Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings: AM Watch, part 4

By Hal Collier

Here is another Ramblings story about working Morning Watch.  Those cops who spent most of their time working Day or Pm Watch will scoff at sleeping on duty, but try sleeping in the day with small children in the house, or the sounds of everyday street noises.


Some officers who refused to park and sleep, fell asleep at the wheel.  Some hit parked cars and more than one cop fell asleep at the wheel of a police car while stopped at a red light.  They were usually awakened by some citizen knocking on the driver’s window, yelling, “Officer, are you all right?”


Albany, NY cop sleeping in car.
Albany, NY cop sleeping in car.

Remember, I mentioned how hard it was to hide a black and white police car? Well, hide one with the intention of closing your eyes and catching a quick nap.  First and foremost, you need to find a location where some terrorist or dirt bag won’t find you.  Second, you need to find a location that the new sergeant who’s trying to make a name for himself, can’t find.


Third, don’t park in a spot that some citizen will find and call the Watch Commander to complain about how much he pays in taxes not have cops sleeping on his dollar.  I’ll bet you didn’t know this much thought went into grabbing a quick nap, did you?


Usually, the senior officer picked the spot.  It had to be close to the center of Hollywood, in case you had to respond to an emergency call or meet that pesky sergeant.   If you were buried high up in the Hollywood Hills, it would take you a good half hour to get to Hollywood Boulevard and then you had to explain where you were.  If you were too close to Hollywood Boulevard, a transient, looking for recyclables, would be knocking on your window asking if you had any cans in the back seat.


Hollywood Bowl parking lot (top)
Hollywood Bowl parking lot (top)

One of the best spots was in the Hollywood Bowl parking lot. It was close to Hollywood Boulevard yet out of public view.  Across from the Bowl was the Odin parking lot.  In the back of the lot was a ramp that opened up to about twenty parking spots.  It might have been for employees working during the Hollywood Bowl season.  Anyway, it was out of sight and had large trees lining the parking lot.  If you backed into one of the spots you had a steep hill at your back and a view of the ramp in front.  I only mentioned the trees because in later years the police helicopter couldn’t see your police car from the air.


One night there were four police cars in the Odin lot, each taking turns sleeping and handling radio calls.  The rule was the first police car in the Odin lot had to chase out the homeless but he got to log it as extra patrol.  Another good spot was an upper lot at Universal Studios.  It was remote but a fair distance from Hollywood Boulevard.  It was also patrolled by the sheriffs.


Odin was the best. Now, I’ll describe some of the worst.  I mentioned the short one block alley on Cahuenga West, my partner picked to rest before eating.  The SLA dropped off their propaganda tapes at radio station KPFK a block away in 1974.  Sometimes a cop would pick a dead-end street up in the hills, only trouble was that all the prostitutes liked those streets as well to complete their business transactions.


One ingenious officer, (Mike Brambles) found what he thought was the perfect spot.  They were building brand new houses right under the Griffith Park Observatory on Los Feliz.  The houses were almost completed and he discovered that he could back his police car into the garage and close the door.  He just needed to be awake and gone before the workers arrived.


This night, the officer was working a report car, which means he was alone.  It was slow and he backed into a garage and closed the door.  He was careful to shut the engine off so he didn’t asphyxiate himself.  He woke up before the workers arrived but not before a truck dumped a load of sand in the driveway blocking the garage door.  He frantically called a friend to bring him a shovel so he could dig his car out of the garage.  True story.


LA Coliseum tunnel
LA Coliseum tunnel

There is a legend of two officers parking their police car in a tunnel at the Coliseum.  It was so tight that they couldn’t open their car doors.  The car battery died as they slept and they had to break out the rear car window to escape. Truth or legend?


The officers were not the only ones who slept on duty.  I was working with this brand new rookie and at about 4 A.M., we needed gas.  I pulled into the police garage which was across the street from the station.  As I pulled up to the gas pumps, I noticed a sergeant’s car parked between two other police cars.  The rear door was open and a pair of feet were sticking out.  The rookie also noticed the feet and thought we should investigate.  I asked him if his old employer was holding his job for him.  He replied “no” and I advised him pump the gas and clean our car windows and mind his own business.   He made probation and later he was my lieutenant.


