The Call Box

The Call Box: Working Robbery

By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

polic-call-box-pedestal-lapd-gamewell-DCAL2786_dt1In early 1965, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse. Not from Don Corleone but from Captain Ed Jokisch. I had been at Metro for five years, the last two as a sergeant—an absolute jewel of an assignment and one highly sought after. Now, however, I was offered a chance to not only work for probably the best detective commander on the job but to work robbery as well. The two “big dogs” in detective land are homicide and robbery. Now I had a chance to work robbery. This was not to be offered twice if turned down once.

Each division/station was home to not only patrol (uniforms) but to detectives as well. At that time, the L.A.P.D. had I believe 14 geographical divisions. I was to be assigned to Wilshire Division which is due west of downtown.

Wilshire was a fairly busy house, home to three robbery teams. I was to be a part of that crew.


Dwight Stevens and Richard L. Sullivan were the “’business robbery team.” Tom Ferry and Jim Nichols were “rolling business,” being cabs, buses, (yes, buses) Helms Bread trucks. Helms sold fresh baked goods door to door ringing their bell as they moved through the neighborhood, like the poor push-cart ice cream vendor (also a favorite target). I swear if there had been trains and stagecoaches, they would have hit them too.

Dale Brown “Brownie” and I rounded things out by working “street robbery,” which included purse snatchers, street toughs, muggers, hugger muggers (hookers), drunk rollers, pick-pockets and anything that did not fit any other category.


Papa Bear and Detectives cropped.jpg

The division was fairly large and stretched from the edge of the downtown area west to the “silk stocking” district—poverty to fabulous wealth. Mom and pops to Saks, I. Magnin and Perinos on the miracle mile.


Captain Jokisch was a no nonsense WWII veteran, a Navy chief petty officer, who did not suffer fools gladly and passed out compliments like they were gold nuggets. “You did okay there,” was considered high praise. To his face he was Boss, Skipper or Captain. In our little world, he was “Papa Bear.”

As I have said before, the TV detectives have CEO size offices. In our 19th century building we were (all six of us) crammed into a room, approximately 8’ x 10’ (I may be overly generous with my fading memory). One long table, four phones, 2 or 3 file cabinets and one antique manual typewriter. The standing joke was, “it was so small that if you wanted to change your mind, you had to step outside.” We were separated from the even smaller homicide room by an opaque glass partition ending several feet from the ceiling.

Arrestees that came in overnight were parceled out to the various teams and interviewed as early as possible to determine charges, if any, and whether they merited further investigation. The overnight crime reports were read also to decide future action.

Standing between us and the captain, was our immediate supervisor, Lieutenant Bob “Red Jet” Helder. I’d known him for years; he was laid back and great to work for. “I don’t like to be surprised. Make sure I’m not and you will never know I’m here.”

A good number of our cases contained little or nothing considered useful in follow up. We did re interviews on cases with vague or worthless descriptions if for no other reason than to placate our victims. Maybe—just maybe—we’d come up with something. When we got that something to “run with” we were all over it. We loved slamming the door on the type of bad guy we dealt with. Many our victims were older, defenseless people, some treated badly by the suspects.

These people were our clients and we took satisfaction in bagging another bad guy. We stayed busy since the only thing we had more of than victims was crooks. We handled so many bodies (arrestees) and cases it seemed we lived in court. 10-12 even 14 hour days were not uncommon.

I worked with Brownie for two and a half years and look back with pride and satisfaction. I worked for Papa Bear for two and a half years and got a couple of “You did okay there’s.” I worked Wilshire robbery for two and a half years and never heard judge nor jury say, “not guilty.”

A I have said before, police work is intangible and you have to take pride in what you do. I worked Wilshire robbery until I promoted out. Did I make a difference?

I like to think so.

This column is dedicated to all the names mentioned above.

All good friends, all good men and all gone to soon.

More Street Stories

Tim Dees Answers:

Why do detectives have to be cops first?

T Dees downloadTim Dees, retired cop and criminal justice professor, Reno Police Department, and Reno Municipal Court, is considered a “Top Writer” in the field of Law Enforcement, Police Procedures, and Criminal Justice. He’s been read in Time, Newsweek and many more professional magazines as well as on Quora.

This post was taken (with Tim’s permission) from Quora, an online Q & A forum on many subjects. Tim is a Quora “Most Viewed Writer” in Interacting with Police.


First, detectives are cops. They simply have a different assignment than the uniformed guys in patrol.

Television has convinced many people they know everything they need to know to be detectives. TV makes it look easy. You want to question someone, and they are both immediately available to you and willing to talk. You only work one case at a time, and if it goes to trial, the trial is later that week. If someone clams up and demands their lawyer, all you have to do is act mean and they’ll come apart in a heartbeat. Confessions are obtained in minutes.

