By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
The Metropolitan Division of the Los Angeles Police Department came into existence in 1934, as did I. Now known simply as “Metro,” it was formed to work the picket lines of strikers. By the 1950’s, it had morphed into two separate yet attached units.
Captain Joe Stevens was the boss and held the title, “Captain of Labor Relations.” He and a small staff somehow maintained labor/management peace. In five years in the division, I worked only one picket line and that was non-labor related. The “House Committee on Un-American Activities” held hearings in L.A. and every character under the sun showed up.
Lieutenant Bill Bornhoeft, six sergeants, along with sixty men comprised the working side. I say men because there were no women in the division. Metro was considered a “choice” assignment and is still referred to today as “elite.” Volunteers were many but only a select handful ever made it. If I may suspend modesty briefly, they were considered the best of the best, all top ten percenters, all self-starters, all experienced street cops, all go getters and all “hunters.” My regular partner, Frank Isbell and I were lucky enough to come in together after our Vice tour was up.
The division spent most of their time on one of five types of assignments:
Detectives would recognize a “workable” pattern of robbery / burglary / sexual assault, et cetera, and put us in the best positions to make arrests. Some suspects armed and might fail to comply. they suffered the inevitable consequences. Again, modesty aside, we were usually successful. And very good at what we did.
PLAIN CLOTHES PATROL
When there were no stakeouts, we worked the highest crime areas in plain cars. This was our “meat and potatoes” and we thrived. Using U.S. Air Force terminology, the areas we worked were a “target rich environment.” Divisional ”F” cars were manned by officers with suit and tie. We wore sports jackets and shirts and were known on the street as “no tie heat.”
We were free to hunt as we didn’t have to respond to radio calls like the black and whites. I think any officer will tell you observation or eyeball (known as on view at my agencies) arrests are the most satisfying.
These could cover a multitude of events from body guarding a special individual to living with a secret witness. One night in your best suit drinking soft drink cocktails at a fancy soiree waiting for something and the next night/day mingling with a crowd trying to spot the pickpockets. If you liked variety and living with uncertainty, this was the place to be.
This was a much sought after assignment. Whenever a detective or special unit needed short term man power, we would loan one or more people for a specified period. Excellent detective training.
Three or four times a year, the entire division would spend the day at the academy. Classes, training films, tear gas training, riot control, etc. Finishing with a night shoot was followed by BBQ and beer, a great morale builder.
I was fortunate enough to spend three years as an officer and then came back for two more as a sergeant. As an officer, I worked almost entirely with Frank Isbell. I also had the pleasure and privilege of working with some of the greatest street cops in the world. Those were heady times and we seemed to move easily from one adventure to another.
There is so much more I wanted to say but upon reflection (even though a long time ago) some things are best left unsaid. Will we ever see the likes of this group again? I think not; it’s a long-gone era when the lines were not blurred between good and evil. Looking back from 50 plus years, it sometimes seems almost dreamlike to have been a part of the “golden era” of the L.A.P.D.
However, I am told the modern current Metro grown vastly in size and sophistication is more than worthy of carrying on the tradition.