By Hal Collier
The story you are about to read is true, the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed. One of my last stories dealt with foot pursuits. This story will deal with car pursuits.
Yea, car pursuits, that’s “Breaking News” in most big city TV markets. TV channels will cover a car pursuit for hours, often describing how dangerous it is for the public as some jerk hurtles through the streets of Anytown USA. Suspects running red lights, driving on sidewalks, mothers with children running for their lives–hell, they even have TV shows that only show car pursuits. I guess that’s entertainment for those who work in a sterile workplace where the day’s excitement is the boss and his/her secretary taking a two hour lunch at some hotel.
My take on car pursuits is that they are dangerous, not only to my health but to the public’s. If I was going to die doing my job I wanted it to be for something important. My experience has shown that the driver is avoiding a prison sentence or a ticket that will increase his car insurance rates. My first car pursuit might have made a big impact on my opinion. Some cops loved car pursuits, probably due to the adrenaline rush. The same reason people like roller coasters and those other fast rides at amusement parks. Ok, my story involves my first car pursuit.
I was a few weeks away from getting off probation. I was working with a hard charging officer, Larry, who I liked. Every night we would go out and find and book a drunk driver and write a few tickets. After 2 A.M. we would turn our attention away from traffic related offenses and focus on crime. We had one of the highest recaps on the watch. I was learning a lot, but at times, Larry scared the hell out of me with his driving. Near end of watch (7:A.M.) we would chase speeders down Barham, sometimes at 70 mph +. He was a good driver but he took chances that put both our lives in jeopardy. One morning he almost put our police car in the famous Smoke House in Burbank.
We are working A.M. watch, it’s after 2 A.M. and were looking for bad guys. We stopped a young adult and found marijuana. In 1971, marijuana possession was a felony. We had to book this drug abuser downtown. In 1971, the police cars didn’t have the cages, so the junior officer, that’s me, had to ride in the back seat with the suspect.
Larry is driving, I’m sitting behind him in the back seat and the handcuffed suspect is sitting in the right rear. We head down the Hollywood freeway. A radio broadcast comes out: “All units, 6A39 is in pursuit, southbound Glendale Boulevard from Rowena Avenue.” I look up from the back seat and the next off ramp is Glendale Boulevard. 6A39 is a Hollywood patrol unit. Larry exits the freeway at Glendale Boulevard. I ask Larry, “What are you doing?” Larry replies, “I just want to watch them go by.”
Department policy was very strict about who could join in a pursuit. Even though I had less than a year’s experience, I knew that a police car with a felony suspect in the back seat was not allowed to join a pursuit. Ok, the pursuit is headed in our direction, I can see the heads lights of the bad guy’s car and the red lights of the police car right behind. Larry turns and heads right at them. I yell, “What are you doing?” When I said right at them I mean head on toward the bad guy’s car. At the last second Larry swerves to the left and the suspect flies past us.
Larry makes a U-turn and falls in behind the pursuing police car. My heart is in my throat, I squeak out, “What are you doing?” Ok, do you see a pattern? My vocabulary has deteriorated to the same few words. We’re racing down Glendale Boulevard at about seventy miles per hour. I’m guessing the speed because I’m in the back seat.
Larry mumbles something about the police car in front of us not trying to catch them and passes the pursuing police car. My voice is back and I yell again, “What are you doing?” We are now behind a square back VW that has been reported stolen. I can see two adults in the car and something else moving around I can’t identify. I look over at our suspect and he has that scared look. I recognize it because I have the same look.
Somewhere, Glendale Boulevard turns into Second Street. Larry pulls up on the right of the suspect’s car. No kidding, were paralleling the car we were chasing. Guess what I yell at Larry? I look over at the suspect’s car, two adults and a dog with a scarf around his neck. The dog is jumping around in the back seat. I think the dog and Larry are the only ones enjoying this. I glance over at my suspect, he’s sliding down in the seat. He thinks we’re going to exchange gunfire.
OK, here we are, side by side on Second Street. Second Street goes under the Harbor Freeway–that’s right, a tunnel two lanes until you exit. With parked cars in our lane, Larry hits the breaks and swerves to a stop behind the VW by inches. Now I’m screaming like one of those women in an Alfred Hitchcock movie, “What are you doing?”
After a few more turns in downtown were driving behind PAB, that’s Parker Administration Building, police headquarters. I look up and can see people looking out the windows. I hope the chief isn’t one of them. At San Pedro and Temple the suspect’s car spins out and stalls. Larry is going so fast that he sails right past the VW.
The suspect is trying to restart the car, Larry exits the car and runs to the driver’s door. I run to the passenger door. It’s locked. Larry breaks out the driver’s window with the barrel of his revolver. I’ll never forget this the driver calmly looked up at Larry and said, “I’m John Fitzgerald Kennedy”. JFK was yanked from the car and handcuffed. The passenger was bent over the center console. He was holding the break lever. Apparently he wasn’t fond of the pursuit either. The passenger and the dog were hitch-hikers.
I suddenly remember I have a suspect in the back seat of my car. I look at my police car and can see the suspect’s eyes just above the back seat just like Kilroy, he wants to watch but not get shot.
We broke about every rule in the pursuit manual and an investigation was conducted. Larry and I were interviewed. There was no doubt that Larry was going to take some days off without pay. They also wanted to give me days off for not stopping Larry. At the start of my interview, the Sergeant, Thomas, (his real name) tells me how the interview was going to go. Thomas said “I’m going to ask you a question, then I’m going to give you the answer”. I didn’t ask “What are you doing?” Larry got 5 days off without pay, I was given a couple extra days of station security but I got off probation.
I was involved in many car pursuits during my career but none as bad at that one. As far as pursuits go, there necessary, but I’d rather cars would just pull over.
My next Ramblings will be about a calmer but longer car pursuit. Hal
Hal’s next Ramblings will be on December 26th. We are taking Christmas Day off to enjoy family and friends. We hope you do, too!