This is a true story about one of my experiences at the Los Angeles Police Academy. I have changed a few names to save people from embarrassment.
Shortly after leaving the US Army, I began applying to police departments and I went through the hiring process at the Los Angeles Police Department. LAPD had a program called the “Out of Towner” program where you could arrive on Sunday and stay through Thursday and complete the entire hiring process (PT test, oral interview, background interview, and psychological examination) all at once. If you were failed on any portion of the process, they would tell you that you weren’t going to be hired and you could head back home. It made it much easier to apply since you didn’t have to fly into Los Angeles multiple times to complete the various stages of the hiring routine.
I eventually received a letter in the mail that I was hired and would be reporting January 1997 as part of LAPD Class 1-97. I flew into the city a few days before the academy started and rented an apartment. On the first day of the police academy, I parked my car in the academy parking lot at 5:00 a.m.. I was an hour early and I could see the cars of my sixty other classmates all parked there too. We sat in our cars, wearing our suits and nervously waiting for 6:00 a.m. to arrive. A few minutes before 6:00 a.m., a woman wearing a uniform walked out of the front doors of the four story building. People started getting out of their cars and lining up in front of her so I got out and waited in the line too.
The building was a four story commercial building located on half a block in Westchester. LAPD had purchased the building to use as a training facility since the city’s recent drive to increase the size of the department had exceeded the capacity of the old police academy to train recruits. The entire lot was surrounded by a tall wrought-iron fence and the rear of the property had a large obstacle course built on it.
The lady in uniform started walking around the back of the building and we silently followed her. She led us up a big set of steel exterior stairs in the rear of the building that served as a fire escape. Once we reached the top landing of the stairs, she quietly pointed to an exterior door on the top floor of the building and we walked through it.
Now, I might have been naive, but I had expected that when I joined the LAPD, I would walk up to a desk where a friendly face would hand me an information packet and cheerfully welcome me to the department. I imagined there would be classes and courses of instruction taught by instructors who would be eager to teach us the ins and outs of becoming a police officer. What I didn’t realize is that the Los Angeles Police Academy adopted a philosophy of training that they described as a “stress academy”. Since they couldn’t subject recruits to the actual stress of the danger inherent in police work, the instructors were tasked with creating artificial stress during the academy training to see how recruits responded. The idea was that if you couldn’t perform under artificial stress during training, you definitely wouldn’t be able to handle the real stress of patrol and they could weed you out early at the academy.
I was about to become very aware how this all worked.
As we entered silently through the exterior door, we could see the top floor of the building. It was probably the size of two football fields There were no walls or cubicles. It was just one big open floor. We continued walking along the wall and I began to get a little uneasy. It occurred to me that there were only a few things that such a wide open space could be used for in a building this size. As we passed the elevator doors on our right, the elevator door dinged and the true purpose of this floor suddenly became very clear to me.
The elevator doors opened and out poured at least a dozen uniformed academy instructors. They immediately lit into us and started screaming at us and ordering us around.
This was the beginning of Black Line Day.
There was a long line of black tape stretched across the middle of the giant room’s floor. For several hours, we were ordered to stand at attention with our toes just on the line.
“Don’t stand on the line, dumbass! Why were you standing on my line!? Why are you standing so far off the line? Can’t you follow instructions? Give me twenty push ups!”
“Answer up when I ask you something! Is that your real voice? Show some command presence! Why are you yelling at me? You think you’re running the show? Who the hell told you to talk? Do you think this is funny? “
About half of us were prior military so we knew how to stand at attention, but the other half endured additional colorful and spirited suggestions from the instructors regarding where their hands should be placed, how their heads should be tilted, and the quality of their posture.
And the like.
All while we were wearing suits. The instructors also offered helpful fashion tips and critiques about our suit choices, how our shoes were polished, our haircuts, and our appearance in general. The general consensus from the instructors was that our class was probably the worst group of recruits who had ever set foot in the Los Angeles Police Academy. It was all just a giant blur of people in suits sweating, being run all over the open room, doing push ups in suit jackets, and the occasional suit button popping off and rolling across the floor.
After an indeterminate amount of time that felt like six hours, they lined us up, marched us out and we filed into a classroom to start the academy. As we sat in the classroom, the instructors came in and lectured us about our background investigations and told us a story about a recent recruit who had been pulled off the stage during his graduation because they discovered he had lied about his past indiscretions. They informed us this was our last chance to confess to any derogatory information or incidents we had not disclosed to our background investigators. The guy sitting next to me promptly stood up and confessed to having been involved in a crime when he was a juvenile. They took him out of the room and we never saw him again. One of the recruits sitting behind me muttered, “What an idiot.” I peeked over my shoulder to see who said it and was pretty confident that guy and I would be friends.
