I thought it fitting to give you Hal Collier’s Thanksgiving post on Thanksgiving. I’ll have a little something about being thankful on Sunday, November 26th.
By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD
The normal scenario for celebrating Thanksgiving Day is to skip breakfast and wait for the Thanksgiving dinner. Then put on a pair of loose pants or something with an elastic waist band. Then head to Grandma’s house or maybe your parents’ house. As you got older it might be your turn to cook the turkey.
But there’s a difference if you’re a first responder. Someone has to work even while everyone else is loosening their belts and watching football.
In the LAPD you had a holiday wish list for days off. You had a choice of five holidays, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. If you were a rookie you probably got Arbor Day.
Now, even when I had over 30 years’ experience I didn’t get all five days off. So, I had to choose which days I preferred. Of course, I preferred Christmas Eve first. Christmas Day second, New Year’s Day third, News Year’s Eve fourth and Thanksgiving last. Funny but those were also my wife’s choices.
So, I worked almost every Thanksgiving. No big deal, I wasn’t that fond of turkey. Sometimes our family would celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday or maybe Saturday to work around every one’s schedule.
Trust me, I’ve cooked turkey almost every way conceivable. I’ve cooked bird on a rotisserie, in the oven, in a brown paper bag in the oven—very moist—and I’ve deep fried turkeys in boiling peanut oil. The deep-fried turkeys were good, but then we were reminded that our son is allergic to peanuts. Lately, we have served Honey Baked hams. Did you know they deliver to your front door?
My point is on Thanksgiving Day my Thanksgiving dinner was usually something fast food in a paper bag after talking into a clown face. For the majority of my career I worked graveyard, that’s 11:30 PM to first dawn. I’d leave for work around 10 PM and as I walked in the back door I was overcome by a tantalizing smell of turkey. I made my way up the stairs as the smell got stronger. Just before I entered the locker room I looked into the break room—two turkeys were sitting on the table. Actually, the cop came out in me and I investigated—let me be clear: there were two turkey carcasses on the tables. Picked clean. Oh, there were side dishes, too, but they didn’t have a carcass just empty pans.
I dressed and asked the Watch Commander where all the food came from? He smiled, said the local businesses always take care of the cops in Hollywood. I reminded him that I was a Hollywood cop, just working the wrong hours. Looks like another Thanksgiving meal in a paper bag.
You want turkey fries with that?
One year, I was off on Thanksgiving and thought about cops eating out of a paper bag. I deep fried two turkeys and took one to the station. Feeding Hollywood cops was my way of saying thanks.
In my last Ramblings, I described being assigned radio calls outside your division. I will now describe being loaned to another division and still getting lost. Officers from within the same Bureau would often get loaned to a division to cover for Christmas parties and picnics. Some divisions would have a few division street guides for the loan officers. Loaned officers and sergeants were usually the boot (rookie) sergeants and younger officers—it was a seniority thing. Some officers liked working a different division.
I hated it.
During my thirty-five years on the LAPD we didn’t have the fancy GPS gadgets that come standard in cars and cell phones today. We sometimes had to ask for directions or depend on our instincts. It helped if you knew which way north was.
Some officers didn’t.
I was loaned to Wilshire Division one cold winter night for their Christmas party (we called it Christmas in the olden days). It was slow. Most crooks didn’t want to spend Christmas in jail. We mostly stayed on busy north/south streets looking for drunk drivers. About 3 A.M., we ran into a couple of Hollywood cops also on loan. We chatted that we only had a few more hours and we could go home to Hollywood.
Five minutes later the other Hollywood officer requested a backup on a 415 (peace disturbance) man with a gun. We knew we were close but didn’t recognize the street they were on.
Oh shit, we didn’t have a Wilshire street guide.
As usual, I’m driving and I speed up. I can feel the adrenalin surging through my veins but I don’t know where I’m going. Did the officers turn left or right when they drove off? I’ll make a note of that for officer safety sake next time I’m on loan. I race around north of my location. Common sense says they turned right at the next street. Wrong, they turned left. I found them but it was a lot later than either of us expected or wanted. Thank goodness everything turned out ok.
It develops pretty quickly in some of us, and others take quite a bit of time to acquire it. Some can’t get it no matter how hard they try and eventually filter out to do other things.