Another time, I had this probationer who had a little problem with priorities.  He shows up at work and as we leave the station, he tells me, “We have to take it slow tonight!”  He goes on to tell me that instead of sleeping, he went to a Doobie Brothers Concert in Santa Barbara. I reminded him that if he fell asleep he might need his old job back.


Flip the coin.  I make sergeant and am transferred to Southeast Division.  That’s right—Watts.  Now, one of the first lessons you learn working Watts is don’t sit in your car, even to write in your log.  The less friendly inhabitants had a tendency to take pot shots at the cops.  As I described in a previous Ramblings, Morning Watch in Watts was very slow.  Watts was nothing like Hollywood.


I knew the cops were Hitting the Hole but I just wondered where and why I wasn’t invited.  Of course, the reason was that when you promote you become one of them instead of one of us.  It was just as well—I might miss watching the sun rise over the Watts Towers.


I had a former Hollywood cop approach me in the parking lot at end of watch and tell me how they turned over every rock and just couldn’t find anything to arrest.  I laughed and asked to see his log.  They showed ten miles all night.  I smiled and told him that if you Hit the Hole for half the night, you should drive up and down the freeway a few times to put extra miles on the police car.  That way, it didn’t look like you were parked most of the night.  His eyes lit up and he knew that I knew. Then I told him, “I know what you were doing. I just don’t know where.”


I was driving around Watts one very quiet night and couldn’t find anyone doing any police work. I was southbound on Figueroa in an industrial area that bordered the Harbor freeway.  An emergency call came out and as I was making a U-turn I almost got run over by the entire watch exiting from behind a closed warehouse.  I took that secret with me when I left Watts a few months later.


The next Ramblings will be the last on working Morning Watch and it will give some of you a different perspective of Morning Watch Cops.        Hal

Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings: Rain Stories


According to the Los Angeles Almanac, the 1977-78 El Nino dumped 33.44" of rain on Los Angeles. That's more than 18" above average rainfall.
LA River–’78 flood from Waverly Drive.  Photo Clarence Inman Collection, 1978. Shot from a backyard on Waverly Drive facing Atwater

By Hal Collier

The following stories are true.  I use to change the names to protect the embarrassed, but since I have not been paid to be quiet, I’m going to use real first names.  Of course some of these stories are 30 years old and my memory is only so good.



I figured since we’re in a dry spell, I would write about some incidents I had working in the rain.  Now, most of my non-police friends like the rain.  At night or on weekends, they would cuddle up in front of a fireplace or pull the bed covers up tight at night.  They would listen to the sounds of the rain and drift off to sleep.  Hell, they even sell machines that have the sound of rain to help people fall asleep.


To a patrol cop working during a storm, it can be a day from hell.  Southern Californians can’t drive on dry streets. Add a little water and the thought that they are going to be late and it’s a disaster in the making.  Traffic accidents increase and burglar alarms on every closed business are activated. 


These all cause a patrol cop to get out of his car and get wet.  Think about standing in a flooded intersection, directing traffic for thirty minutes.  The streets are blocked and some citizen pulls up to your flare pattern, rolls down his car window a 1/4 inch and says, “Can’t I drive through, I always go home this way?”  Your mind is racing: can I drag this dumb ass out through that 1/4 inch opening and will anyone see me if I do.


In the late 70’s, I was working A.M. Watch (grave yard) and we expected a storm.  My partner, Randy, and I loaded up on sunflower seeds and prepared for eight hours of being wet.  Only rookies wore a clean, un-mended uniform on a rainy night.  Sometime around midnight it started raining.  Then, it rained harder than I have ever seen it rain.  We had to a pull into an elevated parking lot.  The streets flooded. Worse yet, our sunflower seed source, Lime-Lite Liquor, had three inches of water inside.  This was getting serious.




A flood scene from last year
A flood scene from last year

The entire city went on tactical alert.  Laurel Canyon was a raging river.  There were reports of citizen being swept down the street.  We were designated as the Hollywood Damage control car.  We responded to calls of stranded citizens, houses sliding off their foundations and closed streets.  The damage was enormous.  Cars were stacked five deep at the bottom of Laurel Canyon.  They used a skip loader to move mud, rocks and cars to check for missing motorists. 