The academy lasted seven months and would be followed by a year of probation out on the streets of Los Angeles. Once we completed probation, we would be full-fledged police officers.
About four months into the academy, I felt like I was doing pretty well. I got used to the daily routine. We were instructed on a bewildering number of topics: criminal law, firearm manipulation, baton techniques, hand-cuffing, physical fitness training (PT), tactics, ground fighting, etc. The instructors were always trying to single out recruits and mess with them, but I was usually at least decent in most of the categories so I was able to stay under the radar. My strategy was to keep a low profile and not draw any attention to myself. It worked pretty well.
Until one fateful day.
We were subjected to a very rigorous physical fitness routine that included the typical pull-ups, sit-ups and push-ups but also involved formation runs through the suburban neighborhoods that surrounded the academy. On this particular morning, we were doing sets of push-ups in a big formation and I was in the back row. I heard the instructors screaming at some poor bastard in the front row but I was focused on keeping my head down and finishing my push-ups. Suddenly, I heard the instructor scream, “WHO was it?” There was an unintelligible response, but then the instructor yelled, “Oh it was Maupin? Okay then! We’ll get to the bottom of this!”
Uh Oh. That did not sound good. My buddy next to me grunted as he pushed up, “Officer Cosley just said your name.”
“Yeah, I know. I heard it.”
“He was talking to Meese.” (Meese was an older recruit).
After the push-ups, we formed up and ran in formation into the suburbs that surrounded the academy. You could look at a map of Westchester and tell me that Westchester looks pretty flat, but I swear that our PT instructors were always able to find every single hill and run us up it. At times it seemed like every single road in that area was uphill. Occasionally, the citizens would take pity on us and spray us with their garden hoses as we straggled by on our daily Death Jog. It was greatly appreciated.
When we finished the run, Officer Cosley got ready to dismiss us. He yelled, “The class is dismissed to report to the classroom, but I want to see Recruit Officer Meese and Recruit Officer Maupin after this formation.”
This wasn’t good news at all, but part of me was curious why my name had come up. I wasn’t friends with Meese and I really had no contact with him in the class. After my friends whispered good luck to me and happily sprinted off to the locker room, I gave them a jealous look and then reported to Officer Cosley who was waiting for me.
Officer Cosley began to rant at Meese and I about integrity. It seems that on our second day at the academy, months before, we had done a preliminary physical fitness test. I only vaguely remembered this test, but the instructors had paired us off with each other. One recruit would do push-ups while the other recruit counted the push-ups. Then we would switch. And so on. Apparently, I had been Recruit Officer Meese’s partner during this physical fitness test. And on that day, Meese performed 31 push-ups.
Officer Cosley then asked me how it was possible that Meese could do 31 push-ups then but now he was only able to do 9 push-ups? After months of the finest physical fitness training the City of Los Angeles could provide? Frankly, I was perplexed too. It became clear to me that Officer Cosley was insinuating that I had cheated for Meese on the preliminary test.
This was crazy. First of all, I didn’t even know who recruit Meese was on the second day of the academy so why the heck would I cheat for someone I didn’t even know from Adam? Secondly, how would it possibly benefit me to cheat for someone else? I thought these were all great arguments, but not ones I could mention in my defense. I did know that integrity violations were a huge deal in the academy and it was probably the one thing that would get me immediately kicked out. So I doubled down.
I told Officer Cosley, “This recruit believes that his integrity is beyond reproach.”
Now. As an older man looking back on his younger self, I can see that this is where things might have turned south for me. Officer Cosley was clearly “reproaching” my integrity and I was basically telling him where he could stick that opinion. However, I had just come from the military and talk like this about things like integrity and honor were very common. You would often see it on military performance evaluations. It was more a reflection of my military training but this particular turn of phrase had a very significant impact on Officer Cosley. His face changed color and he sputtered out, “Oh, it’s beyond reproach, is it? Get to your classroom. This isn’t the end of this.”
The rest of the day passed without incident. I was pretty pissed at Meese for dragging me into his physical fitness drama, but it seemed like such a ridiculous thing to harp on that I was confident that things would blow over.
The next morning I entered our classroom and what did I see written on the blackboard at the front of the classroom?
Three feet tall on the blackboard.
The class was just getting started when the Lieutenant in charge of the Westchester LAPD Academy came into the room and walked to the front. He pointed at the two giant numbers. He turned to the class and said:
“Recruits. Do you know what the difference is between these two numbers?”
He looked from face to face. He waited. The class was so silent you could have heard either a pin drop or the soft sizzling of my hateful glare burning into the back of Meese’s skull.
What the Bleep? My stomach dropped. Why the heck were they messing with me like this? The whole things was just nuts. Were they so desperate to mess with everyone in the class that they were just willing to make up something to torture me?
