was just that kind of a driver.

1969 Plymouth Belvedere patrol car
1969 Plymouth Belvedere patrol car

We got a code three radio call. That means red lights and siren.  It was halfway across the Division. Cool, I’m going to have hundreds of citizens watching their tax dollars at work.

Now Rick is in rare form. He’s taking corners that would make a stunt car driver proud.  Were southbound on Fairfax approaching Sunset.  The streets are packed and they have all stopped to watch us make a right turn onto Sunset.  John takes the corner like a pro, I grab the inside door handle to fight the centrifugal force.  The door handle comes off in my hand and I slide across the seat.  I’m now sitting next to Rick as if we were on a date.  I scoot back across the seat to my side of the car and look out the window.  I see all these people laughing.   I’m guessing they won’t vote us a pay raise this year.

Another early lesson you learn is that you’re wearing a blue wool uniform.  Wool uniforms attract animal hair of any kind.  When a little old lady invites you to sit on her couch, ask if she has cats.  Lint brushes hadn’t been invented yet so you spent the rest of the night looking like a fur covered cop.  That was not even my rookie mistake.  I was wearing a long sleeve, blue wool uniform one cold night.  We had an encounter with a combative drag queen.  I said I wouldn’t be politically correct, for my non-police friends, a drag queen is a man who dresses in women’s clothes.  The choke hold was a department approved tactic and was even encouraged in the early 70’s.  It was never fatal and saved you from hitting the bad guy with your night stick.

This gentlemen in women’s clothing decided he was not going to jail. The fight was on.  I applied the department approved choke hold.  The gentlemen soon went to sleep for about 30 seconds and was handcuffed.  As I stood up my partner was laughing at me.  I looked down at our suspect, he was wearing a rabbit hair coat.  My uniform was covered in rabbit hair and my sleeve had pancake make-up all over it.  Sometimes rookie mistakes can’t be helped. Yea it was the first day of a clean uniform

Practical Joke:  People in all walks of life have played practical jokes on fellow friends, employees, and spouses.  Most people in emergency services use practical jokes as a morale booster and stress release.  Most old timers will say they miss the old days.

We had a Lieutenant who was liked by the whole watch.  He rode a Harley Davidson motorcycle and considered anyone who rode a different motorcycle a lesser form of life.  His motorcycle was his pride and joy.  One boring night on A.M. watch, the Lieutenant had his motorcycle parked at the rear door of the station.  The Lieutenant was distracted by some accomplices, while another officer pushed his pride and joy into the Captains Office.  An hour later the Lieutenant was called into the Captains Office, where the Captain wanted to know why the Lieutenant’s Motorcycle was dripping oil on his carpet.  Ok, not all practical jokes are well thought out.  The Lieutenant was more concerned if his motorcycle was scratched.


More Street Stories

Chain of Command

Who does what?

As with any para-military organization, there must be leadership. Although it is often portrayed with fair accuracy in the entertainment media, I still find lots of discrepancies in the roles played. For instance, a Hallmark Movie Channel series Mystery Woman, the lead character’s counterpoint is a police chief. Granted, this is a small town with a small department. However, a police chief should never do his own investigation. A chief’s job is administrative–glad-handing politicians to keep his budget intact and being the all-around nice guy in which the public can put their trust.

Chiefs or Sheriffs   

Bishop Police Chief Chris Carter
Bishop Police Chief Chris Carter

Chiefs or Sheriffs will have a Bachelor of Science degree at the minimum with an emphasis on Criminal Justice or Business Management. State certificates including the POST Management Certificate, the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society Leadership Development Program help the career climber as well as the POST Executive Development Course, POST Command College and the FBI National Academy. A masters of science degree in the above subjects is typically encouraged at this level of management.

Deputy Chief, Undersheriff or Commander

Under the chief or sheriff is a deputy chief or undersheriff. In very small departments the deputy chief is often called a captain or commander. At this level, these administrators are involved in managing whole divisions such as patrol and administrative services. If you are writing a story that is set in a small town, troll the internet for a department of a similar size. Usually you can find the structure which will give you an idea of the hierarchy. It matters–this past year, Kyra Sedgwick ended her seven year tenure on the series called The Closer. As the Deputy Chief, she should have been writing reports and recommendations for the chief and city council, making decisions on personnel issues and obtaining grants instead of solving crimes. As much as I like watching Sedgwick, the show was so unrealistic that I couldn’t watch it.


Santa Rosa Police Department, Ca, Lt Craig Schwartz
Santa Rosa Police Department, Ca, Lt Craig Schwartz

A lieutenant is assigned to a team, generally. Teams work the same days, thereby enhancing the team concept. A lieutenant is found at all shifts in large departments although in smaller agencies, usually only day shift and swing (afternoons). The night shift or graveyards are handled by “Watch Commanders” who are either lieutenants or acting lieutenants. This is a sergeant who is on the promotional list for lieutenant or has been assigned by an administrator.



Sergeants are the line commanders. As in the army, sergeants get most of the work done. A good patrol sergeant will listen to radio activity so he knows who is doing what. They should be available for back-up but not tied up on a lengthy report call. They need to be on hand for patrol or dispatcher direction. Administrative or detective sergeants has a different role in some ways but still are the “go to” person for line officers and civilians. They will also handle preliminaries of personnel problems, give direction and approve crime reports. Corporals are subordinate and have limited report-approving powers.


Detectives are promoted patrol officers. In larger departments, a detective may be a sergeant rank. There are also levels of detective ranking depending on promotional testing, merit, and interviews. 

Ft Bragg, Ca Police Department
Ft Bragg Police Department-California

Again, all these structures are varied by department. There are few hard and fast rules but there are some that are never violated. The chain of command is respected–or it should be–to maintain a successful resolution. “Jumping the chain” is a phrase that is often used to describe those employees who go directly to the power when they have a problem. A good leader will refer the employee to their immediate superior.

However, back in the day, it was common to jump the chain. Going to your brother in law to talk about a problem with your supervisor was normal. It led to accusations of “good old boy” systems from outsiders and can smack of favoritism, depending how the contact was handled.

If you aren’t sure how an issue would be handled, check for a “model” agency and call the appropriate ranking person. Most cops love to talk to writers about their job. Your problem may be how to shut your source up!

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