I am working P.M. Watch Patrol (3A15) at the old University Station with Frank Isbell. We think almost as one. We are in our first partnership which is to last many years. Frank and I have just cleared the parking lot enroute to our patrol area. It is early evening, plenty of light and it has been raining for several days. I am driving.
Less than two minutes out, I turn north from Washington onto Vermont. Directly in front of us is a motorcycle, single male rider, young, no helmet (not then required).
It is listed on the “hot sheet” as stolen. I activated lights and siren.
As reported in a previous episode when the siren pitch goes up, the car slows down (hi- tech). We have solid reds on the roof looking like Mickey’s ears and no seatbelts. When you made a turn everything and everybody slid.
At the sound of the siren the motorcycle took off like the proverbial scared jack rabbit and left us like we were standing still. Frank put us in “pursuit” on the radio.
Side bar: during the first half of the 20th century street cars were a major form of transportation in L.A. All major streets had trolleys and naturally, tracks. At each stop was an area in the street bordered by heavy duty traffic “bumps.” Each was the size of a trash can lid in diameter standing 3 to 4 inches high to protect the passengers/pedestrians. Sounds primitive but that’s the way it was.
It’s still raining and our hot motorcycle is walking away from us and has a full block lead.
As he approached Olympic Boulevard, a major intersection, we have been on him for about ten blocks. He is about to become a memory.
At this point everything slowed as the motorcycle hit one of the “bumps” at about 70 mph and went airborne.
We watched as it soared end over end, gaining an altitude of 12 to 15 feet. Bouncing once in the intersection without striking anything or anybody, it continued on its journey and crashed into the side of a store on the northwest corner.
The intersection is in a slight depression and had an inch or two of standing water. The rider propelled from the bike, hit the surface of the water like a flat stone skipped across the surface of a pond. He scrambled to his feet and was gone between the houses.
While examining the motorcycle, a citizen (we now had a small crowd) told me there was something laying in the intersection. It turned out to be a wallet. Want to guess who it belonged to??
Now, as if this isn’t improbable enough, our suspect shows up in the crowd. When I went to cuff him, he pleaded, “You can’t arrest me. It’s my birthday.” We told him that only applied to adults. He was 16. He did smile, though, when we sang “Happy Birthday” on the way to booking.
The really amazing thing is after going down at 70 mph he did not require medical treatment.
In my last Ramblings, I mentioned Motor cops having dust-offs. A dust-off was a minor accident where the motor cop got up and dusted himself off and didn’t report the incident. Motor cops received a tie clip with the number of years that they didn’t have a reported accident. Robbie said he saw motor cops in roll call with blood dripping down their arms. When asked, no accident, nasty rose bush or angry Chihuahua dog.
Not all motor cops were as lucky. 34 LAPD motorcycle (M/C) officers have died in traffic accidents. Paul Verna was shot to death by robbery suspects. I later supervised his son in Hollywood. Clarence Wayne Dean died when he drove off a just collapsed freeway overpass during an earthquake. These were just a few.
Remember Eddie Haskell of “Leave It to Beaver” fame? Ken Osmond, his real name, later became a LAPD Motor Cop. In September 1980, he was shot three times while chasing a stolen taxi. Two of the bullets struck his bullet-proof vest and the third ricocheted off his belt buckle. See photo, Ken in the ambulance.
One of the other dangers of being a BCMC is the injuries of too many reported accidents. Almost all motor cops have back problems, most have multiple surgery scars. Craig admits to two back surgeries, one hip replacement, and one neck surgery. He says he aches all the time but riding sure was fun.
I knew one motor cop in Hollywood, Norm, who had metal braces attached to his boots for support. Motor cops take their motorcycles home every day. I knew one motor cop who crashed with a deer on the way home to Palmdale. Ouch! Some survive and return to work, others are not so lucky. They have permanent injuries and are pensioned off work. As they get older the more the injuries hurt. If you’re collecting Social Security right now think of how you feel getting up in the morning—and you’ve never had a dust-off.
Lou described an accident he had on the freeway. His radio was B/O (broken) and he was enroute downtown to get it fixed. Lou hit an oil spill on a transition road and went down. He couldn’t call for help and stood on the transition road for 45 minutes as the citizens drove by with smiles on their faces. Another time, Lou described how his motorcycle caught on fire while he was riding it. Not all Los Angeles City equipment is new. After Lou’s last accident, he gave up riding when his doctor asked him if he planned to walk in retirement.