About half the class had no idea what he was talking about. After the Lieutenant walked out, my buddy next to me elbowed me and said, “Hey, I think they’re talking about that push-up thing with Meese.”
“Oh really? You think so? I think you cracked the case on this one. ”
That night I sat in my apartment and stressed about the whole thing. I wondered if I had made a mistake coming out to Los Angeles. My friends assured me it was no big deal and would blow over but it was hard to believe that when you’re in the middle of it.
The next day at the academy, it was right before lunch when an instructor came in and told Recruit Officer Meese and I to report to Sergeant Cantu in the instructors’ office. Sergeant Cantu was a pretty terrifying character with a gravelly voice who we rarely encountered. He was not really an instructor for our class but more of a figure who loomed in the hallways. Welp, this was it.
Meese and I stood at attention outside the office. I banged on the board outside and announced that we were reporting to see Sergeant Cantu.
Cantu walked out the office door and stepped up to the two of us in the hallway. He quietly retold aloud the story of my evil plan to cheat for Recruit Meese on the physical fitness test and present a more flattering assessment of his physical fitness. Cantu leaned in toward me and said, “Meese could do 31 push-ups when he got here and now he can only do 9 push-ups. Maupin, do you have any explanation for this”
Now, kind reader, you’ve read this far and if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I did have an explanation for this. And I figured now was probably the best time to share it.
“Sir, this recruit officer believes that when Recruit Officer Meese first arrived at the academy, he was well-rested. After weeks of rigorous physical fitness training, it’s possible that Recruit Officer Meese’s muscles have not had enough time to recover fully.”
Cantu looked at me for a moment and then he quickly responded.
“Maupin, are you some kind of physical fitness expert? We must be so lucky to have such a physical fitness guru here at the academy who can teach us for a change. Maybe you should apply to be an instructor here? Do you think you can do my job, Maupin?”
It was worth a try. I’m pretty sure Sergeant Cantu was being sarcastic.
Sergeant Cantu stared intently at both of us and thought quietly for a few seconds. He then said, “I’ll tell you what. Let’s see how many push-ups Meese can do right now. Meese, drop and start pushing.”
As I stood at attention, eyes forward, I could see Meese get down on the floor out of the corner of my eye. I said a little internal prayer and thought, “Meese, if there was ever a time for you to get inspired, buddy, this is it. Please knock out like 25 push-ups and save us both.”
Do you know how many push-ups Meese did?
In that small hallway with just the three of us?
He performed exactly ZERO push-ups.
He swayed and wheezed. I could see his elbows shaking as he tried to straighten out his arms. He struggled for about twenty seconds before he collapsed on the ground.
At this point, I had probably my one and only out-of-body experience in my lifetime. I felt like my spirit left my “at attention” body and just floated over us. I’ve honestly never felt more strongly that I wanted to be anywhere else than where I was at that moment. I really wanted to be on Sergeant Cantu’s side of this dispute. I agreed one hundred percent with Sergeant Cantu. There is no way that Recruit Meese should be an LAPD Officer if he could not do a single push-up. But I could not say any of that. So I just stared straight ahead.
Sergeant Cantu muttered in disbelief, “Meese, you can’t even do a single push-up? Get up.”
Well that was it for my LAPD career. I wondered if the Sheriff’s Department might be hiring? There were probably plenty of job options for a recruit who had been fired for lying about some stranger’s push-up numbers.
This was pretty much as bad as it could get. It couldn’t possibly get any worse.
But it did get worse.
Because then Recruit Officer Meese started crying.
And I don’t mean that his eyes were watering and his lips were quivering.
He started blubbering and sobbing. His shoulders were shaking. Sergeant Cantu seemed as mortified as I was about the whole thing so he whispered to Meese, “Get it together , Meese. You need to pull it together.”
Through his tears, Recruit Meese sobbed: “It’s true, Sergeant Cantu. Recruit Officer Maupin has great integrity. He really, really does. His integrity is the best.”
I considered asking Sergeant Cantu for his sidearm so I could just end my part of this whole experience. I just looked at Sergeant Cantu and we exchanged a glance. Sergeant Cantu told us to return to our classroom and dismissed us. Meese and I walked back to the classroom with Meese wiping his eyes and nose the whole way there. I didn’t say a word to him.
And the craziest thing? None of the instructors ever mentioned it again either. It was as if it never happened.
Meese and I both graduated from the academy. I graduated with Class 1-97. He hurt his knee on the obstacle course and was recycled to a later class but he eventually graduated and became an LAPD officer. I never saw him again.
211 LAPD officers have been killed in the line of duty. I’m fortunate to be able to say that none of my classmates are included in that number.