Every two years each Patrol Division had a formal inspection. A member of the department’s command staff, usually a deputy chief or commander, would inspect the entire division in uniform, including the detectives. Getting detectives in uniform was a hoot. They misplaced required uniform equipment years ago. They would scramble around the locker room begging for this or that from patrol officers.
This one inspection, I spent hours polishing my boots, Sam Brown and badge. There wasn’t a speck of dirt or dust on my Berretta auto hand gun. I looked pretty good if I say so myself. So this command officer starts walking past the lined up troops. First thing I notice is that he needs a haircut. When he stops in front of me I also notice his uniform is wrinkled and has lint on it.
Thanks for the effort, Commander.
I was once in the emergency room at Kaiser Hospital. I had a shooting victim who was critical and not expected to survive. As I wait for the doctor to give me a time of death I heard a commotion in the lobby. I rush out to see a very pregnant woman in a wheel chair enter the lobby. She yells out, stood up and delivered her baby in the hands of a nurse.
Nice catch! It was a girl. When I returned my victim had passed away. Ironic.
Ghetto Elk: Most people don’t know what Ghetto Elk are. The definition Ghetto Elk are dogs that have been abandoned and run in packs in south central Los Angeles. They are often hit by cars and left in the street. I once saw a dead dog in the street and another dog sitting next to him. They might have been from the same litter, the dog was too distraught to talk!
Speaking of the ghetto, when I transferred to Watts I was told not to refer to it as the “projects” as the residents called them but refer to them as the “housing projects.” Ironic
I have taken hundreds of crime reports in my career. Someone’s property was taken and rich people who can afford the loss, complain the loudest. They then tell you how much they pay in taxes and all the important people they’re going to call. The opposite is the poor who have next to nothing and accept their loss as a fact of life. Ironic.
I’ve been retired for over eleven years but I still have police dreams, you know the one where your gun won’t fire or you can’t run. I have gotten into fights in my sleep and hit the bed room wall with my fist. My wife says I talk in my sleep about work, she stopping taking notes years ago. My wife thinks I should put in for overtime! You can take off the uniform and badge for the last time but you’ll never stop being a cop.
How many times have I arrested a suspect with a gun that wouldn’t work because he had the wrong ammunition?
Here’s a classic. I was investigating a shooting where a suspect ambushed the victim in the dark parking lot behind an all-night hot dog stand. The suspect shot the victim with a shotgun at fairly close range. The victim sustained non-life threatening wounds to his left upper body and face. The victim was shot with #8 shotgun shells. That’s small birdshot. Two days later I arrested the shooter in a motel on Sunset Boulevard. I’d like to tell you it was my superior investigative skills but the truth is, a snitch told me where he was staying. When I arrested him, he had the shotgun and a bandolier full of shotgun shells. My suspect was mad that he didn’t kill
the victim. The bandolier had shotgun shells that contained #4 shotgun shells. A #4 shot would have easily put the victim into the next world. My suspect just didn’t know that #4 shot shells were larger than #8’s. Stupid, huh?
In 1993, I made a mistake and promoted to Sergeant. I was transferred out of Hollywood and sent to South Central Los Angeles, AKA Watts. I left the town of glamour, movie stars, and millionaires. I spent the next 15 months watching the sun rise over the Watts towers. Impressive, but not Hollywood.
One of the favorite crimes in Watts was stealing cars and taking the engine and transmission. The culprits would then roll the car a few blocks away and abandon the car. The cops would then follow the oil trail back to the thief’s house and arrest the occupant with the oil on his clothes and an engine in the living room.
Not only are the crooks stupid but sometimes I suspect that cops are in competition. Hollywood had an officer who married a “reformed” prostitute. He shows up for work late one night and sees his bride handcuffed to the hallway bench along with the rest of the soiled doves. He releases his wife out the back door of the station without the proper paperwork. I believe he’s now a greeter at Wal-Mart.
We had another JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) reject who wanted to book a suspect for possession of a controlled substance. The officer displayed the drugs to the Watch Commander in the suspect’s prescription bottle in the suspect’s name. The W/C explained that if he had a prescription, it was not a crime. Our brilliant officer scratched off the suspects name and went to another supervisor and obtained booking approval. The former officer was later observed selling magazine subscriptions.
It’s not just the junior officers who do stupid things. I had a captain who was arrested by an outside agency for making and selling pirated DVD’s. She was arrested at Hollywood station and walked out the back door in handcuffs. How about the Hollywood sergeant who owned a big sail boat? He bought a million dollar home at a marina only to discover that his boat was too big for the boat slip at his new house that just cleared escrow.
