Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, Probationers

By Hal Collier, LAPD Retired

We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.

The story you are about to read is true, the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed. In thirty-five years as a police officer I have worked with hundreds of partners, some good, some not so good. Some have been great, some have caused me sleepless nights. This story will deal with probationers. All cops have worked with probationers, boots, and rookies. Hell, we were all probationers once. I was a training officer for over nineteen years, so I guess I could be a department expert.


My son is a training officer and he recently asked, “How much time will I get if I kill my probationer”? I told him, “None if you make it look like an accident.” 


My first night with a new partner was to get a little background. Not personal stuff, just looking for a common ground to talk about. If you spend eight hours in a police car with someone you need something to talk about. I would start out with “Why did you become a cop?” The following answers would amaze the department shrink. 


Female: “I’m looking for a husband, cops are clean and they have a good paying job.” 


Male: “This was the only job that paid close to my last job.” 


Female:  “I was making over a hundred grand a year but was bored with my last job.”   I heard that a lot from both male and females.  See? Money isn’t everything. 


Male:  “I want to right all the injustices done to my people.”


Male: I got into the wrong line at the civil service test. Ok, I made that one up but sometimes I think it applied.


I would ask what their hobbies or interests were to see if we had anything in common. One probationer asked what I liked and I said hunting. He said he didn’t think he could kill anything! Not what you want to hear from someone who might be asked to take a life to save yours or his. 


I had a female probationer with a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. Nice girl but one night she didn’t talk for three straight hours. I like westerns, she liked science fiction. Her parents hated her because their culture didn’t like cops.


I had a female probationer, who sat in the car seat with her knee up on the seat and back turned toward her door, as if we were on a date. 


I had a male probationer who spoke five languages, unfortunately English wasn’t one of them.


I had a female, just off probation, tell me she felt sorry for the male probationers. I asked why and she said that all she had to do to make probation was sleep with her training officer. I wasn’t surprised because her reputation had preceded her.


In the early 70’s, I would ask, “Did you ever cruise Hollywood Boulevard?  Most would say “Yes.”  I’d tell them that my wife and I cruised Hollywood during our dating years. I would then tell them that they were now paid to do what they use to do for nothing, and if we saw something interesting we could stop and question that person. I remember they interviewed an officer on why you would become a police officer. He said, “They pay me $60,000 a year. They give me a gun and a club, a new car and tell me to go out and look for trouble. What a great job.”


Probationers come from all walks of life. Some were Vietnam veterans, some from small towns in the mid-west. Some were married, some divorced. Regardless of where they came from, most were about to become Los Angeles Police Officers.


What I’m about to tell you next is not news to anyone who ever wore the badge. Being a cop gets into your blood. It’s like an E-Ticket at Disneyland or a roller coaster ride. Hours of boredom, followed by thirty seconds of sheer terror. When there’s gun fire, most people are running away, the cops are running toward the shots. It’s not about the money, because most business people have better hours, and pay. 


Not everyone is cut out to be a cop—it takes a lot of desire and sacrifice. I heard of a recruit that said he had to have weekends off because he dated a lot. A probationer is lucky if they get one weekend off a month. They’ll work all the holidays, miss birthday parties, anniversaries and graduations. It’s a known fact that if you have five days off and a trip planned, you get a court subpoena for the middle day. The kiss of death is telling your partner you need to get off on time. 


The hardest to teach were the naive. They led a sheltered life and think all people have a little good in them. I remember a female probationer from Texas. She had a degree in interior decorating. She lost her job and came to L.A. One day at start of watch she asked her training officer why we keep dynamite in the trunk of the police car. Her training officer, trying to keep a straight face, informed her they were road flares.


Another male probationer went out in the middle of a cold night to sit in the police car while his training officer finished up some paper work. When the training officer got into the car the probationer remarked that the car heater was broken. The training officer started the car and the heater came on full blast. The probationer didn’t know that the ignition had to be turned on for the heater to work. I think he’s now employed as a Wal-Mart greeter in Bakersfield.


Being a training officer wasn’t easy but damn it was sure fun!


Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, Hollywood Characters, part 3


By Hal Collier, LAPD, Retired

Hal is a thirty-five year veteran of LAPD. We are pleased he is sharing his stories with us.


