This is a story about an event that occurred while I was a patrol officer with the Los Angeles Police Department. I was a small town boy who left the US Army and was invited to attend the Los Angeles Police Academy. I figured joining LAPD was like going to play for the New York Yankees. If you were going to pursue the profession of police officer, why not join a department that was one of the biggest out there? My parents were less than pleased with my decision.
In my first month at the academy, the North Hollywood Bank of America shootout occurred. Our instructors came into class with their radios and we listened to the entire incident unfold. Since I had never lived in a big city before, I assumed this was an everyday event in Los Angeles. I was a little nervous that I might have bitten off more than I could chew with this job.
I graduated first in my academy class. I was just as surprised as everyone else. Graduating first allowed me to pick the station (LAPD called them Divisions) I would be assigned to work. I picked Wilshire Division as my first assignment for probation. I had heard it was the busiest division in the city and I figured that the busiest division would give me the most experience and prepare me for working patrol. My first inclination that I might have made a mistake was during the graduation ceremony when the Chief asked me what division I was assigned. I proudly told him, “Wilshire.” He responded, “Keep your head down.”
Probation at LAPD lasted a full year. During your first six months of probation, you were assigned to training officers who were responsible for ensuring that you learned all of the training requirements required to allow you to work on the street. The training officers were selected for their particular ability to train and mentor young officers.
LAPD was heavily modeled on the United States Marine Corps. Probationers were called “Boots”. As a Boot, your job was to learn as much as possible while keeping your mouth shut. There were cartoon drawings of a Boot posted around the station that showed an officer with huge eyes and ears and his mouth sewed shut.
The idea was that you were to absorb as much experience as possible while keeping your uninformed opinions to yourself. If you started to gain confidence, you risked being accused of getting too “salty”. I was naturally very talkative so when I started talking about things around other officers, they would often tell me, “Maupin, you salty motherBleeper. You seem to know everything, so why don’t you Bleeping tell us how to handle this call, you salty Bleep? Hey, everyone, Maupin is ready to handle this call because he knows more than us! Maybe the Boot can teach us something. Everyone can clear the call! Salty Bleeping Maupin has it all under control.”
Your job as a Boot was to complete your probation and speak when spoken to. They would usually refer to you as “Boot” or by your last name if you were lucky.
Wilshire training officers focused heavily on officer safety and tactics because only eight months before I arrived at that station, Officer Mario Navidad was gunned down on the west side of our station boundary in an alley shootout with a suspect who had stolen a 12 pack of beer from a convenience store. He had been on the job for one year.
Boots would rotate to different training officers every two months or so. My third training officer was a veteran patrol officer named Sheldon. Sheldon was a huge, powerful man who wore glasses and had a chest the size of a bourbon barrel. He told me he had volunteered to become a training officer because he was disappointed with the quality of training that Boots were receiving at Wilshire Division. Sheldon’s nickname in the station was “Buffet” because he ate at least three times per shift.
Sheldon was an excellent training officer. Other training officers might be petty or just plain mean, but Sheldon seemed to really care about teaching me how to do the job. Sheldon also had very high standards.
I called him Sir and he called me Maupin. When we were in the car, he would patiently teach me how to operate the car’s MDT (Mobile Digital Terminal) or remind me when I missed our call sign on the radio. Sheldon had a laugh that would quickly erupt into hysterical giggling. I would sometimes intentionally trigger Sheldon into a laughing fit but usually his laughter was triggered by some dumb mistake I made.
For minor mistakes, Sheldon would usually loudly accuse me of having used crack cocaine. Typical of the feedback I would receive from Sheldon were:
“Maupin, are you on CRACK?!”
“Maupin, you MUST be on crack to think…(insert whatever I happened to have just suggested)!”
“Maupin, you MUST have been on crack to do what you did on that last call!!”
“Maupin, you MUST be on crack!!”
And the like. Followed by spasms of giggling.