Last stupid cop story. My partner and I are having a cup of coffee at the Winchell’s at Melrose and Vine. Were into about two sips of our coffee break when a hot shot radio call comes out. I toss my almost full cup of coffee and jump into the driver’s seat. I’m racing northbound on Vine Street and as I cross Santa Monica the road rises and then drops. My partner screams out in pain. He was cradling his hot coffee over his lap. Think about jumping on a trampoline with a hot liquid poised over your privates. By the way the coffee was free. Saving a free cup of coffee verses cleaning a uniform or possible burns to your groin area, stupid.
Footnote: The officer recovered and later had children.
We’re out there and we’re reproducing. I won’t even get into politicians.
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
The following story is true. There won’t be any false names. This story is my view of my tour of Southeast Division. The following comments and observations are mine alone and do not have the approval of the Los Angeles Police Department—like I need their approval anymore. To my non-police friends, Southeast Police Station is synonymous with Watts or south central L.A.
OK, a little background in case no one has read my biography (available in paperback through LittleReadBooks.com). Upon completion of the L.A. Police Academy my first assignment was Hollywood Division. I was twenty-one years old, very naive as to the real world of crime and human depravity. Twenty-three years later, I was a seasoned veteran and had seen more than my share of death and human nature. I figured if I wanted a larger pension I needed to promote to the rank of sergeant. I studied and passed the exam.
I was not unhappy in my current position as a Senior Lead Officer. I had all the holidays and weekends off I wanted. I could set my own hours or change my days off to accommodate a fishing trip. I was moonlighting at the Hollywood Bowl during the summer and worked more movie premiers than Siskel & Ebert. I had a great partner, Dale, and minimal supervision. If I promoted, I would also take a $300 a month pay cut. You lose your seniority when you promote to sergeant. OK, why would I want to give all that up and start again at the bottom of the L.A.P.D. food chain? What was I thinking??
Terri and I were on vacation visiting my sister and her family in Alaska. My son called to inform me that my name was on the transfer list as a sergeant. I was going to Southeast Division—that’s right, Watts. I had been to Watts twice in my life. Once as a child to see the Watts Towers and again to play a high school football game at Jordon High School. The game was only weeks after the 1965 Watts riots. I remember lining up on the line of scrimmage and the opponent whispering “burn baby burn”. I probably would have had an accident except I was too scared.
Now working Hollywood was no piece of cake. We had shootings, murder, street robberies, domestic violence and more than our share of vice crimes. As I said, I was no rookie, but Southeast (S/E) had their own language and a different brand of police work. Let’s start with the language. S/E had three projects, Jordon Downs, Nickerson Gardens, and Imperial Courts. These were all occupied by low or no income families. The Police Department wanted us to refer to them as housing developments. I thought projects was a kind name for these rat-infested, crime-ridden, sewer dwellings. The first lesson was never go into the projects alone. Radio calls in the projects always required two cars. The cops would meet at an outside location and caravan to the call. It was common for the lower IQ residents to ambush the police.
In Hollywood, a dog running loose was a dog. In S/E they’re called ghetto elk and they run in packs. When I say packs, I mean twelve to fifteen dogs running the streets, day and night. During long boring nights I would count how many in a pack. I think seventeen was the record. Now, that many dogs running around loose, well, some get hit by cars. Now, some of you think cops are cold-hearted, but one day two animal loving officers scooped up a dead dog from the middle of a busy street and took the Sheppard mix to the station. The dog was propped up in a beach chair outside the back door. An hour later he had sunglasses, then someone added a scarf and a cigarette. I don’t think I’m in Hollywood anymore! Now before you call the SPCA we had one officer who rescued injured dogs and paid for their vet bills by selling baked goods. I think the dog in the beach chair would have enjoyed them more than I did. S/E cops go through a canister of pepper spray a month, mostly used on ghetto elk to keep from being bit.
I mentioned a different brand of police work. In Hollywood, a crime victim described a suspect by his/her physical description. In Watts the suspect was described by his/her name and where they lived. It seem that most of the people never left the area and everybody knew each other. I remember an incident where a man was beaten and his foot chopped off with an axe. Responding police asked the witness for a description of the perpetrator. The witness responded, “It was his brother.”