Two officers, Dave and Dale, were assigned to traffic control at the top of Laurel Canyon at Mulholland Drive.  They were standing in three inches of water at the top.  It was rumored that an actor gave the officers a small bottle of brandy to fight off the cold.  At 3 P.M., we were told to go home.  This eight hour day turned into a sixteen hour marathon.  When I took off my uniform, my white J.C. Penney’s t-shirt and underwear were LAPD blue.  I had to work that night so I was back at work at 10:30 P.M.  My boots were still soaking wet.


A few days later I was working with Dave.  We were assigned damage control and security for some of the abandoned houses due to slide damage.  There was one house high in the Hollywood Hills that was wide open in the rear.  The slide covered the back yard as well as knocking a two foot hole through the back of the house.  Actually, a hole was not an accurate description.  The two feet was all across the bottom of the rear of the house.  There was 2 feet of mud inside the house.



Myrtle Beach Storm
Myrtle Beach Storm

Dave and I were checking on the house to make sure no one was walking away with the resident’s valuables.  It was midnight and very dark as we walked through the side gate.  We were halfway in the back yard, ankle deep in mud, when I froze in my tracks.  I spotted a swimming pool filter in the corner of the yard.  Oh crap, somewhere under this mud there was a swimming pool.  I don’t know if mud over a water filled pool would make quicksand, but I didn’t want to be the “Breaking News” story.  We backtracked our steps and left.


A few nights later Dave and I were driving northbound Cahuenga Boulevard where it parallels the Hollywood Freeway.  There’s a section where the road drops down then rises to enter the 101 freeway.  Where it drops down, water collects if the drain is clogged.  The city put up some barricades so sober folks wouldn’t drive into Lake Cahuenga as we dubbed it.  The lake was about five feet deep and sixty feet across.


Dave and I drove up Cahuenga to make sure the barricades were still in place.  The barricades were missing and we could see the roof of a submerged car.  I hoped no one was inside, I was wearing my last dry uniform.  As we approached we could see this man bobbing in and out of the window of the car.  We called him over to dry land and he badged us.  That’s right he was a Deputy Sheriff with the L. A. County Sheriff’s Department.  A lieutenant at that.


flicker lafdDave and I fought to hide our amusement, but it was a waste of time.  The Lieutenant’s story went like this.  He met this girl in a bar in North Hollywood and he was giving her a ride home.  He was southbound on Cahuenga when he drove into Lake Cahuenga.  As the Lieutenant and his female companion swam out of their car they saw three guys laughing and driving away.  The guys had removed the barricades and stuck around to watch the fun.  The Lieutenant was bobbing for her purse in the front seat.  We arranged for a tow truck. 


The lieutenant asked us if we could drive the young lady home, which was two blocks away.  His bigger request was that we not tell anyone in the sheriff’s department.  We agreed.  A few days later we got a phone call from the Lieutenant.  He wanted to meet with us.  Uh oh, now what.  We met at the scene of the crime.  Lake Cahuenga had been drained by then, the fishing sucked anyway.


The Lieutenant showed us a large proclamation, promoting him to Commandant of a U-Boat in Lake Cahuenga.  He told on himself.  He asked about his lady friend and we told him that driving into the lake was the best thing that happened to him that night.  Oh yea, he tried to bribe us with two bottles of cognac.


Practical Joke


This might have been an honest mistake, but I have my doubts.  It had been raining on and off all night.   About dawn a short police pursuit occurred in Hollywood.  The suspects fled on foot and were hiding in the neighborhood.  The rain had let up and the sky was clearing.  We removed our rain coats and we were formed into search parties.  I was one of the senior officers and led my group.  The helicopter was overhead directing officers to likely hiding places.  The helicopter observer directed me into a back yard with a huge weeping willow tree in the corner.  He said the suspects might be under the tree.  I walked under the tree with gun drawn.  The helicopter dropped lower, I assumed to watch me.


Ok, do you know how much water collects in a weeping willow tree after a night of rain?  Have you ever stood next to your dog when he shakes after a bath?  The prop wash from the helicopter immediately dropped all the water in that tree—you guessed it, on me.  I might as well have taken a swim in Lake Cahuenga.  Another day with blue underwear. 