Police work is very seldom like what you see on TV. No two calls are exactly the same, and you have to be able to apply broad legal and procedural principles to ambiguous situations, often when the immediate world is coming apart. While you think you can keep it together at these moments, I can guarantee you will have experiences where you have no idea what you are supposed to do next. Those experiences happen less often as you grow in the job, but they still come around now and again for everyone.

In order to do long, complex interviews, you first have to learn to do short ones. Those happen on traffic stops, on field interviews, when you’re talking to a domestic violence or burglary victim. You have to know about search and seizure, which is a field that changes constantly. When can you stop someone? When can you search them? Is there a difference between a search for weapons and a search for evidence of a crime (hint: yes, there is). If you have a search warrant for someone’s house, can you also search their garage?

You also have to learn about people very different from you. You have to be aware of the body language of native Asians and Hispanics, which can be very different from that of Americans. You have to know your community at a level people who live there all their lives never get into.

These things are all learned while you’re a patrol cop. Some people learn faster than others. Hardly anyone gets it before they’ve been doing it five years. A few people circumvent the usual career path and get promoted before that, but they nearly always become substandard cops, people who could have been much better in their jobs if they were left on a vine a little longer.

Policing is something almost no one understands until they have done it. There is no way to acquire the necessary experience in a classroom or from a book. You have to live it.

Dees at Quora

Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings-Misc 2, featuring Childhood Revenge


By Hal Collier



The following stories are true. These are tidbits of things that happened during my career. I was recently asked why I write these stories. Whenever you get three or more cops together, they talk about the good old days. The more alcohol consumed the better the stories. All cops have stories of their experiences. They love listening to a cop’s story and then tell their version of the incident. Some of the replies I get of an incident confirm that my memory is still good. Hopefully, I can put off having my name and address written in my underwear for a few more years.


These stories are sort of my memoirs of my career. I always said that good police work was 75% luck. That’s being in the right place at the right time. It’s 25% knowing what to do with the luck when it drops in your lap. Being a cop is rewarding as well as frustrating. Cops rely on instincts due to their training and experience. Now days, lawyers call it profiling. The first story still bugs me to this day. I missed a big one.


I’m working A.M. Watch—it’s about 4 A.M. I’m driving in the Whitley Heights area of Hollywood. That’s a nice residential area above Hollywood Boulevard. It’s where movie stars first moved to in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. I see this car driving toward me. It’s a beat up clunker, one head light out. As he passes me, the driver has that ‘oh shit’ look on his face. Even my new probationer partner remarks that guy doesn’t fit this neighborhood.police traffic stop


We stop him to investigate. He identifies himself as Roman Jason Elliott III. He says he’s from New York and begins to compliment us on our professional appearance. Ok, I’ve been snowed before, but most attempts were by a female traffic violator. As I question him, I’m thinking he was in that neighborhood to commit a crime or was leaving after committing a crime. His story has so many holes that even the ACLU would be suspicious. His car was registered to a female—he claimed was his girlfriend’s car registered in Kansas. We checked him and the car for warrants and neither was wanted. He gave me permission to search his car. Nothing in the interior, the trunk was locked and he insisted his girlfriend had the key. I tried to figure out a way to get into the trunk. I’ve got that nagging feeling that something is wrong, but I can’t arrest him on hunches. I sent Roman on his way.


I’m off for the next two days and when I return, I’m sitting in Roll Call. They pass out a wanted flier for a Roman Jason Elliot III. Wanted for murder. It seems Roman strangled his girlfriend when she refused to be a prostitute and put her in the trunk of her car. He was looking for a place to dump her body. I’ve got that sick feeling in my stomach. I had him and let him slip away. He was later arrested in Florida and convicted. His girlfriend was a farm girl from Kansas. Roman convinced her that he would take her to Hollywood and make her a star. Yea, she was in the trunk when we stopped him. Win some, lose some and I lost a big one.


I found an interesting article dated Oct. 25, 1998 in the Lehigh (Pennsylvania) Valley newspaper. This wasn’t the only time Roman met the police. There’s even a line indicating he later had a murder conviction in California. Sadly, this is similar to what happened with Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputies during the Polly Klaas abduction investigation. It’s one of those times when the law dictates what a cop can do–and can’t. If there was no consent to search the trunk in either case, the officer cannot lawfully do it. this is an example of cops doing their jobs to the best of their ability within the law. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t satisfactory in either case, although both men were convicted of murder.  –Thonie


OK, on a brighter note, Cliff and I are patrolling a rear parking lot of businesses behind Hollywood Boulevard. As we drive through the parking lot, we see a man come from the back of a business. We grab him and figure we caught us a business burglar. As we question him, I notice a hippy dog with a handkerchief tied around his neck, running around the parking lot. This guy’s story is also full of holes. We handcuff him and put him in the back seat of our patrol car. I leave Cliff to watch over our new friend, while I check which building this guy broke into.


I see that damn dog again.


As I look for a crime, Cliff calls out to me, “Hal, we got a problem.” I return to our car. That dog belonged to our bad guy. He entered our police car through an open front door and jumped into the back seat next to our suspect. The dog is barking at us and showing an impressive set of canines. The dog won’t let us approach our own police car.viciousmuttdog1200


I can just hear the guys laughing at us and imagine the comments and practical jokes.


