The Call Box

The Call Box: Gas Pains

polic-call-box-pedestal-lapd-gamewell-DCAL2786_dt1By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

Tear Gas: [definition] A solid liquid or gaseous substance that on dispersion in the atmosphere irritates mucous membranes resulting in blinding of the eyes with tears, used chiefly in dispelling mobs.

Okay, so everyone knows what tear gas is right? Well, yes and no. You know what it is but unless you have been subjected to its use, you can never really appreciate the effect it has upon the body. How it removes any desire to continue your present activities.

Three years USMC plus two reserves, LAPD academy, plus five Metro years has given me more than a nodding acquaintance. I heard the lectures, gave the lectures, been gassed, gassed others, watched film and demonstrated its use.

However, I had never seen it used under actual field conditions, until this night.

I was assigned to Metro and was on my way home at end of watch. It was probably somewhere between 0100 and 0200 hours. I lived close to downtown and always tried to use surface streets at that hour. Any morning watch copper can verify that the streets are usually strangely quiet and empty—almost otherworldly—a science fiction movie and you are the last person on earth.

I awakened from my reverie when an overtaking black and white blew by me code three. Seconds later, it was followed by a second, then a minute later, a third.

I stopped, rolling down all the windows to listen. The air was filled with sirens. Something big was going down and I wanted to be there.

Westlake_Shopping_Center_3I caught the last car and followed him to the action. As I got close, I heard sporadic gunfire. The scene was an old-fashioned shopping center. Two blocks of older two-story business buildings, glass storefronts, with second floor living quarters, and flat tar-paper roofs. The street was filled with 12-15 black and whites with officers crouched behind them. The sharp smell of tear gas hung in the air.

I parked about a block away and walked in. No challenge. I am in civvies, so I hang my badge, but didn’t draw even a glance.

The center of attention is a second floor, corner apartment at the far end of the block. A police search light was set up mid-block and focused on the windows fronting the street. The rest of the block was an unreal collection of light and shadow. An expended tear gas canister lay on the sidewalk below the window.

At this point I assumed a barricaded suspect as I was at the wrong end of the block and too far away to get involved. I picked a good spot and settled in to watch.

Behind the light, a sergeant with a bull horn talked to the suspect. Then the suspect suddenly appeared and fired two quick shots at the light. By the time the officers reacted, he was gone but “what the hell.” They volleyed 2-3 rounds each.

Have you ever seen an action movie where a machine gun fires dozens of rounds and strikes a house in slow motion? Amazed, I watched as glass shattered and window sills splintered. I could almost hear the old building moaning.

This scene plays out a few more times with the same results.

I was out of the line of fire when the suspect shot so I wasn’t worried about my safety. Not so the officers. Several are around the corner shooting at the side window and there have been several ricochets.

Tear gas launcherI watched the window screen fall half off, the gutter downspout shot away and a piece of tar paper flutter to the ground. About the time I wonder what could happen next, I hear the deep throated thomp of the teargas gun. The sound was unmistakable as the stubby barrel launched a “flight right” grenade. It looked like a small rocket. As it cleared the barrel, fins snapped into place to stabilize flight. The round was well aimed and went through the window.

We wait. Gas drifts from the window. No suspect.

Two officers with gas masks enter and then returned quickly, holding up four fingers. “Code four,” all over.

in those days, things were done in a more casual manner. This was before SWAT. No one had ever heard of “fire discipline” and officer involved shooting teams were in the future.

As a result, half the cars were gone within five minutes.

I figured I would find out the results when I went to work that night.

I did: twenty-five to thirty officers fired several hundred rounds at the suspect with zero hits.

Then, a sergeant fired one round from a teargas gun. It struck and killed the suspect. Killed by something that looked like a Buck Rogers toy rocket ship.

Go figure.

Writer's Notes

The Militarization of Police – How Fiction can be More Accurate than the News

By Dave Freedland

Irvine PD, Retired

What immediately drew me to my favorite fiction authors, Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn, was their attention to detail with regard to weapons, tactics, and training. The work of each writer reflected well-researched data regarding the weapons that their characters carried, the tactics they employed, and the training needed to accomplish the missions upon which they embarked. The editor for my first novel, Lincoln 9, consistently reminded me of the importance of maintaining credibility by ensuring that the plot and the characters were realistic, despite the fact that the story was a work of fiction. She stated from experience that the first error caught by a prospective buyer who happened to be browsing the text, would result in their moving SWAT Training with Tustin 2on to the next book cover, title, or author who caught their attention. It is unfortunate that the public is not more discerning in the headlines they read; and that those who seek recognition through their by-lines are more focused upon a particular narrative than accuracy. It would appear that fiction authors write with greater accuracy than those reporting the news.

An example of such careless authorship can be found in the media’s near hysteria over the alleged militarization of urban police. Armored vehicles, camouflage fatigues, and carbine rifles have created a new narrative alleging that law enforcement agencies in America are looking more like standing armies, than organizations staffed with peace officers. When an Orange County, California newspaper reporter recently sought to write an article featuring the armored truck housed at the police station for “America’s Safest City,” Irvine, California, the department’s command staff assigned a lieutenant to answer any and all questions regarding its mission and deployment. Clearly, the BEAR, or Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicle is an imposing mode of transportation that could generate legitimate questions regarding its resemblance to an asset found in a mechanized military division. It is fair to ask the vehicle’s cost, who paid for it, how often it is used, maintenance expenses, and deployment protocols. It is not appropriate for an author to create his or her own answers to those questions.