More Street Stories Tales from the Barking Muse

Aw, Crap!


By Gerry Goldshine

Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder is to have said that, “…no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”  People are adaptive, innovative and unpredictable. As police officers, we train to expect the unexpected but at the same time it is human nature to rely on patterns of behavior. We think it likely that when we turn on our patrol car’s emergency lights to make a traffic stop, the driver is going to pull over and most do just that. When we hand a driver our pen to sign the citation, we anticipate they will comply rather that subject themselves to arrest. As an officer gains field experience, they develop skill in reading body language, watching facial expressions and listening to vocal inflections using them cues for when a person isn’t going along with “the plan”. However, even the most veteran officer can find there are times when they have done everything right and yet still be wrong.

I was helping another officer search a house for a woman, well known to us, who had a no-bail warrant for her arrest. In past encounters with her, usually involving public intoxication or possession of minor amounts of drugs, she had always been cooperative. After about thirty minutes, we found her in one of the bedrooms hidden beneath a four-foot high pile of dirty laundry. I offered to take her to the station and book her, because the other officer had a mountain of reports to complete. As I walked the

Woman in Handcuffs photo courtesy of
Woman in Handcuffs
photo courtesy of

woman out to my patrol car, I kept one hand firmly gripped around the links of the handcuffs she wore behind her back. We chatted amicably about her situation; she talked about having difficulty getting into a rehab program. When we got to my car, I did another pat down search for any weapons and finding none, I opened the back door for her get inside. Standing next to the rear of the door, I let go of the cuffs and raised my other arm so that I could shield the top of her head from hitting the door frame, as I had done on countless other arrests. She had just about planted her derriere on the seat when she suddenly sprang back up. She was just small and flexible enough to duck under my arm and take off running with her arms still handcuffed behind her back.

Staring at her in disbelief, the first thought that went through my mind was, “Aw crap!” At the same time, I wondered how in the hell a 40 year-old man, in reasonably good shape but with two bad knees and wearing a cumbersome ballistic vest plus least 10 pounds of police gear, was going to catch this lithe twenty-something year old woman, sprinting as though she had just left the chocks at the Olympics. I took off after her, letting dispatch know that I was in foot pursuit in between gasps for breath. I rounded a corner just in time to see her execute a perfect Fosbury Flop” into the back of a passing Chevy El Camino pickup. Fortunately, at least for me, the driver saw what was happening in his side mirror and immediately slammed on the brakes. I caught up before she was able to get completely out of the pickup bed, that task made difficult because her hands were still handcuffed behind her back. She apologized profusely for being “stupid” all the way back to my patrol car, while I tried to raise my oxygen levels back to some semblance of normalcy as nonchalantly as possible. I knew that I was in store for not only considerable ribbing from my fellow officers but more than likely, an ass-chewing from my bosses as well.

No sooner had I arrived at the station then I received the expected call, over the station’s public address system, to report to the sergeant’s office after I finished booking the prisoner. His first question to me was a simple, “Well?” I told him what had happened and after he digested it for a bit, he suggested we go out to my car so that he could better visualize what had happened. Along the way, the Lieutenant joined us and almost immediately began yelling at me about losing control of my prisoner. My sergeant cut in and explained the situation and we went going to see what I could do to prevent it from reoccurring. That seemed to mollify the Lieutenant for the moment.

I showed them how I got her into the back seat and the way in which she had made her escape. The Lieutenant proceeded to put me through a variety of different stances in front of the open door, most far removed from common practice and many more out of the realm of practicality. When it became apparent there was no simplistic solution, the Lieutenant glared at me and warned, “Don’t let this happen again or I’ll be writing you a reprimand!” With those sage words of wisdom, the Lieutenant stormed off back to the Watch Commander’s office.

My sergeant offered a more insightful analysis. He told me that while a larger person more than likely would not have gotten past me, perhaps my past experience with the woman caused me to anticipate one set of behaviors, missing the body language cues signaling a new set, namely that she was going to bolt. Then, with a slight grin, he added, “…but sometimes, despite our best efforts, shit happens.”

To coin another saying, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”

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