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My 50 Year Anniversary in Law Enforcement - Part 1

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  • My 50 Year Anniversary in Law Enforcement - Part 1

    Today, August 1st, marks the 50th anniversary of my entry into law enforcement. (Yes, I am that old)

    With that, I thought I would share with you some of my experiences with my first law enforcement agency. Please remember, this was 50 years ago. Times have changed since then, as has the profession. Social and cultural values have changed as well. You also have to remember that social and cultural values are not universal. What is perfectly acceptable in one part of the country may be totally abhorrent in another. That’s important to remember as I tell this story.

    I started with a PD in a small agricultural town that was one square mile in size and had 14 sworn personnel counting the chief, the dog catcher, and two female matrons who had never been to an academy and never left the station except to accompany female prisoners, but were still counted as peace officers. The town was known for raising roses and black eyed peas.

    I was excited on my first day. I was one month shy of my 22nd birthday. My uniform was new and pressed, my brass was shined and my leather was polished. I had moved 130 miles to take the job and my new apartment was two blocks from the police station. Just as I was about to walk out the door for my first shift, I looked at my watch and saw I would be an hour early. Not wanting to look like a kiss ***, I sat down in a chair to kill some time. That’s when I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was late for work on my first day. I rushed to the station and enroute, turned my watch back to make it look like I thought I was on time when I was 10 minutes late. No one bought it.

    The department never sent me to an academy. Because I’d already accumulated 30 units in criminal justice courses, they intended to have me challenge the POST equivalency course. They were then going to send me to the sheriffs crime lab to work with them for three months to learn crime scene investigation. They never did that either. My FTO period consisted of riding with different officers each day for two weeks. I was told to observed and emulate the best characteristics of each officer, then I was turned loose on my own. That’s how things worked back in the day.

    During World War Two, a prisoner of war camp was erected in the town for German soldiers. There were no fences. The Germans were told they were free to escape and that Germany was 5,700 miles to the east, across 2,500 miles of America and a population that would probably kill them on sight. They were also told Japan was 5,300 miles to the west, but they would have to cross a mountain range on foot that was almost impassable and then traverse another 5,100 miles of ocean. Most had lost their taste for war and were better treated as prisoners here, than how their own army treated them back in Germany. They worked in the farmer’s fields during the day and associated with the town’s people as neighbors. After the war ended, many stayed and continued their lives here. I tell you this story because 24 years later, the camp remained, but now served as housing for itinerant farm laborers from Mexico, working farmers’ fields.

    On my first week. I was taken to the labor camp as it was known, for an orientation. I was told I would get periodic calls there and needed to be familiar with it. The housing units were little tin, one room sheds that at best might have housed two or three people crammed together. In spite of the 120 degree summers and 17 degree winters, there was no air conditioning and no heating. Showers and bathrooms were communal for the entire camp.

    As I was taken from unit to unit, I saw families of 10 to 12 people crammed inside, living together. It was hard to take, seeing so many people having to share such a tiny space. I was told the rooms rented for $20 per month ($139 in today’s money). When we were through, the officer with me asked me if I felt sorry for the people I just saw. I told him that I did. He said not to and that he wanted to show me something.

    I was taken to the labor camp’s parking lot. It was filled with brand new (current year), expensive pickup trucks with camper shells. I was then told me to start running license plates at random. In California when you run a plate you get (among other things) the name of the registered owner and the legal owner. The legal owner is the bank or organization that owns the loan papers on the vehicle. Not a single vehicle came back as having a legal owner. All were fully paid for in cash. The officer then explained that what I saw in those rooms were entire families who come up from Mexico for six month each year to work the crops. The all crammed in the same room to save money and spent as little as possible while they are here. At the end of six months they return to Mexico with their accumulated wages. In Mexico the economy is different, things cost less and they live in homes down there much nicer than we could ever imagine. The cycle repeats every year. We regard them as poor, but in Mexico they are very rich and live better that we do.

    Most of the town’s residents were transplants from Oklahoma and reflected the culture, values and sense of justice of that region and that time. OTOH, I spent my entire life in the Los Angeles Metro area. My upbringing was based on that culture, value system and sense of justice. I was soon to learn the meaning of cultural conflict, particularly when it came to the police and the courts.