Here we go again. Another short story, then a story about a Hollywood character. You might notice that I refer to these people as “characters” instead of “nuts”. That’s because I’m still politically correct on occasion. Hollywood was full of characters; some had crossed over the line and into the classification of long-sleeved jackets with straps and buckles on the cuffs. Some were on the border—only one missed dose of medication away from the aforementioned jacket.


Others just were amusing. Some were great training for your brand new probationer—you know the cop who still lives with his mother at home and believes that all people are good. If he gets the chance, he will change their lives around. Some cops mature at different times, and some never mature. Ladies, you’re welcome.


I used to think that the characters in Hollywood had a roll call just like the cops. They would meet at some unknown location and the head character (Watch Commander-like) would call roll. Then he would pass out assignments. The assignments might go something like this:

“Billy, you stand outside the Pantages Theater and when the show lets out, take off all your clothes, and kiss all the women with grey hair.”

Graumans theater“Joe you go to Grauman’s Chinese Theater and fill all the foot and hand prints with urine that Joe’s been saving for a week.”

They might even have an awards show at the end of the year, like the Academy Awards. Best Performance During a Police Tactical Alert, Longest Talk with a Negotiator, Most Cops with Ruined Uniforms During a Resisting Arrest Use of Force. How about having a cop give you a pat down search after you have urinated in your pants or defecating in the back seat of a police car? Those were always award winners.

Ok, you get the picture. Characters all come to Hollywood and wait until the cops are really busy then they go to work.

This first story is about a radio call that I handled that was pretty funny at the time. We got a call “Unknown Trouble” at an apartment building on Laurel Avenue. It’s about 3 AM and we knock on the door. This elderly lady opens the door and tells us to talk in a whisper.

“What’s the problem?” I whisper.

“The people who moved in upstairs are Russian spies and their listening to our conversation right now.”

I ask, “How do you know?”

old lady radioShe replies, “I can hear their listening device. It beeps.”

I wink at my partner and ask, “Why would the Russians be listening into your apartment.”

She says, “My deceased husband was in the army in Europe, during WW ll.”

We look around the apartment and I give her the usual cop out line, “OK, we’ll check it out.” We’re heading for the door when we hear the “Beep.”

Oh, shit what if she’s not nuts!

We look around the apartment again and then I hear the beep again. It’s her smoke alarm. I tell her she needs to replace the battery and her problem will be solved. As we leave, she wants to know if we’ll still check out the Russians. I tell her, “Yea, we’ll put a stakeout on them but you won’t be able to see them. Our stakeout teams are very good.”

She thanks us. Those damn Russians!


Hollywood Characters:  Jack Brooks  


Just about every cop who worked Hollywood knows Jack Brooks by one name or another. Jack was also known as Big Jack. He was about 6′ 8″ and wore a size 14 shoe. He was also known as the “Missing Link.”  Jack had a protruding forehead, which was prominent due to his large head, similar to a Neanderthal. Before you write a nasty note about my being insensitive, you should see Jack. Jack had three teeth, none of which touched each other.


If a training officer had a height deficient probationer, he would stop Jack and have the probationer conduct the search. The probationer would tell Jack to put his hands on his head to conduct a pat down search. At 6′ 8”, the probationer couldn’t reach Jack’s hands to conduct the search as taught in the police academy. Before you call the ACLU, Jack was in on the search and freely cooperated. The academy later changed search techniques for shorter officers.


Jack loved the cops and was rumored to have helped some cops in a fight. I knew of one cop who gave Jack money every so often. Jack was not a problem, except that he was a peeping tom. Jack would sleep in a park during the day and walk the streets at night. I was once working a stakeout for a complaint of a peeping tom. Jack was the suspect. I felt that I was well hidden until Jack came walking up behind us and asked, “What’s up officers?”


Crossroads of the worldI had a pretty good relationship with Jack until I caught him looking into an apartment bathroom window at night. I arrested Jack and he refused to speak to me for five years. Jack would talk to other officers but purposely ignore me. Later when I was a Senior Lead Officer, I was having a business burglary problem at the Crossroads of the World. One business owner asked me if I knew of a homeless man who might sleep on the property and watch the businesses and he would pay him. I thought of Big Jack. Hell, he used to sleep at the Catholic Church next door. I sent Jack over to talk to the owner. The owner gave Jack $20 up front. Jack never showed up. The next time I saw Jack I told him that was the last time I’ll help him.


Up until I retired, I would see Big Jack walking around Hollywood. He might still be out there. I’m sure other Hollywood officers have stories about Big Jack.


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.


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