The gangs in Watts were designated by the streets where they originated. Denver Lane, Hoover Street, Main Street, Grape Street, etc. Most of the gangs didn’t get along. Boy that’s an understatement. An example, Main Street Cripps and Back Street Cripps were separated by an alley. They hated each other. I was shocked to learn that Watts was 52% Hispanic. The L.A.P.D. didn’t want any mention of racial discord, so if a black suspect did a drive by on a Hispanic and a Hispanic retaliated it wasn’t racial. I was right, I’m not in Hollywood anymore.
In Hollywood, after completing a radio call you might sit in your car and catch up on your paperwork. In Watts, you never sat in your car on a public street for fear of ambush. In Hollywood, if you heard gun shots, you got on the radio and reported how many shots and from what direction. You immediately drove to the sound of the gun shots. In Watts, you counted the shots and guessed what kind of gun was used. Shots in Watts were so common that officers ignored them unless they were directed at them. I remember being on a major street in Watts and counting five different gunshot shell casings in the street. All were old.
Hollywood had more than its share of homicides, and Hollywood cops were good at setting up crime scenes. S/E cops had witnesses located, the suspects name and address, crime scene secured and coffee on the trunk of a police car, all before I arrived at the scene. S/E belonged to a Bureau of south central police stations. They had so many homicides that they formed a South Bureau Homicide Unit. I was at one homicide and requested the homicide unit. I was advised that I was number five in line. One team investigating five homicides in one night, equates to some photos, a sketch of the scene, collect any evidence and move on to the next body. It’s easy to see why the “Grim Sleeper” suspect eluded arrest for two decades.
Following the oil trail. A lot of stolen cars end up in Watts, stripped. I don’t mean stereos, or doors. They take engines, transmissions, fenders, seats and whatever else they can sell to a pick-a-parts business. After removing the engine and transmission they would push the car a few blocks away. S/E cops would follow the oil trail back to the suspect’s house, arrest the bad guy and recover the stolen car in hundreds of pieces.
I responded to a supervisor request one night. The officers followed the oil trail to a house. After knocking on the door, they discovered thirty-five illegal immigrants on their way to central California to work in the fields. The Immigrants were smuggled across the border in a truck, held overnight at this house, then shipped like cattle, to points north.
We called immigration. They asked us to hold them for three days without charges and they would try to come and pick them up. I think you can see the problem with our immigration system
The problem was solved when two S/E officers pursued a stolen car into the Jordan Downs Projects. The suspects bailed out of the car and ran. One of the officers exited her car and was immediately shot with an AK-47 by one of those lower IQ individuals I spoke of. We abandoned the illegal immigrants and responded to assist the officer. The officer recovered from the gunshot wound but she later had to be pensioned off.
Southeast was not all gun fights and crime. There are a lot of good, hardworking residents who like the police. The media just doesn’t see a news worthy story in someone liking the police. Day watch in Watts will drive your sense of smell crazy. 85% of the businesses do BBQ as an additional source of income. Everyone has a fifty gallon drum, cut in half and made into a BBQ grill. Southeast is the only place I know of where you can get your tires rotated and BBQ hot links all done by the same guy. A lot of businesses have signs stating “Fish, you buy, we fry”. The alleys are used by everyone to dump trash.
Some nights when the fog rolled in, you couldn’t see across the street. Crime takes a holiday when the fog is thick. I remember anticipating my first summer in Watts. Summer nights in Hollywood were crazy. Radio calls all night long, some handled three hours late, due to the volume. Little time for anything other than “Chasing the Radio” as we used to call it. Now some call Watts the murder capital of California and summer nights should be prime. I discovered that these bad guys go to bed about midnight. This led to what I call 90 mile nights. A 90 mile night, is a night where it’s so slow that you drive around for 8 hours, remember you don’t park alone in Watts.
New Year’s Eve in Watts is similar to the battle for Fallujah. Bullets are flying everywhere. They double up the sergeants and at thirty minutes to midnight they bring in all the police cars. Why give them a target? Everyone is shooting, mostly in the air, but what goes up must come down. Two cops’ personal vehicles had bullet holes in their roofs. I’m definitely not in Hollywood anymore.
I enjoyed my fifteen months in Watts and the police officers were some of the best I’ve seen, but I couldn’t wait to get back to Hollywood. My first day back in Hollywood was a Sunday. It was a clear day and quiet as I left the station parking lot. I drove up into the Hollywood hills. Families were walking with their kids
or dogs. As I passed them they waived, with all their fingers. I was home.