It was with great surprise that the completed article portrayed the vehicle as a classic example of government waste, in that it had been used only five times in five years, especially in light of Irvine’s famously low crime rate. It is frustrating that reporters so frequently miss such an opportunity to share a potentially interesting story, by a fabrication to fit the narrative that government has again squandered taxpayer money on another boondoggle.

So, is the real story more interesting? Let the reader judge. It was the events of September 11, 2001, that set in motion an effort by the federal government to enhance the ability of local level organizations to address future terrorist threats. Several grants were issued to provide funding for equipment and training, however, Orange County, California took this influx of money in a unique direction. County officials anticipated that the next attack on the homeland could delay or overwhelm local, state, and federal resources, so they created a counter terrorist team to address an incident independent from a federal or state level response. Funded solely by grants, the County established the Joint Hazardous Assessment Team, or JHAT. This team was initially comprised of SWAT officers from the Sheriff’s Department, Irvine Police, Anaheim Police, Huntington Beach Police, and Santa Ana Police Departments and teamed with bomb technicians, and paramedics from three fire agencies. They were trained by instructors from the military’s Special Forces (Navy SEALS and Delta), and equipped with specially designed Patriot breathing apparatus, chemical/biological retardant suits, and armored trucks called BEARs (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response vehicles). Their mission was to respond and address terrorist incidents occurring within the County until the FBI’s enhanced SWAT team from Los Angeles could be on scene, or the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team could be flown in from the East Coast. They train together with each piece of equipment two days every quarter, frequently with actors in hypothetical scenarios.

The Irvine Police Department and other participating agencies contribute SWAT officers who are the most experienced, and have participated in SWAT competitions both locally and nationally. The BEARs’ application to local barricade and hostage incidents is an added benefit, but their primary mission remains homeland security; and JHAT continues to train with that asset, toward that end.

Special Weapons and Tactics Teams are expensive to create, train, and maintain. Some small agencies boast of fielding them for recruitment purposes, or as a benefit during contract negotiations, but regionalization is a better use of such resources. An informed media would better serve their subscribers by exploring the waste and liabilities related to this issue, than to attack an asset based upon the frequency of use, as opposed to its intended mission. September 11th reminds us that an ideology has declared war upon our nation, and that we were first attacked at the local level. Law enforcement agencies soon realized that sharing information was beneficial, and that military technology may provide crossover benefits in protecting communities. Is it more interesting to question an asset that is seldom used, or does the story draw you in as you begin to learn its history and application?

Dave Freedland

Dave Freedland
Dave Freedland

Dave Freedland is a 34-year decorated law enforcement professional having served with the Irvine Police, and the Orange County (California) Sheriff’s Departments. Following a competitive athletic career culminating with the award of “UCLA’s Most Valuable Gymnast,” he graduated first in his Sheriff’s academy class. While serving with the Irvine Police Department he worked in a variety of assignments including Detectives, Patrol, Training, Internal Affairs, SWAT, and retired at the rank of Deputy Chief. As a SWAT team leader, he supervised operations for numerous barricade and hostage incidents, and was the recipient of several awards including “Police Officer of the Year”and the “Meritorious Service Award.” As a SWAT commander he was recognized for his contributions in the establishment of the country’s first county-level counter-terrorist unit incorporating SWAT, bomb disposal, and hazardous materials disciplines. He currently trains and teaches martial arts in Orange County, having attained a 5th degree black belt in Japanese Shotokan karate.

More Street Stories

Code 4, Code 4

CODE 4, CODE 4  

by Woody Hoke, Jr.
Was it the crisp morning air or the fact our search for the shooter was coming to an end that made my skin shiver?

“Code-4, Code-4, suspect in custody” came the muffled words from inside the garage. What does this guy look like? What was his reason for shooting an unarmed man?  Did he know Mike was a police officer? How will I feel about him when I first get a glimpse of him? Will I feel anything? Should I feel anything?

Not only did he shoot an unarmed police officer but a co-worker, a close friend, someone I went to department functions with, socializing at each other’s houses. The more I think about it now, the angrier I am becoming.

Somebody please take these weapons from me.

Hours earlier, I received a phone call from my brother and fellow San Rafael Police Officer Tony, telling me that Mike Costello had just been shot–possibly by a burglar at his house in Novato, Ca. Mike only lived about a mile from me as did many other police officers I worked with. Sometimes we rode to and from work together. “Close” is not the proper word for it. “Brotherhood” tops “close” by a long shot.

The NPD SWAT team had made entry into the garage and found the shooter in an attic garage. As he was being brought out, I could barely see his face–probably because I didn’t really want to look at him. I didn’t want to have actions overcome my thoughts and feelings.

Soon, the thought of him being in custody was enough to feel calmer, give me that feeling of accomplishment that comes to all police officers for a job well done…and we did it for one of our own.

CODE 4, suspect in custody…

Woody Hoke, Jr.
Woody Hoke, Jr.

Woody Hoke began his law enforcement career

 in the early 1970’s with San Rafael Police,

then Sausalito PD. He has graciously agreed

to share some of his memories of those days.

See more about Woody Hoke, Jr. on Facebook.

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