Police Burglars, epilog

by Hal Collier

Epilog to the Hollywood Police Burglar scandal:

After the smoke cleared and believe me this took years, I pieced together the following events of the Hollywood Burglaries. Ron Venegas made a deal and cooperated with investigators. He resigned from the LAPD and last I heard he was driving a truck for the movie studios. He was sentenced to probation and never did any jail time. Jack Myers died in an automobile accident shortly after his arrest. It was ruled accidental, most speculated he committed suicide or was run off the road by an unknown officer to silence him.

Twelve officers and supervisors were either charged criminally or administratively. One sergeant was actually tried in court. The judge found him not guilty. The only evidence was Venegas’s statements and the Judge said, “Venegas is an admitted criminal and I wouldn’t believe him if he said the sun will rise in the morning.” All resigned and were never charged, one other officer got probation. Those of us left behind were on probation for decades. In an earlier Ramblings, I described ugly partners who tarnished the badge. There wasn’t enough Brasso to clean my badge because of these officers.

Venegas, Myers and others were responsible for over 100 Hollywood business burglaries. Some resulted from taking property after a business was already broken into and others they went “shopping.” Shopping involved businesses that had something the officers wanted. The officers carried a slingshot and marbles. They would smash out a window and wait for the alarm call. They would then request backup officers to search the premises for suspects. When the uninvolved officers left, they would take whatever they needed.

Some of the businesses they broke into baffled me. Lido Cleaners, where we all cleaned our uniforms! They broke into the cleaners a couple of times. They not only took cash but their clean uniforms. Some of businesses were video stores and they took video players and video discs. They broke into a couple of pharmacies and took prescription drugs. Hardware stores, auto repair shops for batteries or tools. Strange but IA couldn’t find out if they sold anything or pawned it. A lot of the stolen property was piled up in their garages.

In an odd twist, one sergeant was suspected of being a burglar and his house was searched. Nothing was found and Internal Affairs returned a month later and wanted to search again. They didn’t have a search warrant and ordered the sergeant to give up his civil rights. The sergeant sued the department and won a million dollar settlement. We all have to play by the rules!

One of the officers was rumored to be involved with a prostitute on the west side. She was later found dead in a motel. Last I heard her murder is still unsolved!

All supervisors were transferred out of Hollywood. Captains, lieutenants, sergeants, even if you’d never supervised the involved officers. The department was cleaning house! To some, it was a blessing. Hollywood was not a fun place to work anymore. Most were given the division of their choice, closer to home. Of course, in their new division they were looked upon as guilty, just not caught. Think about it, you transferred out all the supervisors, now you have to replace them. We get a bunch of new Hollywood sergeants, who probably don’t want to work in a slowly decaying division. I’m wondering who to trust and I’m questioning my own judgments on a person’s character. The new Captain, Bob Smitson and my Lieutenant, Tom Elfmont, were hand-picked by the chief to clean up Hollywood Division.

I remember one sergeant, Doug Campbell, who befriended me. He seemed like a good guy, but I’ve been burned and not very trusting. Doug turned out to be a great guy, a good street cop in sergeants stripes, and still my friend today. He made the transition much easier.

Last few paragraphs, I promise. The Department’s conclusion was that poor supervision led to the burglaries. That’s partly true since a few supervisors were involved in the thefts. It was also suggested that some of the officers, although not involved, should have known. As I said before I was looking for burglars, I just wasn’t looking in my own yard! I have received many responses from former Hollywood officers. They saw patterns after the arrests that might have made us more suspicious of our co-workers.

Most of the involved officers moved on with their lives and put their past behind them. I’d hear that so and so was working for this company and doing fine. I once was told that Ron Venegas was at a movie shoot in Hollywood, and asked if I wanted to see him. Now, Ron and I had been friends but I had nothing to say to him now.

I thought I was over the scandal when I attended a Department school for Watch Commanders. It was 1996, fifteen years after the scandal. I sat quietly in the back row of the class—I got there early. In the front of the classroom, this young sergeant was talking about police corruption and the Hollywood Scandal. I let him finish and when he asked for comments, I jumped up. I’d been silent for too long. There were two sides to this story and he was only telling the command staff’s side. I was there and this sergeant was still in High School when it occurred. After I vented, I sat down. A couple of old timers approached me at the break and thanked me for speaking up, but I still carry the scars of betrayal three decades later.

Lt. Dan Cook, LAPD spokesman at the time said, “We’ll recover from it but we’ll never forget it.” I’m not sure I’ll ever recover or forget.



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