Once you have it, it’s almost impossible to shake regardless of your surroundings. It can keep us alive and drive our friends and family insane. The only thing that seems to make it go away in the Donut is to be promoted to a command staff position, because apparently it is not allowed in the exclusive star and oak leaf cluster club.
You may be thinking that I’m referencing common sense, but you can’t really claim to have common sense when you regularly head in the direction of shots fired calls, violent disturbances and traffic crashes on a busy interstate. Common sense would dictate that you head in the opposite direction of those things. If your job requires you to wear something ballistic and carry a firearm to protect yourself, you hopefully have it. It’s a “cop brain.”
As a child of the 1980s, I vividly remember the old “this is your brain” public service announcement. The difference here is that once that egg is cracked and it hits the hot frying pan, the sizzle isn’t as a result of drugs. Dump a rookie cop in an unfamiliar scenario and that sizzle is because he or she hasn’t developed the “cop brain.” Given some experience and confidence, the sizzle point is harder to reach for the young copper, and eventually the pan has to be pretty damn hot to induce any sizzle at all.
Cop brain can be a great thing while you’re on duty, but it can make you look pretty silly while you’re not at work. Check out the list of 10 symptoms and see if you have this unique condition:
Symptom 1: The Phantom of the Radio
After wearing a lapel microphone attached to a portable radio for hours on end while on duty, it becomes second nature to lean your head in the direction of the mic in order to hear what is being said. It’s a totally normal behavior while you are in uniform and actually have the lapel mic on, but if you’ve ever done it while you weren’t in uniform and the mic was nowhere around you, welcome to the club. I’m not only a member, I’m the president.
Symptom 2: The Cop License Plate Game
Like a lot of others who patrol the beat in between calls for service as a police officer, I pay some attention to the license plates near me just in case there’s one that is expired and begging to be stopped for a simple equipment violation. Sometimes I may even say the license plate number out loud to make it easier to remember as I type it into the computer to check the plate’s status. If you have cop brain it’s hard to shut this off, and you’ll likely drive your family crazy on long trips as you consistently point out all of the expired plates around while sometimes muttering them aloud.
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
The following story is true and the character is real. It quite possible that this character, Joe Fierro, is still walking around Hollywood causing trouble for paramedics and police officers.
First my story.
For my non-police friends, your first day at the police academy they give you a serial number. That number will stay with you for the rest of your life—I mean it. When you die they list your serial number on the death and funeral notice published by the police department. They never re-issue a serial number and if you quit and come back at a later time you still have the same number.
I joined the Los Angeles Police Department in October of 1970. I was given a serial number of #16336. At the time that was a very high serial number. The serial numbers only go up and the higher the number, the less time you had on the job. It was common for a senior officer to ask “What’s your serial number?” When you told him he would scoff, and reply, not your social security number. Some of the old timers in my day had four digit serial numbers. I think serial numbers now days are over 40,000. Yikes!!!
When I got my badge, it said, “Policeman.” Female officer’s badges said, “Police Women.” Later when females became patrol officers, the badges all said, “Police Officer.” Older cops cherished their Policeman badges. I still have mine. I fondly remember the last time I qualified on the pistol range. You step up to the range window and give your serial number. I hear this young officer say, “16336, that must be at least thirty years.” I look back and say, “Thirty-four years and counting.” I saw him looking at my targets. Yea, I could still shoot.
On special occasions, officers wore class A uniforms. Those were long sleeves, tie and any ribbons or medals you earned throughout your career. On the left sleeve you had hash marks. One hash mark represented five years of police service. I had six hash marks and enjoyed watching younger officers trying to count my hash marks as I walked by.
I had a young probationer and we had to book a forgery suspect downtown. You were required to get booking approval at DHD (Detective Headquarters Division). They had a really old timer who worked the DHD desk, Detective Fowler, Serial #7602. We got a booking approval and Fowler told us call him back with the booking number after we processed the suspect. I wrote down Det. Fowler #7602 DHD.
Back then the city phones all started with 485- If you were on a city phone you dialed 5 and the last four digits. Example; 5-2504 connected you with DHD. I was finishing the arrest report and it was after 8 A.M. I told my probationer to call Fowler and give him the booking number. I overhear my probationer saying over and over, “No, I want to talk to Detective Fowler at Detective Headquarters Division.”
