By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
The noted poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, is credited with the phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Nonsensical when first heard, it makes sense when you think about it. Described as a “sardonic commentary on the frequency with which acts of kindness backfire.”
As a 19-year-old corporal, then 20-year-old sergeant in the Marines I learned many things. Number one was, “Take care of your people.” Now, a 34-year-old lieutenant with the LAPD, it is ingrained, something I did not think about; something I just did.
I had worked “upstairs” for some years as a robbery detective and really liked the division. As day watch commander at Wilshire Division I considered myself lucky to have such a good job. It was a good place to work, an old station house but comfortable with a great boss, Captain Pierce Brooks, solid sergeants (over half on probation), tolerable crime stats, and a good group of mostly young officers.
We were 25 years post-WWII and the veterans were starting to retire. My only concern was trying to put together my daily deployment (car plan) when over half the watch is composed of young officers on probation.
They were a good bunch and I remember losing only one who after the lengthy vetting, and unforgiving academy should suddenly discover he was not suited for and did not like the work.
Suggested reading: some of Hal’s older blogs, “Recruits from Hell.”
As part of this mix I was blessed with *James Ballinger. He looked as though he stepped from a recruiting poster. Former Marine NCO (non-commissioned officer), former fire-fighter (smoke jumper with the Forest Service), sharp as a tack, mature beyond his years and was developing into a really good street copper. The kind of officer you wish you had a dozen of.
Then, as though done specifically to screw up my life, I got “the letter” from personnel division.
Ballinger had some sort of “heart condition” that had evaded the examining physicians when he took his entrance physical. Now discovered in hindsight, his probation was terminated, and he was fired.
I was to collect his badge and gun and have him report to personnel division to complete the paper work.
Without a second thought, this was now “my problem.” Ballinger explained that it was an error on personnel division’s part. He had supplied paper work to the city to explain the situation. If the city cardiologist had even read the report this would not be a problem.
One of the young women that worked the records section was the daughter of a cardiac surgical nurse. I told her, “Call mom ASAP and get me the names and numbers of the three best cardiologists in LA.”
Ten minutes later, number one’s receptionist is explaining that he is booked for 6 months. I heard myself saying things like, “exceptional young man, veteran, career-ending, injustice, terrible error, life and death,” and so on.
She replied, “Tell him to be here at 5 with his paper work. I can get him 10 minutes with the doctor.”
I tell Ballinger to buy a potted plant for the receptionist and ”go get it done.” He got an hour. The city doctor had been a student of “our consulting physician.” The cardiologist authored a report which the city accepted and reversed the termination.
When I got the good news some time later I felt smug for having beaten city hall and saving one of “my people.”
To put me in my place and show me who was boss, they transferred Ballinger for no apparent reason.
Twelve years passed. I am retired, when in December 1981 a major scandal rocks Hollywood division. A dozen officers and one sergeant are arrested for being part of a burglary ring. All are fired or resign in disgrace. The sergeant is *James Ballinger.
I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach.
In June of 2014 Hal wrote a four-part series detailing the activities of all the parties. A must read.
Lt. Dan Cooke the press relations officer was quoted “We will get over it, but we will never forget it.”
* James Ballinger is not his true name, he went on to have a successful career in another field so I will let it rest there.
As to heart trouble, he wasn’t the only one affected. He broke mine.