With all that doom and gloom what’s the attraction? Why do apparently healthy, mentally sound (?) officers want to ride a motorcycle in a big city or any city for that matter? The rewards must be greater than the negatives.
I surveyed the many motor cops I have worked with and here’s their replies. Craig said it was for the money. Motor cops take their motorcycles home each day. They have free transportation to and from work and they don’t pay for gas. They also get a lot of overtime for attending traffic court. Motor Officers also get hazard pay but I don’t think it’s enough.
Lou talked about the freedom of riding a motor. You had to write your tickets but let the sergeant try and find you. Motor sergeants were usually old motor cops who promoted. The working motor cops had more shit on the supervisor then he had on them. “Tell on me and I’ll tell on you.”
Skip said there’s only two kinds of cops, those who ride motors and those who want to ride motors. He went on to say there are two kinds of motor cops, those who have gone down and those who are going to go down. Think about having a dust-off in your future?
Skip also recalled the time he was off-duty and on his way home in Burbank. He saw an obvious drunk driver and just couldn’t let him drive any longer. He stopped the driver and found out that he wasn’t drunk, just crazy as a loon. Skip escorted him into the lobby of the Burbank Police station, then rode away. Who was that masked motor cop?
Robbie was a little more verbose, (wordy). You either love riding motorcycles or you hated it. He loved riding. Most motor cops rode motorcycles before applying for LAPD motor school. Robbie said riding a black & white M/C with red light and siren was just a bigger rush. He said going in pursuit on his motorcycle had no equal on the Richter scale.
Robbie also said that the L.A. Police Department thought that motor cops were nuts so they got away with more than a patrol cop. Robbie has been retired for over 20 years and still has dreams of riding his Harley in L.A. with his partners. Hopefully he doesn’t have dreams of the dust-offs! Motor cops love to ride, and a lot ride their own bikes after retirement, not unlike “Easy Rider.”
I’m going to describe some of the motor cop incidents that I observed.
I worked Hollywood patrol for more years than the Andy Griffith show was on TV. In that time, I had a lot of interaction with motor cops. I can’t think of a bad experience that whole time. I transported their drunk drivers and warrant suspects. If a motor cop gets flagged down by a robbery victim, I took the report. Motor cops lose the ability to take non-traffic reports when they graduate from motor school. No problem, they bailed me out of many multi-car traffic accidents.
I knew one motor cop who was the most interesting. Avo, was a senior motor officer and he worked Hollywood Day watch. I never saw Avo mad or heard him complain about anything. He loved riding motors and loved life.
I once received a radio call for transportation for Avo at Hollywood Boulevard and Cherokee. I was close and as I arrived I spotted Avo’s M/C parked at the curb. Avo’s helmet was resting on his handle bars. The only thing missing was Avo. I looked up and down Hollywood Boulevard. No Avo. I sent my probationer up Cherokee to a parking lot to see if Avo was there. Nothing! If you knew Avo you knew he didn’t run after anyone. I’m about to put out an “officer needs help” call when I spot Avo walking out of a ice cream store. Avo has a single dip cone and his arrestee has a double dip cone, both bought by Avo. No wonder I never had to fight one of Avo’s arrestees.
Another time I’m leaving the station parking lot and as I drive northbound up the street, I see this official LAPD motor cycle southbound on the sidewalk. It’s Avo. He’s walking his arrestee to the station for booking. Clarification, the arrestee was walking, Avo was riding. What no ice cream?
I was once working deep under cover. I was wearing a wig and hadn’t shaved in a week. We were driving a Bundy-Rent-A-Wreck. For my non-police friends, Bundy rents cars that the auto wreckers turned away. Most had bald tires, dents and current registration was not an option. We were in Venice and looking for real bad guys. This car I’m driving was cherry—it had a rear view mirror. I look at the mirror. I see a motor cop with red lights on. Crap, he’s pulling us over.
My partner looks worse than I do. I can see it on the 5 o’clock news. Get out of the car, hands up, lie on the hot ground, arms and legs spread out. Where did I put my badge? I rip off my wig and step out making sure that I don’t make any furtive moves. My hands are so high that low flying sea gulls are in danger. Wait, I recognize that motor cop. It’s Bohlen. He’s worked Hollywood! I yell out, “Bohlen, it’s me Collier from Hollywood.” He looks at me then the car and shakes his head. We both looked like wrecks.
Motor cops are definitely a different breed from patrol cops but damn, they sure were fun to work with. Motor cops have been seen driving home with a Christmas tree on the back of their motorcycle.
