By Hal Collier
Where do you sit? What a dumb question, or is it? Think about your childhood, then your adulthood. Early in your life, you were given a pre-determined seat. The high chair as a small child, later, a seat at the family dinner table or for watching TV. It was never in the mommy or daddy seat, was it? At big family functions, you probably had to sit at the little kids table. Being the last born in my family, I was forever at the little kids table. When you go to a wedding reception, they tell you where to sit. Sometimes I felt I was still at the little kids table, I carried on more conversations with the valet than the bride and groom.
You start school and they seat you alphabetically. If your last name starts with a “C”, you’re guaranteed to sit up front or pretty close. You were close enough to the teacher to notice the cigarette smoke on their breath, or alcohol if you were in remedial classes. I used to envy the kids who last names started with Y or Z.
This regimented seating changes when you grow up, unless you become a cop.
That’s right–they give you a badge, a club and a gun then they tell you to go out and look for trouble, but on your first day in the police academy they seat you alphabetically. Crap. There I am again, near the front. You spend the next five months right under the instructor’s glare, no doodling or day-dreaming, both subjects where I excelled.
The following observations are mine and deal with a big city police department. Smaller police departments may have roll call in a break room or maybe in the Watch Commanders office. They obviously don’t have a Pinks hot dog stand for roll call. Nothing like roll call–while eating on the hood of your patrol car.
You graduate from the Los Angeles Police Academy and go to your first roll call. Being a rookie, you are expected to sit in the front row. LAPD’s probation was one year. You had to sit in the first row unless you got some new probationers which meant you could move back one row. If you moved back too far, a senior officer would come up, tap you on the shoulder and point you back up near the front.
After you got your first few hash marks (five years each), you could move to the back of the room. If you ever watched the old Adam 12 tv show, the rookie Reed sat next to Malloy in roll call. That never happened in the LAPD!
Most officers have a favorite regular seat. When you’re the Watch Commander, you knew right where to look for a certain officer. I knew one partner, Stan, who walked into roll call late and complained that another officer was sitting in his lucky seat. Stan demanded the officer move or be responsible for anything bad that might happen to him that night. Stan reminded me of Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory.”
The senior officers sitting in the back row were just out of hearing range of the Watch Commander and often came up with the best comments on new department policy. None that I can print here. After becoming a super senior you started moving up a few rows. Usually because you couldn’t see or hear. We had one real old timer, “Duke” who was hard of hearing and was only allowed to work the desk and jail. Duke sat right behind the probationers and he would anticipate his name being called in roll call. He usually answered at the wrong name but we gave him slack because he was a cop before Wyatt Earp.
After sitting in the back row of roll call for ten years, I started moving up to the middle rows, still respectable for an officer with over twenty years of experience. We could also hear the comments from both the watch commander and the back row.
Ok, let’s get out of the station and into a black and white. On probation you seldom get to drive. My whole probation I only got to drive when my training officer wanted a nap. I would then drive in the Hollywood Hills where a rookie sergeant couldn’t find us. Later, I was an expert at finding little known streets in the Hollywood Hills. As a young cop you checked the assignments to see who the senior officer was. Cool, I’m the senior officer and I get to drive. I loved to drive. I had a near fatal experience when my training officer nearly killed us both in a vehicle pursuit. See Ramblings-Vehicle Pursuits, Part One from December 22, 2013.
I had one probationer who I let drive twice, both times I took the car keys away from him in the middle of watch. He’d never been to an officer’s funeral. Fact: more police officers die in traffic accidents than by gun fire! As a training officer, I was very reluctant to let a “boot” [probationer] drive.
It was also common knowledge among radicals who wanted to shoot a cop, shoot the driver first, that’s usually the senior officer. What they didn’t know was the senior officer has more training in driving out of the “kill-zone” in an ambush.
Probationers had a tendency to park right in front of a call of a “man with a gun”, or so close to a mail box, I couldn’t open the passenger door. They learned with experience or found a new line of work.
Where do you sit at Code-7? That’s L.A. cop vernacular for eating [or meal break]. Cops hate to eat with the general public on their only break in a twelve hour shift. Someone usually comes up and says, “I don’t want to interrupt your meal but…”, then they do.” On the graveyard shift, most restaurants had a section that was closed off and they would seat the cops in that area.
Usually, the senior officer would sit with a back to a wall and facing the register and front door. Remember, Wild Bill was shot with his back to Jack McCall. Occasionally some school drop-out will try to rob a restaurant that cops are eating at. Once a man tied to rob a cop watering hole (bar) with a comb. He died of a sudden loss of blood. He didn’t do his homework.
I had to attend forty hours of in-service schools a year. These classes were usually more boring than an elderly relative’s slide show of a vacation trip to Leisure World. I made sure I got to class early so I didn’t have to sit in the front. I was in the back of the class and contributed to the comments which again I can’t repeat here. Instructors seldom asked us back row miscreants our opinion.
So you see, cops have been asked, “Where do you sit?” Are we superstitious, paranoid, or a product of our environment? My answer is yes to all!