I asked my probationer, “What number did you dial?” He points to 7602. He had dialed Fowler’s serial number. He’d never seen a four digit serial number. I don’t know what city agency he was talking to. I just hung up the phone.
Hollywood Character: Joe Fierro aka Hollywood Joe
Just about every cop and fireman in Hollywood knew Joe. Joe was on disability of some kind and lived somewhere around Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox. Joe took some kind of medication for mental health issues. When Joe was on his medication he was not a problem and was cordial. He would often say hi to me and I had a pretty good relationship with him.
The problem came when Joe stopped taking his medication and started drinking beer. Joe would act bizarre and attract the attention of the police. Some days when no one paid attention to Joe he would go to a public phone and dial 911. He would tell the emergency operator that he wanted to commit suicide. Of course the paramedics and police would respond and haul Joe off to a mental facility. On some occasions Joe would make small cuts on his wrists or stomach to gain more attention. Joe would disappear from the streets for a few days, then reappear waving to the cops and firemen. Yea, Joe was back on his medication, at least for now.
I remember one day I walked into the rear door of the police station and I recognized Joe’s voice. He was in one of the holding tanks and yelling. I opened the tank door and told Joe to shut up and sit down. Joe replied, “Yes, officer.” See? I have a way with Hollywood Characters, I think they fear that I might be one of them. Joe has been arrested for abusing the 911 system, but never seems to serve any time. I know Joe is out on Hollywood Boulevard right now, I just don’t know if he’s on his medication.
This article is re-posted from one of my favorite sites: The Badge of Life Canada
Author Bernie Moss is a “Senior officer for the Corpus Christi Police Department.
The department was all astir, there was a lot of laughing and joking due to all the new officers, myself included, hitting the streets today for the first time. After months of seemingly endless amounts of classes, paperwork, and lectures we were finally done with the Police Academy and ready to join the ranks of our department. All you could see were rows of cadets with huge smiles and polished badges. As we sat in the briefing room, we could barely sit still anxiously awaiting our turn to be introduced and given our beat assignment or, for the lay person, our own portion of the city to “serve and protect.”
It was then that he walked in. A statue of a man – 6 foot 3 and 230 pounds of solid muscle, he had black hair with highlights of gray and steely eyes that make you feel nervous even when he wasn’t looking at you. He had a reputation for being the biggest and the smartest officer to ever work our fair city. He had been on the department for longer than anyone could remember and those years of service had made him into somewhat of a legend. The new guys, or “rookies” as he called us, both respected and feared him. When he spoke even, the most seasoned officers paid attention. It was almost a privilege when one the rookies got to be around when he would tell one of his police stories about the old days. But we knew our place and never interrupted for fear of being shooed away. He was respected and revered by all who knew him. After my first year on the department I still had never heard or saw him speak to any of the rookies for any length of time. When he did speak to them all he would say was, “So, you want to be a policeman do you hero? I’ll tell you what, when you can tell me what they taste like, then you can call yourself a real policeman.” This particular phrase I had heard dozens of times. Me and my buddies all had bets about “what they taste like” actually referred to. Some believed it referred to the taste of your own blood after a hard fight. Others thought it referred to the taste of sweat after a long day’s work. Being on the department for a year, I thought I knew just about everyone and everything.
So one afternoon, I mustered up the courage and walked up to him. When he looked down at me, I said “You know, I think I’ve paid my dues. I’ve been in plenty of fights, made dozens of arrests, and sweated my butt off just like everyone else. So what does that little saying of yours mean anyway?” With that, he merely stated, “Well, seeing as how you’ve said and done it all, you tell me what it means, hero.” When I had no answer, he shook his head and snickered, “rookies,” and walked away.
The next evening was to be the worst one to date. The night started out slow, but as the evening wore on, the calls became more frequent and dangerous. I made several small arrests and then had a real knock down drag out fight. However, I was able to make the arrest without hurting the suspect or myself. After that, I was looking forward to just letting the shift wind down and getting home to my wife and daughter. I had just glanced at my watch and it was 11:55, five more minutes and I would be on my way to the house. I don’t know if it was fatigue or just my imagination, but as I drove down one of the streets on my beat, I thought I saw my daughter standing on someone else’s porch. I looked again but it was not my daughter as I had first thought but merely a small child about her age. She was probably only six or seven years old and dressed in an oversized shirt that hung to her feet. She was clutching an old rag doll in her arms that looked older than me. I immediately stopped my patrol car to see what she was doing outside her house at such an hour by herself. When I approached, there seemed to be a sigh of relief on her face. I had to laugh to myself, thinking she sees the hero policeman come to save the day. I knelt at her side and asked what she was doing outside. She said “My mommy and daddy just had a really big fight and now mommy won’t wake up.” My mind was reeling. Now what do I do? I instantly called for backup and ran to the nearest window. As I looked inside I saw a man standing over a lady with his hands covered in blood, her blood. I kicked open the door, pushed the man aside and checked for a pulse, but unable to find one. I immediately cuffed the man and began doing CPR on the lady. It was then I heard a small voice from behind me, “Mr. Policeman, please make my mommy wake up.” I continued to perform CPR until my backup and medics arrived but they said it was too late. She was dead. I then looked at the man. He said, “I don’t know what happened. She was yelling at me to stop drinking and go get a job and I had just had enough. I just shoved her so she would leave me alone and she fell and hit her head.” As I walked the man out to the car in handcuffs, I again saw that little girl. In the five minutes that has passed, I went from hero to monster. Not only was I unable to wake up her mommy, but now I was taking daddy away too. Before I left the scene, I thought I would talk to the little girl. To say what, I don’t know. Maybe just to tell her I was sorry about her mommy and daddy. But as I approached, she turned away and I knew it was useless and I would probably make it worse. As I sat in the locker room at the station, I kept replaying the whole thing in my mind. Maybe if I would have been faster or done something different, just maybe that little girl would still have her mother. And even though it may sound selfish, I would still be the hero.
It was then that I felt a large hand on my shoulder. I heard that all too familiar question again, “Well, hero, what do they taste like?” But before I could get mad or shout some sarcastic remark, I realized that all the pent up emotions had flooded the surface and there was a steady stream of tears cascading down my face. It was at that moment that I realized what the answer to his question was. Tears. With that, he began to walk away, but he stopped. “You know, there was nothing you could have done differently,” he said. “Sometimes you can do everything right and still the outcome is the same. You may not be the hero you once thought you were, but now you ARE a police officer.”
The following stories are true. After 35 years of working patrol, I have been exposed to a variety of partners. Some were rookies, some became your close friends, some were your immediate supervisors, and some were the captains of your station. Some were “good,” some were “bad,” and some were just plain “ugly.”
I read in the paper recently where the L.A. Sheriff’s Department has a program where they rate their leaders, anonymously of course. Some of their quotes were amusing and some probably true. I’ll pass on a few.
“I wouldn’t follow him to a free buffet lunch.” “I wouldn’t follow him out of a burning building.” “He couldn’t lead a sing along.” “He couldn’t inspire a flea to jump.” He plays favorites like a DJ at the VFW.” “Couldn’t make a decision if he had a pocket full of quarters.” OK, the last two were mine.
In some business environments, you work around a co-employee. If you’re talking about a patrol partner, you spend eight hours or now days, ten to twelve hours in a car with your partner. After a few days working with the same person, you know everything about them. Their financial situation, how their marriage is working out, and yes, even their sexual history. You know their kids and their wife’s/husband’s names and in some cases, you know her menstrual cycle, like it or not. Partners become very close, or bond as they say. Some are easier to bond with than others.
I’m going to break down partners into four categories. Those partners you work directly with, those who you supervise, or who supervise you and your commanding officers (if you’re lucky they don’t even know your name).
First, I’ll talk about probationers, or rookies to my non-police friends. Probationers graduate from the police academy, wide-eyed, and ready to save the world. They are going to turn prostitutes away from a decadent sex life into the adults their parents hoped they would become. Drug addicts will turn into health freaks, and bums into productive members of society. After their first month in patrol, their balloon has burst or you hope they have come to their senses. Cops deal with the shallow gene pool of humanity and our short interaction won’t change their lifestyle.
In the early days, the training officer probably told them the first day, “Forget everything they taught you in the academy, I’ll teach you the right way!” That means search and seizure rules went out the window. It’s the way you write the arrest report and laws of arrest are a little stretched. If force was used, it depends on how many independent witnesses were present, if it was excessive. Your first day or night, you talk about an hour to get to know your probationer.
The first question you ask is, “Is your gun loaded?” Don’t laugh, some forget or think they’re still in the academy. One real story goes like this. The officers are enroute to a shooting in progress call and the training officer is advising his brand new partner to be careful and stick close to me. The probationer turns to his training officer and asks, “Should I load my gun now?” Never mind, we’ll get coffee first! Don’t laugh, it happens. I’ve had partners with college degrees but not a lick of common sense.
Some partners had the same views and values that you have. You could spend six hours on a stakeout and never be at a loss for words. Then again, I once spent three hours with a probationer who didn’t say a word. No kidding, not a word, for three hours. We didn’t have much in common, I liked John Wayne and she liked sci-fi movies. She didn’t even get out of the car for coffee.
I’ll start out with the bad and in some cases, they were also ugly. You’ll see. I was blessed with some very good probationers which I’ll talk about in later Ramblings. One of the bad probationers didn’t seem suited for police work. I was looking for a common bond to talk about and I asked him his hobbies. I said, “I hunt, do you hunt?” He replied, “No, I don’t think I could kill anything!” Stop the car!!! A lot of cops don’t believe in hunting but do I want to work with a partner who might have reservations about using his gun to save a life, maybe mine?
Part of the training program is letting the probationer drive. Driving a police car is more than just driving down the street. Officer safety is very important to his partner who is looking forward to retiring alive. Probationers have a tendency to park right in front of the location of a man with a gun, or they will look for a legal parking spot. They often park next to a trashcan, mailbox, or fire hydrant so the passenger can’t get the car door open.
I had one probationer who thought that red lights were for non-cops. I let him drive twice and both times, I took the car keys away from him. He kept driving through major intersections against the red light figuring that no one would hit a police car. I once supervised a probationer who had never driven a car. He lived in New York and always took a taxicab. I watched his training officer’s hair turn grey. We had a few female probationers who weren’t use to driving big four-door cars with a powerful engine. We didn’t have any two-door police equipped BMW’s.
The worst probationer I had was Jeff. Jeff was a graduate from USC and thought that being a cop would be fun. Jeff couldn’t write a sentence without help. No, he wasn’t an athlete. He told me that he paid someone to write all his college papers. I thought that was strange because Jeff was the cheapest cop I ever met.
We were eating at Denny’s one morning and I just had coffee, Jeff had steak and eggs. Jeff wanted to split the bill down the middle. Another time Jeff and his partner walked into a restaurant to eat and spotted a wanted burglar sitting at the counter. The whole watch was looking for this crook. They grabbed him and Jeff objected. He wanted his half price meal instead.
The worst trait about Jeff was that he was a coward. Yep, Jeff wanted to wear the uniform and collect the paycheck but didn’t want any of the danger that came with the badge.
We had a “man with a gun” radio call and the witness told us the armed suspect went into a parking lot. Jeff and I were to go down one side of the parking lot and two other officers were to check the other side. We started searching the parking lot. I was in the lead after about thirty yards I looked back, Jeff was still out on the sidewalk hiding behind a building. I motioned for Jeff to join me; he refused and said it was too dangerous!
Another time Jeff and his partner got into a pursuit. The suspect’s vehicle crashed and the driver fled on foot. Jeff’s partner chased and caught the suspect. He looked around and no Jeff. The partner walked back to the police car and there was Jeff. Jeff said he was guarding the police car! Jeff was asked to leave the LAPD.
I had another probationer, Tom, a nice enough guy, but he use to sit at code-7 (meal break) and tell me he had the next day off. He would ask me if he should get drunk and go to bed or sleep then get up and get drunk. I sent Tom AA cards for years after we worked together. Another time, he informed me that he went to a Doobie Brothers concert in Santa Barbara instead of sleeping. Tom asked me if we could coast tonight. I told Tom that if I caught him with his eyes closed, I’d send him home. He’s my back up. Am I hard ass or just a music critic? Come on—the Doobie Brothers!!
During the height of affirmative action hiring, I had a probationer who had no common sense and couldn’t make a decision. We once were given a bag of possible narcotics to book. He took custody of the bag and then informed me that he had gotten some of the powder on his hand and had touched his lips! I told him that if he started acting strange, I might have to shoot him. I hope he’s now working as a Wal-Mart greeter.
Some thought my hair loss was hereditary. I think it was probationers. We all learned the hard way.
Next I’ll describe some of the best, or good, partners I worked with or for. Hal