By Hal Collier, LAPD, Retired
Hal is a thirty-five year veteran of LAPD. We are pleased he is sharing his stories with us.
Stake Outs part 1
The story you are about to read is true. I’ll use the real first names of partners, unless I can’t remember them. This segment will deal with “Stake Outs.” Stake outs are depicted on TV and in the movies all the time. You see these two cops sitting in a warm car, drinking latte coffee and chatting about their latest conquests. I love TV cops–they never have to go to the bathroom and the perp (perpetrator) always shows up and an arrest is made, all within five minutes.
Fact: Most stake outs you sit on a roof top of some business in December for six hours and the only crime you see is a homeless man urinating on your police car. The Watch Commander says it’s a waste of manpower. That’s after you spent two weeks telling him that this stake out was a sure thing. Patrol cops as a rule don’t get to participate in many stake outs. There usually reserved for the elite SPU (Special Problems Units) which are comprised of young cops who still have a drawer full of their Academy T-shirts. I was never assigned to SPU, but I did get a couple of loans and I was also assigned to a hype car for six months.
Stake outs require a lot of preparation. You study crime reports, look for patterns, anything that will increase your chances of success. If you remember I spent nineteen years working Morning Watch, that’s 11 P.M. to 7 A.M. So you plan accordingly. What time of year–do you wear warm clothing? Do you bring binoculars, a thermos of coffee, sunflower seeds, chewing tobacco, a hand-held video game? Most important of all, who is your partner? I been on stake outs with some great partners and the time flew and I’ve been on six-hour stake outs with a partner similar to an in-law you can’t stand.
Once we had a rapist hitting residences in the southeast area of Hollywood. I was told to drive my personal truck and park on this side street for six hours and watch for a tall thin black man who can run faster than any cop. My partner that night was Ron, he was from New York and talked constantly. The constant talking wasn’t what was so annoying but his use of the term “Right, Buddy.” after every sentence. He once got out to pee and I thought of driving off and leaving him, yelling “Right, Buddy.”
I had a couple of memorable stake outs while working a hype car. My partner was Dave and we could sit through a hail storm and have a good time. The Pantages Theater parking lots were having a rash of car break-ins. We figured we would sit on the roof of the theater and watch the three surrounding parking lots. We arranged for the theater manager to allow us access to the roof. It was December and a little cool. No, it was damn cold with a twenty mph wind from the north. We wore dark, warm clothing and I brought along a pair of binoculars. We both drink coffee, so I had Terri, my wife, make us a thermos of coffee. Unfortunately, Terri doesn’t drink coffee and therefore the coffee poured out like the sludge from that leaking oil well in the Gulf. Sorry Terri, but you can’t change history.
Ok, were ready. We begin our trek up to the roof. The Pantages Theater is about twelve stories and we have to climb up a metal ladder for two stories. We have more equipment than Sir Edmund Hillary had on his climb up Mt. Everest. Of course Sir Edmund wasn’t going to spend six hours on top of Everest. We reach the top and scout the parking lots. We can see four parking lots. We begin our surveillance. The first hour and half flies by. The Capitol Records building to the north is having a Christmas party. What we see going on in the parking lot is not a crime unless you’re a divorce lawyer.
The cold wind makes us both have to pee. The air conditioner for the Pantages Theater is a water cooled-evaporator, with a large water trough on the roof. Well, you can figure out where we peed. Your tax dollars at work. We didn’t catch anything but a bad cold. By the way if you spit tobacco off a twelve story building, the spit turns into a parachute about 2 stories down. More spread, but not good for accuracy.
The next night we commandeered an office inside the Capitol Records building. The office belonged to some bigwig. One of us sat in his huge over-sized chair while the other looked out the window. We were warm and there was a radio which we changed to country music. An hour into our stake out I heard Dave on the telephone. Next thing I hear is the DJ dedicating a Johnny Cash song to Dave and Hal, on a stake out. True story.
I have a few more stake out stories, some of which actually result in the arrest of a bad guy.
It was some time in the winter. Dave and I got a call to meet another car in the back parking lot of a known dirt bag hotel (Vine Lodge). We figured they needed our expertise. We pulled into the parking lot and the officers were standing at the back of their open car trunk. We got out and walked toward them. We were immediately pelted with snowballs. That’s right snowballs in Hollywood. Ok, picture this, four LAPD officers running around a parking lot in the middle of the night, having a snowball fight. The officers found the snow on a car in the Hollywood hills. They took some and set up an ambush for us. We all laughed and decided the lieutenant should not miss out in the fun. Dave and I went to the station and coaxed the lieutenant to come outside. As soon as he exited the back door he was pelted with snowballs. He thought this was great fun and didn’t want his Assistant Watch Commander (A W/C) to miss out.
The lieutenant walked into the Watch Commanders Office, past the A W/C and closed the door. The A W/C looked up then turned toward us as we walked through the other door. He was suspicious because we all had our hands behind our backs. He jumped up and tried to go through the door the lieutenant was holding closed from the other side. The A W/C was pelted with eight snowballs. We cleaned up the best we could but the custodian wanted to know how the carpet got so wet. Non-cop friends might think this is juvenile, but it relieves the stress and improved moral.
Besides, how many can say they had a snow ball fight in Los Angeles, let alone in the Hollywood Watch Commanders Office?