By Hal Collier LAPD, Retired
We are happy that 35-year veteran Hal Collier is sharing his ‘stories behind the badge’ with us.
I thought my last court Ramblings was the end. Then I was reminded that I didn’t cover Traffic and Juvenile court. The following stories are true and my own experiences. I didn’t write a lot of tickets that went to court but I did arrest a lot DUI’s. Juvenile arrests were the kiss of death as far as court was concerned.
A lot of my friends were motor cops, a rare breed and often under appreciated by the Department. I’ll talk about BCMC (Big City Motor Cops) in a later Ramblings.
Traffic Court: I’d rather visit the dentist for a root canal than go to traffic court. The reason I hated traffic court is because it just didn’t seem fair. I only wrote obvious violations and few people took me to court. Even so, when I did go to court I knew the ticket was good, the violator knew he committed the violation but the judge, or most times a commissioner, would let the violator go free.
Maybe if I wrote more tickets I’d have been used to losing, but I hated being in court on my own time and having some dirt bag smile at me as he walked out of the court room.
An example: I’m stopped at the red light northbound Las Palmas at Hollywood Boulevard. It’s about 3 A.M. My light turns green and I start into the intersection. I have to brake suddenly for a cream colored VW that sails through the intersection eastbound Hollywood Boulevard. I think he might be drunk being that late on a red light. I stop him, he’s sober and admits to running the red light. I write him a ticket. No sweat, right? A few weeks later I get a subpoena–he’s taking me to traffic court, contesting the ticket.
I’m sure all my motor officer friends are laughing. They see this all the time. Me, I write three tickets a month and when someone questions my judgment I take it personally. For the court date, I show up in my best suit. Ok, again it’s my only suit (but I do have two shirts and three ties, all father’s day gifts). Also it’s my day off. Anyway, I testify that I had a clear unobstructed view of the violation and that the violator admitted the violation.
The violator gets up and denies that he ran the red light and denies that he admitted running the red light. I want to jump out of my seat, but I’m wearing my good tie and shirt. I don’t want to be held in contempt of court and placed in the lock up. The Commissioner looks me in the eye and says we have conflicting stories and dismisses the ticket. I walk to the elevators and refuse to get into the same elevator with this lying piece of road kill vermin. See, I still carry a grudge.
Traffic Court was at 1945 S. Hill Street. A beautiful new building that handled most of the LA Metropolitan area. They had nice underground parking, elevators to the officers’ waiting room. No walking the streets answering all those questions, no walking to your car in the rain or 100 degree heat. Then why did I hate it so much? If you had a subpoena on a drunk driver you could count on spending at least half a day. For tickets, you checked in then waited an hour and walked into the court room where your case would be heard.
They had a nice officers’ waiting room, lots of comfortable seats and some cots for the A.M. watch officers who worked all night. One day I’m really tired from working all night. I get to the waiting room early, check in and grab a cot. I’m just drifting off to sleep when a gaggle of motor cops stroll into the waiting room. I’m not sure what a large group of motor cops are called. Gaggle, pod, heard, flock. Either way they are noisy. They yell greetings to each other because they haven’t talked in two or three days.
One cops says, “Did you hear about Joe? He went down the other day.” To a motor officer, going down means crashing. The cop says, “Joe went down under this semi-truck. The semi slammed on the brakes and Joe and the semi skidded to a stop at the same time. Joe was ok but he had tires marks on his leather jacket, it was that close.” The other motor cops are laughing. Me, I’m thinking Joe is lucky to be alive.
My best traffic court story I wrote about in one of my earlier Ramblings, but I going to repeat it since my reading audience has increased.
The best ticket I wrote was a lady who made a left turn without using the left turn lane. I stopped her and hadn’t decided if I was going to write her a ticket. I approached her window and she started in on me. “Don’t you have anything better to do than harass tax-paying citizens? Now you know why people like it when cops get shot”.
Ok, she’s getting a ticket. I write the ticket and when I ask her to sign, she says, “I hope you die in a gutter, and I hope your wife and children die a horrible death in a house fire.” I tell her to drive carefully and have a nice night. Ok, I said it sarcastically.
About a month later I get a Subpoena for traffic court. That’s right, this tax-paying citizen wants to fight the ticket. Ok, I’ve been working all night and now I have to go to court to explain why I wrote this upstanding citizen a ticket. I walk into traffic court and during my early days a City Attorney (CA) would represent the officers. The CA says to me that she’s thinking of dismissing the ticket and wants to know if I have an objection. The CA says the lady had an emergency at home. Of course I object and explain the ladies statements about my family. Court begins, I get sworn in and describe the violation.
Ok, here’s where it gets good. The lady, who is now as sweet as a newborn baby gets to ask me questions about the ticket. She starts out, “Good morning officer.”
I check to see if her blouse is buttoned up.
She asks me, “Do you remember what I said when you stopped me?”
I replied, “You mean when you wished death on me and my family?”
The back row of the traffic court was usually filled with motor cops waiting to testify on tickets. They all burst out in laughter, I glance over at the Judge. He had a grin that I remember to this day. The violator was found guilty. I was proud, pretty sharp for a cop who had been up for the last 18 hours.
My last Traffic court story involves a commissioner hearing other tickets. I’m in court early and sitting in the back row surrounded by motor cops. This lady walks into the court room. She is dressed in a nice business attire and might I say quite a looker. The motor cop next to me leans over and wants to bet that she’s found guilty. He says the commissioner is gay and finds all women guilty.
They start hearing cases and the commissioner is letting half of the violators go free. It’s the lady’s turn; she is well spoken and not confrontational. Even the officer admits that it was a minor violation. Commissioner, GUILTY. I think some of the motor cops were collecting money to pay her fine.
I suspect my next appearance in traffic court will be to fight a ticket I didn’t deserve and got just because some motor cop had to fill his quota.