I didn’t dare deny it.
Major mistakes were the worst. We would sometimes clear from a call and I would feel like things had gone pretty well. Sheldon would quietly tell me, “Maupin, let’s pull over and talk about what happened back there.” This would be followed by a calm, analytical dissection of all of the various tactical errors I committed while handling the radio call. “Why were you standing like that when you could have been standing like this?”
I respected Sheldon because he had worked patrol at Wilshire for a long time. I had a lot to learn from him so I paid attention to the advice and suggestions he gave me. I always wanted to do a good job and he also didn’t hesitate to praise me on the rare occasions I did things to his satisfaction.
But I was still a Boot.
One fateful night, it was raining like crazy in Los Angeles. The LAPD was a disciplined, crimefighting machine but rain was like kryptonite to our officers. Sheldon backed our patrol car into an underground parking garage to wait out the rain while I worked on finishing reports that we had picked up during the shift.
Suddenly, the radio crackled and we received a call: “7A73, citizen reporting a naked man walking down the middle of the street, Code 2 High.” Sheldon groaned since the rain had kept Wilshire Division pretty quiet that night. I put my reports away and we went en route to the call. We arrived at the location and drove through the area, but we couldn’t see any naked men walking around from the dry interior of our patrol car. We had Dispatch call back to the reporting party but they didn’t have any more information. Sheldon drove us back to the parking garage and then the rain started really pouring.
No sooner had we backed into our spot in the parking garage when we received a second radio call. “7A73, report of a naked man in a residence, Code 2 High.” The location was on the same street as the first call. Even my crack-addled Boot mind could suss out that this call might be related to our earlier call.
[ As an aside, I’d like to point at that only in a city like Los Angeles could a naked man in your house not rate a Code 3 (lights and sirens) response. I always imagined these dispatch calls would be like:
“Okay, you say you’ve been stabbed but is he currently stabbing you? He is? Are you sure? Okay, primary unit respond Code 3.” ]
We arrived back on the street and pulled up two houses away. As we walked up to the small single story home, I could see that the door was wide open. As I stepped through the doorway, I entered a well-lit living room. In the far corner of the room, there was a family cowering in the corner with their children. Standing by the fireplace was a young man, probably in his early twenties, wearing only tighty-whitey underwear. He was about 6 feet tall and looked like he weighed about 350 pounds. All flab. He was clenching and unclenching his fists with his arms at his sides. He was also sweating profusely. When I say he was sweating, I mean that he was coated with it. So much sweat.
Now some readers might argue that we were there on a report of a “naked” man, but I was pretty confident that he was our suspect. I tried to tell the family to move away into another room but they were rooted in the corner. The father said something in Spanish to me that I couldn’t understand. We didn’t need to speak the same language to know that we all had a problem on our hands.
Sheldon put out a backup request and a Code Tom request for a taser. Young coppers these days all carry tasers but back in those days, we didn’t have access to such luxuries. We were informed over the radio that an officer with a Taser would be responding from the station. The station? That was about ten minutes away!
I’ve always been a pretty good talker so I thought maybe I could engage this tighty-whitey wearing behemoth in a little conversation until our taser arrived. My first attempt to speak to him drew his attention and he fixed me with his glazed eyes.
Even I knew that guy was obviously under the influence of PCP. They could have shown a picture of this guy to our academy class as an example.
I had so many questions.
Did he live in this house?
Why was he here?
Whose tighty-whities was he wearing because there was no way that underwear was his size?
And why so much sweat? It was literally dripping off him and his hair was matted to his face.
So much sweat.
And then he charged me. Before I could get more than a few words out, he was heading towards me like a freight train. I’m not to proud to admit that my first instinct was to run for it but Sheldon was blocking the doorway behind me with his giant frame. It’s okay to be a little afraid as a police officer. Nobody wants to partner up with a fearless cop.
