By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
Ward Fitzgerald and Hal Brasher were both WWII vets. Ward served with the Navy in the Pacific while Hal piloted B-26 Martin Marauder bombers in North Africa. They were both laid back, calm, quiet and had seen it all. Each old enough to be my father and they took the time and patience to teach me how to be a street cop. They knew everybody in their area and everybody knew them.
Normally, three officers would be assigned to each unit [car]. With one usually day off, etc, the other two partnered up. When all three of us were working, I was assigned to another unit. When that happened, I got to know the other guys on the watch and see different parts of the division. I recall one night, pulling up to the gas pumps prior to going on patrol with a new partner when I saw him hugging a trustee [each station was assigned jail trustees to shine shoes, clean the coffee room, pump gas, or whatever].
I gave him a questioning look and he told me the trustee was his father doing time for DUI and that his mother asked him to keep an eye on dad [shades of Mayberry]. My regular unit with Ward or Hal was “3 A 1 5.” The “three” being the designation for university, the “a” for a two-man patrol unit, and the “1 5” was us. There were a lot of other “3 As” but we were the only “1 5.” Our patrol area was the north west portion of the division. An area known then as now known as the Normandie/Adams area. In the late 1800s and very early 1900s the area was [slightly] elevated was populated by grand mansions inhabited by the rich and famous. It became known as “Sugar Hill.”
We were the Sugar Hill car. By now however, the area had fallen on hard times and some of the mansions sat vacant while others had been converted to boarding houses or “flop houses.” Some stood as though in a pose of embarrassment, resembling elderly matrons ashamed of themselves and their surroundings. We were a night watch unit and the division came alive with a different persona at dusk.
I was taught to slowly drive the darkened side streets with lights off and windows down. We cruised back alleys and sometimes would stop and just listen. I learned the difference between “looking” and “seeing” and “listening” and “hearing.” I learned how to talk to people, to read body language so it became second nature to me to “see” and “hear” things. I was quizzed on things we had just done, and sometimes to see if I had picked up on the subtleties of something that we had encountered. I grew confident until the powers that be decided I should work with two younger guys. Thus Frank Isbell and George Flanders came into my life.
Next Wednesday, August 31st will post the last installment of Welcome to the 19th Century by Ed Meckle