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.

The Call Box

The Call Box: Improbable Journey, Part 1

By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD


I am a sergeant of Marines stationed at Quantico, Virginia. It is the first week of August 1955 and I am awaiting my discharge on the 12th when my three-year tour of duty will be up. Moving north along the Atlantic seaboard is hurricane Connie, due to arrive here on August 12th. Several months prior, I’d read an article in the USMC magazine publication, Leatherneck, which followed two former marines through the LAPD academy.


In answering my inquiry, the LAPD was not very encouraging, advising me they accepted approximately eight percent of applicants. And don’t bother to come to LA unless I had a backup plan. I was not discouraged as I had could always get whatever I went after. My current assignment with the military police had sparked my interest and I eventually headed to LA. 


Where I began my journey

On August 12th, 1955, Connie arrived and I left, headed home. Home was North Branch, New York, a dairy farming community not large enough to qualify as a village. So, we were a hamlet. Is that cute or what?

Three years prior, I had graduated from Jeffersonville Central School, graduating class size 7. The population was 244 and the story went that the number never changed since every time a baby was born, some guy left town. The way the system worked was, you married your high school sweetheart, moved in with your parents, waited for them to die, then took over the farm.


My problem was no farm, but a general store which I helped my mother to run. Another complication—there was no one I was interested in marrying. The Korean War was on, as was the draft. I had no desire to go to Korea with the Army. My older brother had been a WW II Marine so my choice was obvious. 




As luck would have it, when I graduated boot camp I was tall, slender (sob) and looked very good in uniform. As a result, I was assigned sea duty for two years aboard the largest war ship afloat at the time, the USS Coral Sea, CVA 43. I spent the next two years cruising the Mediterranean. 



At the end of WW I, the song, How Are You Going to Keep Them Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree? was very popular. Even in 1955, the song held truth. I didn’t quite make it to Paris and you know about the farm but you get the idea.

Part 2 of Ed Meckle’s Improbable Journey will appear here on November 30, 2016.

Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings, part 3 of 4, On the Desk


By Hal Collier, LAPD, Retired

Hal is a thirty-five year veteran of LAPD. We are pleased he is sharing his stories with us.   

The following story is true. This is the third and what I thought was last episode of the Hollywood Desk until I had a lucid moment and remembered other incidents that might jog the memories of old retired Hollywood cops. Some of my non-cop friends just find them funny.


Hollywood Station front desk
Hollywood Station front desk

I was pretty lucky. I only worked the desk during my first three years on the job, or when I got hurt and couldn’t work patrol. I remember one week I worked five days. Two at the desk, one in the jail, and two on station security. These were called the terrible three’s. This was not exactly what a young cop who’s going to save the world signs up for.


In my last Ramblings, I reminisced of the little old lady who came in to the station to get her juvenile grandson. This story is about an adult who made a big mistake, first by being arrested and second by being a Marine at the time. It was common for new Marines to come from Camp Pendleton to Hollywood on their first leave from boot camp. They weren’t hard to spot, short hair, a tattoo and a t-shirt with USMC on the front.


I worked with Bill Barren, a former marine. Sometimes he’d see a group of marines walking down Hollywood Boulevard. We would stop the group, line them up at attention, and ask who was in charge. Bill would then lecture them about the evils of Hollywood, things like not everything in a dress is a girl. He would send them off advising them not to tarnish the name of the Marine Corps. Once a marine always a marine. “Semper Fidelis”


diOk, back to my desk story. This marine gets drunk and is arrested in Hollywood. He’s placed in a holding tank and the shore patrol is called. Military personnel arrested for being drunk in public are turned over to the Military Police. The shore patrol will give the marine a stiffer sentence than any court in L.A. The marine was being a jerk and yelling things about the Marine Corps that he would never even think of saying sober. He also had a photo album, with pictures of himself in his “dress blues”. In some of the pictures, he was holding the American flag in one hand and his manhood in the other. No explanation needed.


The marine is yelling for over two hours when the Shore Patrol arrives. The guy in charge, a staff sergeant I think, walks up to the desk. He asks, “Is that my marine making all that noise?” 

The sergeant is escorted into the Watch Commanders office. He is looking at the photo album and you can see his face muscles getting tense. The sergeant asks if he can see his marine now. The holding tank door is opened and the marine jumps to attention. The sergeant knocks him out cold. The Marine is dragged outside unconscious and thrown into the back of the Shore Patrol’s paddy wagon. I’m guessing that the marine will regret coming to Hollywood and with that photo album.


On the bright side, we had a Watch Commander, Bryce, whose pet peeve was officers hanging their car keys from their gun belts. If you walked into the station with your keys in your belt, Bryce would grab the keys and throw them out the front door. I learned to take my keys out of my belt upon walking into the lobby. I only chased my keys out into the street once. I saw another officers keys grabbed from his belt, tossed to a citizen sitting in the lobby, who tossed them out the front door as directed by Bryce.


I showed up for work one night and passed Jane Fonda in the lobby. She is one of my least favorite people. She was advising some woman that she has rights and you don’t have to do what the police say. I would have liked to see her in the custody of the shore patrol.


In the old Hollywood station, you walked through the lobby to get to your police car after roll call. I remember one night as the line filed down the hallway toward the desk, some of the officers started turning around and back tracking. I wasn’t sure why until I reached the desk. There was a woman of suspicious reputation standing at the desk with officers. I guess some of the officers didn’t want to be seen by this women. Ha ha, I wasn’t afraid. 


Of course, there was Gracie Wilde, a homeless girl who lived in a doorway near the station. Gracie wasn’t a bad person, loved cops, and a few officers gave her money for food. Gracie just needed to take her medication regularly. Birdie was another woman who would come into the lobby and look for cans to recycle. She lived in a motor home on the corner. Some of the desk officers saved cans for her.


Drum majorThen there was Linda. Rumor said that Linda was a model and came from a rich family. Once a month she would get a check from a trust, clean up, buy some nice clothes, and then get drunk. Linda was an alcoholic and often slept in the lobby during the night. The first few days of the month, Linda looked normal. By the end of the month, Linda was dirty and obnoxious. Actually, Linda was usually obnoxious when drunk and the first thing the day watch desk officers did was throw Linda out. I remember one week, Linda was dressed in Band Majors uniform. 


Think policemen are heartless. I remember a young boy, about eight years old, racing into the station lobby, crying, that his new bicycle was just stolen by a bigger kid. After a search proved fruitless, the desk officers replaced the bike with the help of a local bicycle shop. 


I wonder what ever happened these characters. These people all existed and helped pass the time on the desk.   


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