    The police department was very adept at stacking charges. If you took a swing at a cop you were charged with:

    Assault on a Peace Officer - Felony
    Battery on a Peace Officer - Felony
    Resisting/Obstructing
    Disturbing the Peace

    I was then told if I made a felony arrest, don’t be upset if by the following morning it had been reduced to a misdemeanor. They explained that felonies were sent down to the county seat, where the District Attorney was too busy to prosecute most cases and when he did, the judges usually handed out suspended sentences. However locally, we had “Virgil.” Virgil was the elected Justice of the Peace who was a hanging judge that gave more time in jail for misdemeanors than felonies brought at the county seat, so everything was reduced to a misdemeanor and sent to him. Virgil was also the local school bus driver, so court convened whenever he got through bussing kids to school. If we had Tule fog in the morning, court would start late.

    When repeat offenders came into court, pled not guilty and asked for a jury trial, Virgil had a reputation of declaring them guilty on the spot and sentencing them to 30 days in the county jail. In one instance, a repeat offender pled not guilty to a crime he did commit, but which everyone knew could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. If convicted, it would have resulted in a five day sentence. Not being able to post bail, Virgil set trial 30 days away and sent the arrestee off to the county jail to wait. The suspect got the point and after five days, sent the judge a note asking for credit for time served if he pled guilty.

    One day another officer and I brought two narcotics suspects into court for arraignment because the local Constable was sick. When Virgil commented that someone should knock the defendant’s teeth down their da*n throat, one of the suspects asked the judge if he would like to try it. Much to my shock, Virgil started to get up and come down from the bench. It was my 12th day on the job and the first thing that came to mind was, what do you do when the judge starts beating up arrestees in his own court room? Fortunately, Virgil stopped, went back up on the bench and said, “Officers, this is an order of the court. If you fail to heed it, I will hold you in contempt and throw you in jail. If either of these guilty parties gives you a hard time, you are to work them over with your sticks.” My partner responded that we couldn’t do that and Virgil angrily demanded why not. My partner said if they give us a hard time we would have to consider them fleeing felons and shoot them. Virgil banger his gavel and said, “So ordered.”

    The funny thing is, the town’s people accepted this as justice. When adult children (late teens) would get arrested, their parents accompanied them to court, and knowing fully well Virgil’s reputation, would attempt to enter guilty pleas on their children’s behalf. They would sometimes get in heated arguments with Virgil, who would remind them they their child is 18 or over and they cannot speak for them, but all they would say is, “I don’t care your honor, I’m still his mama and he plead guilty.” It would usually end with the parent shouting at the child, “You plead guilty. I’m your mama and I say you plead guilty!” The adult child usually complied and Virgil threw the book at them.

    The most minor offenses brought swift justice from Virgil. Drunk in public, littering, etc., was $65 ($450 in today’s money) or 10 days in jail. Disturbing the peace, petty theft, simple assault, simple battery, was $125 ($866 in today’s money) or 30 days in jail. Major misdemeanors (Assault/Battery on a peace officer reduced from a felony, Resisting/Obstructing) was $500 ($3,463 in today’s money) or six months in jail.

    Virgil has no problem with stacking charges either. If you hit someone, you were charged separately with assault, battery and fighting in public and faced with three $125 fines and 90 days in jail. If you hit a police officer, you were charged with Assault on a PO, Battery on a PO, both of which were reduced to misdemeanors, Disturbing the Peace and Resisting Obstructing. Cumulatively you were looking at four $500 fines ($13,852 in today’s money) and six months in jail. Virgil had no problem handing out those kinds of sentences.

    Things did not stop there. Several of the officer were bullies who would intentionally goad subjects into taking a swing at them, just so they could beat the crap out of them. If you pis*sed off one of these offices, you were drunk and under arrest, even if you hadn’t touched an intoxicant in weeks. You also resisted arrest and got dumped on your as*, even if you didn’t lift a finger against the officer. Their reports probably would have qualified them for the Brady list (if such things existed back then), and of course, this was followed by a visit with Virgil.

    The city had a stand alone jail a block from the police station. It was next to the fire station. It had two cells, each containing two bunks. The ground floor cells had open bar windows that would allow anyone to walk up and converse with a prisoner, or pass them food, drugs, alcohol, or weapons. There was no heat or AC, so prisoners broiled in the 120 degree summers and froze in the 17 degree winters. The city did not want prisoners fed in the cells for fear they would dump paper plates, napkins and utensils down the toilet causing plumbing problems. So, each morning the graveyard officer would remove all prisoners from their cells, put them in a patrol car and drive them uncuffed to a diner where they were fed a standard breakfast the city paid for, then back to jail. Fortunately, (and by the Grace of God) no one escaped when I was there.

    End Part 1 (Due to O.Com size limitations).

    Go here for Part 2 https://forum.officer.com/forum/publ...rcement-part-2

    Last edited by L-1; 08-01-2019, 12:12 PM.
    Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

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