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.
Here is another Ramblings story about working Morning Watch. Those cops who spent most of their time working Day or Pm Watch will scoff at sleeping on duty, but try sleeping in the day with small children in the house, or the sounds of everyday street noises.
Some officers who refused to park and sleep, fell asleep at the wheel. Some hit parked cars and more than one cop fell asleep at the wheel of a police car while stopped at a red light. They were usually awakened by some citizen knocking on the driver’s window, yelling, “Officer, are you all right?”
Remember, I mentioned how hard it was to hide a black and white police car? Well, hide one with the intention of closing your eyes and catching a quick nap. First and foremost, you need to find a location where some terrorist or dirt bag won’t find you. Second, you need to find a location that the new sergeant who’s trying to make a name for himself, can’t find.
Third, don’t park in a spot that some citizen will find and call the Watch Commander to complain about how much he pays in taxes not have cops sleeping on his dollar. I’ll bet you didn’t know this much thought went into grabbing a quick nap, did you?
Usually, the senior officer picked the spot. It had to be close to the center of Hollywood, in case you had to respond to an emergency call or meet that pesky sergeant. If you were buried high up in the Hollywood Hills, it would take you a good half hour to get to Hollywood Boulevard and then you had to explain where you were. If you were too close to Hollywood Boulevard, a transient, looking for recyclables, would be knocking on your window asking if you had any cans in the back seat.
One of the best spots was in the Hollywood Bowl parking lot. It was close to Hollywood Boulevard yet out of public view. Across from the Bowl was the Odin parking lot. In the back of the lot was a ramp that opened up to about twenty parking spots. It might have been for employees working during the Hollywood Bowl season. Anyway, it was out of sight and had large trees lining the parking lot. If you backed into one of the spots you had a steep hill at your back and a view of the ramp in front. I only mentioned the trees because in later years the police helicopter couldn’t see your police car from the air.
One night there were four police cars in the Odin lot, each taking turns sleeping and handling radio calls. The rule was the first police car in the Odin lot had to chase out the homeless but he got to log it as extra patrol. Another good spot was an upper lot at Universal Studios. It was remote but a fair distance from Hollywood Boulevard. It was also patrolled by the sheriffs.
Odin was the best. Now, I’ll describe some of the worst. I mentioned the short one block alley on Cahuenga West, my partner picked to rest before eating. The SLA dropped off their propaganda tapes at radio station KPFK a block away in 1974. Sometimes a cop would pick a dead-end street up in the hills, only trouble was that all the prostitutes liked those streets as well to complete their business transactions.
One ingenious officer, (Mike Brambles) found what he thought was the perfect spot. They were building brand new houses right under the Griffith Park Observatory on Los Feliz. The houses were almost completed and he discovered that he could back his police car into the garage and close the door. He just needed to be awake and gone before the workers arrived.
This night, the officer was working a report car, which means he was alone. It was slow and he backed into a garage and closed the door. He was careful to shut the engine off so he didn’t asphyxiate himself. He woke up before the workers arrived but not before a truck dumped a load of sand in the driveway blocking the garage door. He frantically called a friend to bring him a shovel so he could dig his car out of the garage. True story.
There is a legend of two officers parking their police car in a tunnel at the Coliseum. It was so tight that they couldn’t open their car doors. The car battery died as they slept and they had to break out the rear car window to escape. Truth or legend?
The officers were not the only ones who slept on duty. I was working with this brand new rookie and at about 4 A.M., we needed gas. I pulled into the police garage which was across the street from the station. As I pulled up to the gas pumps, I noticed a sergeant’s car parked between two other police cars. The rear door was open and a pair of feet were sticking out. The rookie also noticed the feet and thought we should investigate. I asked him if his old employer was holding his job for him. He replied “no” and I advised him pump the gas and clean our car windows and mind his own business. He made probation and later he was my lieutenant.
Another time, I had this probationer who had a little problem with priorities. He shows up at work and as we leave the station, he tells me, “We have to take it slow tonight!” He goes on to tell me that instead of sleeping, he went to a Doobie Brothers Concert in Santa Barbara. I reminded him that if he fell asleep he might need his old job back.
Flip the coin. I make sergeant and am transferred to Southeast Division. That’s right—Watts. Now, one of the first lessons you learn working Watts is don’t sit in your car, even to write in your log. The less friendly inhabitants had a tendency to take pot shots at the cops. As I described in a previous Ramblings, Morning Watch in Watts was very slow. Watts was nothing like Hollywood.
I knew the cops were Hitting the Hole but I just wondered where and why I wasn’t invited. Of course, the reason was that when you promote you become one of them instead of one of us. It was just as well—I might miss watching the sun rise over the Watts Towers.
I had a former Hollywood cop approach me in the parking lot at end of watch and tell me how they turned over every rock and just couldn’t find anything to arrest. I laughed and asked to see his log. They showed ten miles all night. I smiled and told him that if you Hit the Hole for half the night, you should drive up and down the freeway a few times to put extra miles on the police car. That way, it didn’t look like you were parked most of the night. His eyes lit up and he knew that I knew. Then I told him, “I know what you were doing. I just don’t know where.”
I was driving around Watts one very quiet night and couldn’t find anyone doing any police work. I was southbound on Figueroa in an industrial area that bordered the Harbor freeway. An emergency call came out and as I was making a U-turn I almost got run over by the entire watch exiting from behind a closed warehouse. I took that secret with me when I left Watts a few months later.
The next Ramblings will be the last on working Morning Watch and it will give some of you a different perspective of Morning Watch Cops. Hal