By Ron Corbin, retired LAPD, LVMP
Can You Say…Guilty Conscience?
I was flying Air-3 one day, which basically had responsibility for everything south of the Hollywood Hills and the Mulholland-Sepulveda Pass. Of course, even with responsibility for assistance to 12 patrol divisions, most of our calls involved those over Southwest, Newton, and 77th St Divisions. These three divisions were generally considered “South LA”, and were some of the busiest for active police work in all of the 17 divisions that were in LAPD’s’ jurisdiction at that time.
Southwest was originally known as University Division since the USC campus resided in the northeast corner of the area. It consisted of a potpourri of cultures, Asian, White, Black, and Hispanic. And each had their gang influence. 77th St Division was infamous for the 1966 Watts Riots and demographics that made it a “hotbed” for police work. Newton Division was known as “Shootin’ Newton”, and was famous for the Black Panther Shootout in 1969, and the SLA Shootout in 1974.
While slowly patrolling the skies over downtown LA, my observer and I monitored a radio call of a “211 Just Occurred” at a liquor store in Newton’s area, with the dispatcher giving a brief follow-up description of armed robbery suspect and his last direction seen running from the store. The suspect was a light-skin Black male, approximately 6’5, and had red hair. Oh, and to disguise his identity, he wore a red bandana over his face (sounds kind of silly to be that race, that tall with red hair, and attempt to hide your face, don’t you think? Just ADC- Another Dumb Criminal)
My observer responded via the radio that we were en route for aerial assistance. I banked the aircraft and headed southbound at VNE (pilot talk for maximum allowed airspeed for that particular aircraft) toward the scene, calling LAX ATC (Air Traffic Control) for clearance to enter their TCA (Terminal Control Area). This was necessary due to the fact that our call was going to be under the flight path of the large commercial jets approaching both west runways for landing. Our little helicopter would be no match for a jumbo jet, and a midair would make a bad day for everyone. Even causing a passenger-filled commercial airliner to have to make a “go-around” because of our air space intrusion would certainly generate (at the least) an angry phone call to Chief Ed Davis. However, following MOUs with FAA, LAX controllers worked well with us ASD (Air Support Division) pilots in our priority needs.
Arriving over the general area of the crime area and since ground units were already on the scene, we began a wide orbit several blocks from the incident, searching backyards and anyone running. It’s amazing how well you can see physical descriptions, clothing colors, and certain distinctive patterns of people from 500 feet above the ground, our standard altitude for orbit.
It didn’t take long for my observer, who was using gyro-stabilized binoculars, found the suspect. He was trying to “blend in” with the people on the street. But it was easy for us since we could not see another 6’5″ Black male with red hair and a red bandanna neckerchief tied around his neck…at least for miles around in our bird’s eye view.
While the observer was directing ground units to close-in and make an arrest, I thought that I could “buy some time” and maybe not cause the suspect run, which meant a foot pursuit for our officers. I activated the PA system and yelled, “You’re Under Arrest! Get On The Ground”!
Wow! Was I surprised when not only our suspect complied, but 6-7 other people also immediately dropped to the ground with their arms prone-out to their sides. (Hmmm, maybe I should have been a little more specific to my person-of-interest.)
Possibly I just located several crime suspects and cracked a bunch of unsolved cases, or these individuals had been through the process before. In either case, when the first officers drove up, they looked confused to see several individuals lying on their stomach ready to be searched and cuffed. My observer was laughing hysterically as he directed the ground officers to the right suspect.
As the Code-4 was broadcast, we left ground officers to explain and pacify those other citizens who had apparently had guilty consciences about something else.
“We turned and flew off into the sunset on our blue and white steed. I just wish that I could have left a silver bullet for those to ponder… Who were those guys in the air?”