“Hal, why didn’t you just let the dog drive your suspect to the station?”


“Hal, are you applying for a K-9 job?”


I need time to think.

I go back to checking out the businesses for a crime. Nothing, our suspect might have gone back there to pee or we just caught him too soon.


I’ve stalled enough. What do I do with that dog? I get as close as I can to my police car. I tell my suspect if he loves that dog, he had better control him. I even threaten to shoot the dog if he bites me. The guy gets his dog to calm down. We release the guy and the dog, we saved ourselves a bunch of embarrassment. Since then I’ve hated hippy dogs with handkerchiefs tied around their necks.



I grew up in Eagle Rock and we lived in the hills. Our street was on a hill with the top somewhat level. That’s were all the kids played ball, rode our bikes, played freeze tag and dreaded when the street lights come on, because that’s when we had to go home.


At the level spot of our street, lived a man, Mr. Melman, the scrooge of our block. I’ll bet every kid growing up had a Mr. Melman living in their neighborhood. If our ball landed in his yard, he would run out, grab it, and make one of our parents go get it back. If we were just starting a football game he would back his car out of the driveway and park it on our 50-yard line. He just hated kids, but then come to think of it the parents didn’t like him either. Well, growing up you learn to deal with adults.


Flash forward fifteen years, I’m a cop patrolling Hollywood Boulevard. My partner observes this guy who resembles a wanted suspect. We stop him and ask for identification. I look at his driver’s license and my mouth drops open. It’s Mr. Melman from my street. I didn’t recognize him and he didn’t recognize me. He wasn’t our wanted suspect but he did have a bunch of unpaid traffic tickets that had gone to warrant. I don’t think I ever enjoyed booking a warrant suspect more. I just wish I could have shared my joy with the kids I grew up with. Most had moved away and I lost touch with them.


I still get a warm feeling when I think of sweet childhood revenge.

Ramblings by Hal

Retirement Ramblings, part 1

By Hal Collier

I retired from the Los Angeles Police Department in 2005, after thirty-five years as a street cop. I spent most of my time working Hollywood Division, the Entertainment Capital of the World. It was entertaining to say the least.

I worked with some of the best cops and a few of the worst cops in the world. Together we laughed and far too often, we cried. We attended more cop funerals than we should have and we often hid our emotions. That’s just the way cops deal with the job. Some think that all goes away when cops retire. WRONG.

From your first day of work, you start thinking about the time that you can retire. You envision living on a beach or in a mountain cabin, sipping cocktails as the sun sets. Well the truth is a little different. It’s still good, but just a little more realistic. Some are more likely to find themselves drinking a warm beer while sitting on a Barca lounger chair.

I seldom let my neighbors know what kind of work I did. Example, a neighbor once knocked on my door late one night to settle a dispute with her boyfriend. I told her to call the police. My department frowns on me doing police work in my pajamas. Now that I’m retired I still watch strangers in my neighborhood, but I don’t do police work anymore—at least not when I’m awake. Asleep, I still chase bad guys and once solved the Black Dahlia case. Unfortunately in the morning I couldn’t remember the answer.


Shortly after retiring, I’m sitting in my Eagle Rock home and I hear some gunshots. Now I know the difference between gunshots and firecrackers. I also know the difference between an ambulance siren and a police car siren. When you pin on that badge and work for a period of time you become a cop for life. Taking off the badge for the last time does not stop the years of training and experience that cops developed.


I hear a lot of police sirens and soon the police helicopter is circling about six blocks east of my house. I know it’s something big. A different neighbor who knew I was a cop calls and asks, “what’s going on?” I tell her I’ll find out.

I live in Northeast Division and don’t know anyone in the Watch Commanders office who might know me, so I call the Hollywood Watch Commander. They can check the source of the call on the computer. I call the inside line and get the PSR, (Police Service Representative.) I’ve only been retired a few months but she doesn’t know me. I ID myself as a recently retired police officer from Hollywood and ask her about the shooting in Northeast. She tells me that she can’t give out that information to the G.P.

I ask who the Watch Commander is and she tells me. It’s a sergeant I worked with, he remembers me. Cool, I’m going to get the info. He refers me back to the PSR. She tells me again that since I’m retired, I’m GP and not entitled to the information on the shooting.

A few months earlier I was a sergeant and often the Watch Commander of one of the busiest Divisions in the city of Los Angeles. I made decisions that might cause me an early retirement, the departments choice not mine. Now I’m G.P.

I wasn’t familiar with the term G.P. so I asked what’s G.P.? She calmly and professionally told me your General Public!!! I knew that night that I was retired and no longer a cop. It was a hard pill to swallow. I discussed with my wife getting a tattoo “GP” but she objected.

Next I’ll discuss how cops deal with being “G.P.”



%d bloggers like this: