The Call Box

The Call Box: Welcome to the 19th Century, part 3




By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

Ward transferred to a staff job and Hal went to the day watch. Years later he would become one of the first helicopter pilots when “air support division” was formed. [see The Call Box August 16th for more on Ward Fitzgerald and Hal Brasher].  


3A15 was now “my” car [see The Call Box August 24th for more on 3A15].  George Flanders soon transferred to motors, and Frank (Isbell) and I worked with a succession of newbies. When we were together though, we were the perfect partners. Frank was a year or two older and from Corpus Christi, Texas, a former Marine (as was I) and an all-around good guy. He had a good sense of humor and was smart as a whip (he made captain before retiring). We developed an easy relationship when on the street.


Eye contact with each other was important because a certain facial expression conveyed a message. We had code words to pass information without alerting the person or persons we were talking to. Just a look conveyed a message. He was a great street cop and a great partner.


The police unit or patrol car

All cars in our division were two- or three-year-old four door Fords, Chevys or Plymouths. All were standard transmission. They actually had one unit with automatic transmission. The officers assigned had to do a report every week to see if it was suitable for police work. Honest.


At age two or three they had been on the street 24 hours a day unless pulled for service. And they were tired. They were the most inexpensive cars the city could buy. They also did not have seat belts. I think oversized springs was the only concession to street work.


The emergency lights were two round non-flashers mounted on the roof with a siren between them. Both were activated by pulling two buttons on the dash then operating the siren with the horn ring. The car was so under powered that as the pitch of the siren went up the car slowed down.


Again, honest.



Most of the cars had a string tied to the dash buttons running to the shift lever so they could be activated by pulling on the strings. Hi-tech. The “hot sheet” which was the list of stolen vehicles, was displayed by bending a paper clip and hanging it from the dash, where it swung freely.


Frank used to envision something like a TV screen in the cars that would give us up to date information. Yeah, right!!


This was when computers were in their infancy. After we left patrol we worked together several more times but that is for future stories.


As to the mystery building glued to the east end of the station, I never could find anyone to explain it. It was made of faux logs, was approximately 20’ by 20’, painted a bilious yellow, and it had once been a hamburger stand. It now served as the office for the Vice Squad.


More on that later…


Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, Driving part 4 of 3

By Hal Collier

I swear this is the last Ramblings of Driving!

This will be part 4 of a planned trilogy. I have been accused of being verbose (wordy) or loquacious (talkative). I had to look up both words. I started writing my Ramblings for cops, then found out that they were being forwarded to non-cops, which was fine with me. I learned to stop using cop vernacular and abbreviations that only a cop might know. I also got e-mails from former partners, ‘Hey Hal what about this or that?’, and occasionally I get, ‘Do you remember the time you drove over my foot?’ Come on, I only did that twice! Each of these brings an additional paragraph or two. This is the last Ramblings on driving, I think!

Pursuit driving is whole new ball game. You don’t get to pick the streets, the speed, or the chances you take. It’s a little like riding in the last car of a roller coaster—you’re just along for the ride. You can terminate a pursuit anytime you want. That decision is usually based on your experience and your will to see your kids move out of the house and get married.

I’ve been in a lot of pursuits and as I stated before, I hate them. Some were easy; some made me want to be an electrician like my dad. The risks you take are seldom worth the punishment the culprit will receive from a judge. Most cops’ biggest problem during a pursuit is tunnel vision and your ego. Ego first. The longer you’re a cop the smaller your ego gets! Ego kicks in when some dirt bag challenges your authority by failing to stop at your command. A young cop will chase this guy for as long as it takes, no matter how big the risks! Tunnel vision can be just as dangerous. All you see is the bad guy in front of you, you don’t know how fast you’re going, or how many close calls you just had. A few close calls wised up some of us, others ended up on the Los Angeles Police Memorial Wall!

On the LAPD, we deployed 2 man cars. This made driving easier. The passenger officer could handle the computer and the radio. He was also in charge of checking cross traffic at intersections and in some cases telling you to stop chasing this nut. One man cars were required to relinquish the pursuit when a two man car joined in. It was a challenge to drive, broadcast, and watch for that little old man who didn’t hear your siren—often he will turn right in front of you.

Other driving incidents that most people never think of, including some cops, is police vehicle vs suspect on foot? The LAPD often conducted what they called “Buy-Bust Operations.” It not what your think, It has nothing to do with paying a prostitute or a part of the female anatomy. “Buy Bust” was cop talk for arresting street narcotic dealers. A U/C (undercover cop) would make a buy from a street dealer. The U/C would then radio the dealer’s description and the chase cars would swoop in and arrest him. I was a chase car more times than I care to talk about.

Some days being the chase car was easy, the U/C made a buy and you were sitting in your B/W (black and white) a few blocks away. You got the go signal and drove a block and arrested the culprit. He was then taken to the station for booking. Arresting drug dealers in Hollywood was like fishing with dynamite. Once in a while a dealer objected to being arrested, duh! He would run when he saw the chase car approach—crap.

I remember once Dale Hickerson and I were sitting two blocks east of Hollywood and Western. We got the go word. I drove east on Hollywood Boulevard. I see our suspect running toward us in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard. He’s done this before and when he sees us he turns down a side street. He’s running down the sidewalk and I’m driving—see I’m not so dumb. I look ahead and see a driveway where I can cut him off. I zip into the driveway and cut him off. He dodges around the back of our police car. He might have bumped into the rear fender. Dale jumps out and starts to chase him on foot. Now Dale and I have over 20 years on the job and are too old to be chasing some small time drug dealer. Dale yells, ‘Stop or I’ll shoot you!’ Well damn, our suspect stops. He might have seen that Expert Marksman badge on Dale’s uniform. We didn’t even think he spoke English.

Another time our Sergeant wants to ride with us during a buy bust operation. We put him in the back seat where we place our suspects. We get the go to arrest another dealer. I’m trying to turn left into a parking lot. I stop and wait for traffic to yield. My sergeant jumps out, traffic clears and I move forward. Yep, I ran over my sergeant’s foot. Funny, he never wanted to ride with me again.

One last driving story. This didn’t happen to me but I had to laugh when I heard about it. Delongpre Park was only two blocks from the police station, but they still sold drugs in the park. We often did buy bust operations in the park. The U/C would give the go sign and officers would race into the park to arrest the culprit. The city even installed wheel chair ramps so the cops didn’t have to get out of their car to get into the park. We drive up the ramps into the park and arrest the drug dealer. Experienced officers learned to stay off the grass!!!! Have you ever watched a NASCAR race when a driver spins out onto the grass, the brakes are worthless? Well many a rookie learned that lesson in Delongpre Park. They would dive into the park, turn onto the grass and then brake. They would slide right into a park bench. A few officers paid to have those benches replaced with days off with no pay!

Being retired and driving the LA freeways you drive 70 in a 65 MPH zone everyone else flies by me and shows me that at least one finger is manicured. I’ve still got my driver’s license and I’m just not ready for a golf cart yet. Hal

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