By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD
Any cop worth his salt will tell you that deploying good police tactics will save you a lot of aggravation and probably save your life. The aggravation comes later from the after-action investigation. An example: you get in an Officer Involved Shooting (OIS). You survive and just as your breathing begins to return to normal, the investigation begins. Those that investigate will look at everything you did prior, during, and after the shooting. They’ll even check out how you qualified on the shooting range last month. They will pick apart–second by second–what you were thinking, what you and your partner said, and even if you had talked beforehand about what to do in a given circumstance. The people who finally judge your tactics usually have little or no police experience or haven’t been in a black and white since man walked on the moon! That would be the Chief of Police and the civilian Police Commission. Either way, use good tactics and you survive to go home that day. You can also explain why you did what you did and why you made that decision in a split second. Ok, enough of my politics!
I was a rookie officer in Hollywood Division. I had about three months of real police experience as well as the volumes of training I received in the police academy. I’m working grave yard shift, (11PM to 7Am) and I’m the passenger officer. It’s about 2:30 A.M. and the bars have closed but Hollywood Boulevard is still packed with cars and pedestrians. A call comes out “Rape Just Occurred at Selma and Las Palmas. Suspect’s vehicle described as a dark 4-door sedan, partial license number JOE— and last seen northbound on Las Palmas toward Hollywood Boulevard. Two male white suspects armed with handguns.
We’re in the area and begin looking for the vehicle. The police gods were with us–the suspect’s car makes a turn right in front of us. He drives westbound on Hollywood Boulevard. We pull in behind him and broadcast that were following the rape suspect’s vehicle and request a backup. This was before the police department had helicopters. Hollywood Boulevard heads toward the hills after it crosses La Brea. We decide to make a felony car stop before they get in the hills. We activate our red lights and the suspect’s vehicle immediately pulls to the curb just west of La Brea.
I grab the Ithaca shotgun and exit the car. Department tactics teaches us to crouch down behind the police car door for cover. My adrenalin is surging through my veins and I’m sure the suspects can hear my heart pounding. I look to my right and there’s a large palm tree two feet away. Even as a rookie, I surmise that the palm tree is better cover than a Plymouth car door, bought by the city because it was the lowest bidder.
I move behind the palm tree and using police vernacular, “I jack a round into the chamber.” I slip my finger along the frame and take off the safety. The passenger suspect opens his car door and looks back at our police car.
He has his hands concealed in front of his body and with my best 22- year-old male voice, I yell, “Let me see your hands.”
He looks over at the palm tree and sees me with the shotgun. I’m guessing the barrel of the shotgun looked as big as a canon pointed at his head. He drops something on the floorboard and thrusts his empty hands out the door. We get the driver and passenger out of the vehicle and handcuff them. I searched the passenger side of the suspect’s vehicle. Lying on the floorboard is a loaded 45 cal. auto handgun.
I’m pretty sure my eyes were bigger than the barrel of my shotgun. Later at the station, I ask the passenger if he had planned to use the gun. He looked me in the eye and coldly said, “I was going to try and shoot it out. I didn’t want to go back to prison! When I looked back at the police car, I didn’t see you. Then, when I saw you behind that big tree with the shotgun, I gave up!”
Later, when I taught tactics at training days I emphasized to look for better cover than a car door. Good tactics will save your life but once in a while you need a little luck!