The following story is true and comes from the memory of an old retired street cop. These incidents happened and all on your tax dollar.
Dale Hickerson and I are partners and were driving west on Sunset Boulevard when we receive a MDT (Mobile Digital Terminal, an in-car computer) message. “Look at the old bald heads in that police car.” Now, we take immediate exception, Dale has a full head of hair. We look behind us and see two very young female officers. By young I mean they are still pooping Range Burgers, available at the police academy café during recruit training.
Dale and I laugh and plan revenge. We have to be careful, practical jokes now days are considered sexual harassment, discrimination, or a hostile work environment. Neither one of us wants to tap into our deferred compensation retirement program to defend a lawsuit. The lawyers have taken all the fun out of police work. The next lawyer I stop for running a red light is getting a ticket.
We drive around until we spot a dead pigeon in the road. Dale and I look at each other and thank the patron saint of police officers. We scoop up the pigeon and look for our prey. They are at the station. Perfect—we don’t want the citizens of Hollywood to see us breaking into a police car and calling the Watch Commander.
We place the recently deceased bird under the front passenger seat of their car. It’s just out of sight but close enough that when the brakes are applied it will roll out from under the seat. We’re too busy to follow them around, but I hear the scream could be heard for miles.
Ok, I just made sergeant and I’m assigned to morning watch in Southeast Division (Watts). I’m learning that being a supervisor is different than being a street cop. I respond to a robbery that just occurred. The responding officers just missed the suspect and the helicopter is overhead. The helicopter is equipped with FLIR. That stands for Forward Looking InfraRed. It detects heat (like body heat) sources on the ground. It’s great for finding bad guys hiding on a hillside or in a park. It’s also good for finding a warm car after a pursuit.
The FLIR system has a few drawbacks. I was once directed to a spot in the bushes and came face to face with a very angry coyote. Another time we ordered a suspect to come out from a small enclosure attached to a house. It was a water heater.
Ok, back to Watts. The helicopter detects a hot spot in the alley behind the store. I grab a cop and head to the alley. I’m directed to an ivy covered fence. I tell the cop I’ll lift the ivy and you cover me with your gun. I lift the ivy and am immediately am overcome with an odor that would gag a seasoned coroner. My suspect is a very decomposed dead dog.
Next time I’ll supervise and leave the searching to the street cops.
It was my understanding that the faculty was in the process of revamping the physical fitness training, though what my class was presented with I found to be less than challenging. Unlike virtually all the other subject areas, such as criminal law, criminalistics, and firearms, our class did not have an instructor dedicated to physical conditioning. To be sure, we had someone to teach weaponless or hand to hand tactics but no one was assigned for every day physical training (PT) something which I had practically lived by over the prior four years in the Army. More often than not, our PT consisted of volleyball or disorganized workouts in the weight room. We did do some running, usually no more than two miles and generally less, during which time nearly everyone complained. For me at that time, a mile run was a warm up as I had been used to running up to five miles in full combat gear in under 40 minutes. I cannot recall if we had to pass a PT test to graduate beyond completing an obstacle course within a specified time frame. I thought then as I do now that we rendered a disservice with such lackadaisical physical conditioning. Aside from the obvious health benefits, maintaining a high state of physical conditioning is essential in surviving street encounters from fist fights to foot pursuits to the use of deadly force. I do know this all eventually changed for the better.
Contrary to Zed’s bit of wisdom my academy class spent a great deal of time in the classroom receiving instruction on subjects ranging from the obvious like criminal law to the not so obvious such as report writing. However, looking back, the first place to which my Field Training Officer took me when I was with the Sheriff’s Office was a Winchell’s Donut shop. I guess there was a bit of truth to what Zed had to say. Be that as it may, with my education, I came to the academy with a pretty thorough knowledge of most of the subject areas we upon which we were to receive training. However, unlike the laid back university setting where I earned that degree over four years of study, I was going to receive much of that same information, updated of course, and more distilled and concentrated into a 12 week time frame. Hours were spent on learning the fundamentals of California Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure. Things that now still seem so basic were new to many of us back then such as the differences between statutory and case law–both of which we needed to know. What were felony, misdemeanor and infraction type of crimes? We committed to memory the elements of the more commonly used sections of the Penal Code, such as 211 P.C. which is robbery or 459 P.C. which is burglary. We had to know the applicable sections of the Business and Professions Code, particularly those parts dealing with Alcoholic Beverages. There were the parts of the Health and Safety Code about drugs, legal and illicit. We had to know the sections of the Welfare and Institutions Code some of which dealt with children and psychiatric cases. Then there was the California Vehicle Code, which covered everything from Driving Under the Influence to what color the front turn signals on a particular year car have to be.
All those various codes and laws were just really a foundation and a starting point. Knowing what constituted a violation of a particular law was just part of the process. There followed training on complex the laws governing arrest, probable to detain versus probable cause to arrest. We had to know the most up to date court decisions and laws governing Search and Seizure. Then there were the courts; traffic, municipal and superior. As a peace officer, you had to know the differences between them and what type of case went to what court. Beyond that we had to have a working knowledge of how the criminal justice system functioned from the filing of a criminal complaint to an arraignment to a court or jury trial. If that wasn’t complex enough, there were separate systems for adult and juveniles.
Weapons: Firearms Training
I was not the only one with a college background in Criminal Justice. Though we were familiar with much of the material, some of it was new and it was coming at us fast and furious. Fortunately, there was plenty of practical, hands-on training that got us out of the classroom. Naturally, we all looked forward to firearms training. Levels of experience with firearms varied greatly among us. Many grew up around guns through hunting and other sporting activities. As a result of my Army training, I had a familiarity with a very wide assortment of firearms, though it seemed highly unlikely I would have need of an anti-tank missile system as a deputy sheriff. The duty weapon I was to carry as a deputy was a .357 magnum revolver, which took some getting used to as my sidearm while in the Military Police was the classic military .45 semi-automatic pistol. In the late seventies and early eighties, firearm training was on the cusp of a revolution, both in technology and theory. While I hate to keep beating the proverbial dead cavalry horse about my Army experience, I had been exposed to some of this new training. While in the Army, I experienced interactive training with lasers giving immediate feedback under simulated combat conditions; automated targets made to look like human silhouettes; and shooting in a variety of conditions both in lighting and weather. Our firearms instructors were some of the best, most knowledgeable people in the world.
Gone were the days of simply plinking away at a stationary target.
Check in Sunday for part 3 and conclusion of Gerry Goldshine’s incisive and vivid glimpse into 1980’s police academy.