By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD
In one of my last Ramblings I told of being lost while on loan to another division. I worked Hollywood most of my career and didn’t like change. Some cops liked to change divisions every couple of years. I figured if you spent two years in Hollywood you could get around without a street guide unless you had a call high in the Hollywood Hills. Then only a guiding star could help you. I often wondered how cops in rural areas found the location of their calls. Most of the roads were dirt and a street sign was a sign of luxury. If you did have a street sign it most likely had bullet holes in it!
This Ramblings has nothing to do with getting lost but what every rookie had to know, at least in my “olden days.” The first day with a new rookie, the senior officer wanted to get to know his partner. A rookie’s first shift with a senior partner went something like this:
Before clearing for radio calls, the senior officer would go get coffee and ask questions of this want-to-be-a-cop. “Do you have a backup gun? If yes, where do you keep it?” Most carried a 2-inch, 5 shot, 38 caliber revolver in their back pocket. I was more accurate throwing rocks than shooting a two-inch revolver. Some preferred an ankle holster and years later some carried it in a holster behind their ballistic vest. If you carried a backup gun you told the rookie where it was. You never know when you might need an extra gun or bullets.
Next, you told the new partner, “Always know where you are.” If we suddenly get in trouble and need help you’ll have to get on the radio and tell them where we are. There are many stories of cops having to run to the end of the block to look at the street sign. The officer then had to run back to the police car and grab the radio. He was usually out of breath. Rookie officers were often tested. The senior officer would drive down a dark side street and suddenly stop.
He’d yell at the rookie, “I’ve just been shot. Where are we?”
You had better know! If you didn’t, you’d get one of those one-sided conversations usually making reference to your parents’ marriage status.
My head was always spinning, as we turned corners, looking at street signs. I was given the ultimate test one dark cold night. The radio was quiet and we were driving down Melrose. My senior partner, Rick, turned northbound on Formosa Avenue then turned westbound down the alley. I knew it was Formosa because it was only two blocks from Pink’s. I could still smell the chili even though Pink’s had been closed for hours. He drove down that alley for six blocks, not a street sign in sight.
He suddenly stopped midblock and asked, “Where are we?” I calmly answered, “We’re north of Melrose in the alley, six blocks west of Formosa.”
He never tested me again. I later learned that most buildings have a large electrical box on the back wall. Stenciled on the box is the address of the business. That’s for the Department of Water & Power guys, not the cops.
One last question for a rookie. The senior officer would ask, “I’ve been shot, do you come to my aid or go after the SOB who shot me?”
Tough question, how would you answer? The right answer in the early 70’s was you go after the bad guy after broadcasting my location that I have been shot. Now days we have shooting trauma kits in our equipment bags and maybe if we stop the bleeding, the wounded officer will survive.
We almost always catch the bad guy it just takes time. Another stern lesson, “Never give up your gun. Never.” That was a lesson learned after the “Onion Field.”
It was all part of learning the job and hopefully you passed it on to the new breed of cops. That new breed will be putting money in your pension fund after you retire.