Left with no other choices, I braced myself and he collided with both Sheldon and I. The three of us began wrestling in a giant melee of grabbing and shoving. The only upside was that I was absolutely positive that the suspect was unarmed. There was no way there was any room in his tighty-whities to hide a weapon.
He was really slippery and his sweat was flying everywhere. I could feel the salt stinging my eyes. We wrestled for probably 30 seconds in the doorway but it felt like it lasted for minutes. There was a lot of heavy breathing and at one point my radio mike cord got wrapped around my neck. The melee eventually moved out the front door and into the pouring rain.
And this is where all of those tactics Sheldon had patiently taught me paid off.
There was a row of thick rose bushes planted along the front of the house and I used all of my leverage to push the guy toward the rose bushes. I drove him like a blocking sled and all three of us went into the roses. As we thrashed around in the bushes, the suspect probably began to regret his choice of clothing for that night. The thorns of the roses took some of the fight out of him and we were able to eventually flip him over and get him handcuffed. I was pretty pleased with myself that in that muddy, rose-filled quagmire, I didn’t accidentally handcuff myself or Sheldon.
The behemoth just laid there breathing heavily and clenching his handcuffed fists. I put out a Code 4 over the radio once I had unwrapped my radio cord from around my neck. We could hear sirens and within a few seconds, other units arrived to assist us. I don’t know if that taser ever even arrived. An ambulance crew finally showed up and a group of officers helped to lift the suspect up and into the gurney. We used extra handcuffs to secure him to the gurney.
We put him into the back of the ambulance because we were going to take him to Midway Hospital so they could treat him for the PCP overdose. I climbed into the back of the ambulance with him. Both paramedics got into the front of the ambulance. I had never seen them do that before. Normally, one of them sat in the back with the patient. I wonder why they did that this time? Smart paramedics.
So there I was. Sitting in the back of an ambulance. Next to me was the behemoth, secured to the gurney. He kept clenching and unclenching his fists. The rain had washed most of the sweat away, praise the Lord. We were both covered in mud. I could smell the dry cleaning chemicals from my wet uniform as they mixed with the salty smell of Mr. Sweaty. My uniform shirt was ripped and he was covered with scratches from the roses. I’m sure we were quite a sight to behold.
Sheldon came up to the open back door of the ambulance and quietly told me, “Dave, they’re going to drive this guy to Midway Hospital. I’m going to follow the ambulance over to the hospital. If he starts breaking free, radio me on Simplex and let me know. Have them pull the ambulance over and we’ll get him back into the gurney. You got that, Dave?”
I took a look at Mr. Sweaty and he looked back like he had murder in his heart. Gulp. He was obviously very good at non-verbal communication because he had not spoken a single word during this entire incident. Sheldon closed the ambulance doors and it was just me and him.
I should have been terrified. But do you know what my actual thought was? After all that had happened?
He called me Dave. Sheldon called me Dave!
Sheldon had never ever uttered my first name the whole time we had worked together. I had started to suspect that Sheldon didn’t actually know I had a first name.
A few years later, I was off probation and working the front desk at Van Nuys station because my partner had called in sick. Sheldon arrived at the station to book a female arrestee into the female jail at Van Nuys. He looked exactly the same. Sheldon strode right up to me and shook my hand with a huge smile on his face. He turned to his probationer who was bringing in the arrestee and shouted, “See this street cop right here. Dave here is Sheldon-trained!” The probationer looked at me and said, “Nice to meet you.”
Salty Boot. He MUST have been on crack.
4 thoughts on “Buffet”
This eras Joseph Wambaugh. Great story. Thx.
Often, when I would ask a kid what he wanted to do, the answer was “Combat… I want to get into Combat. To do that , I am joining the Army.’ So many of the Vets I have known NEVER SAW COMBAT. So, I would tell these kids, “If you want to experience Combat on a daily basis, get hired on to a Big City Police Dept.”
Great story Dave!
What an awesome story. Brought back many memories of that area.