One last thought, a motor cop in Hollywood had a license plate frame on his police motorcycle that said, “Smile, I could be behind you.” His sergeant made him take it off.
I usually only write my Ramblings about an incident where I was present or got from numerous reliable sources. This Ramblings is different. Some of the incidents I observed and others were passed on to me from former partners. After writing this, I sent them to my sources for corrections and verifications. This is what I came up with.
I sent out a survey to former motor cops and some of these observations are theirs and others are mine. I never wanted to ride a police motorcycle, or for that matter any motorcycle on a city street. When I was in high school, I had a friend who quit the baseball team and the next day he was in a bad motorcycle accident and lost his leg. I have dirt bikes that both my son and I ride. Your chances of survival hitting a pucker bush were better than crashing into a parked car or other fixed object.
Police motor cops are a different breed. It doesn’t matter what police agency you work for. It doesn’t matter how big or how small your department is, they’re just different than other cops. Some smaller departments have a rotation system. You ride motors for six months then you work patrol for six months, then maybe a stint as a detective. LAPD motor cops are there because they want to or they have a fear of dying in their original skin. The LAPD Motor Officer School is very difficult. It weeds out the casual weekend rider. A flunked-out motor cop once described LAPD motor school: they give you a mouth full of marbles. Every time you dump your motorcycle in school you spit out a marble. When you lose all your marbles, you’re a LAPD motor cop.
In high school, I worked at a hamburger restaurant that was owned by Ivan, a LAPD motorcycle cop. They are called BCMC, “Big City Motor Cops.” He told
me that all motor cops “go down”, cop vernacular for having an accident. Ivan told me it was a matter of when and how bad. Robbie, another BCMC called them “dust offs” for non-serious accidents. “Dust-off” means you get up, dust off your uniform and don’t report it. The LAPD motor officers wore a tie bar that had the number of years you didn’t have a reported accident. It was a motor cops badge of honor. Hell, I’ll admit I used to look at the number of years myself.
They have their own ideas of what is important as far as police enforcement. Most motor cops would rather arrest a drunk driver than a bank robber. They think twice before giving up a good ticket to go to a robbery in progress radio call. Once, I was walking a footbeat when a motor cop asked for a back up. I ran four blocks down Hollywood Boulevard to assist this motor cop. As I rounded the corner, the cop was leaning against a parking meter as a heated family dispute was going on in the street. He wasn’t going to step in until they committed a traffic violation. On the other hand, I’ve seen motor cops driving on Hollywood Boulevard sidewalks clearing pedestrians with the siren responding to a officers request for back up. It was right out of a movie.
Ed Meckle recalls two motor cops who stopped a jay walker. While one officer wrote the ticket, the second officer saw a man hobble out of a jewelry store, gagged and his hands duct-taped. Their jay walker had just robbed the jewelry store but the officers were upset that they would lose hours of ticket writing. They gave the the robbery suspect his ticket as they closed the cell door.
Some motor cops that I knew were a little crazy. Yea, I thought of better words but crazy fit the best. Kathy described a motor cop named Lee who would put a traffic cone on his helmet as he drove up and down the street in front of the station. Lee would also put his helmet on backwards and sing “I’m a love machine” while dancing around the Hollywood Station Lobby.
One of the Garcia brothers would drive up and down Hollywood Boulevard at night with his siren blaring and he would put his boots on the pavement. The sparks would fly off the taps on his heels. That was always a crowd pleaser. Pat told of Bob Fiacco who smoked cigars all the time. When he got off his motor to write a ticket he would put his cigar on the mic cord. If he forgot about the cigar it would burn through the cord. He carried spare mic cords in his saddle bags. If crazy doesn’t fit these guys than I am.
I was working fire escort during the last few days of the 1991 LA Riots. The Department and politicians called it civil unrest, but I was on the streets and nothing was civil about what happened. (See my Ramblings Riots Trilogy – coming soon.) So I’m sitting in the fire station waiting for the next call when a motor cop comes in. He removes his shirt and gun belt, plops down in the large air craft seats that the firemen use for watching TV. A few minutes later two more motor cops enter and the same thing happens. Soon there’s ten motor cops in various stages of undress. I later learned that motor cops always hide from their supervisors in fire stations for a break. Craig said that he was conducting escort duty for President Reagan and stopped at a fire station during a break. The firemen filled his helmet with shaving cream.
My next Ramblings I’ll talk about other motor cops that made me laugh and some that made me cry. Hal