Another burst of mostly indecipherable static came through the radio. I turned to Sergeant Doug Bowler next to me and asked what the call was about. “Another naked man,” he said, in his typical deadpan manner. It was just another call for the LAPD, with whom I spent a day over Christmas.
Before the appointed day arrived I paid a visit to the Oak Tree Gun Club outside the city to try out some of the weapons the LAPD uses. With the sympathetic help of the staff there, I got to fire, among others, the Glock 19, which is one of the pistols that the LAPD can carry.
I missed everything and severely hurt one of my fingers, yet I realised how crucial a gun must be to an officer on the beat in Los Angeles, especially when they’re so readily available. Research done, I left, only to be given a friendly reminder to wash my shoes in case I set off a scanner at the airport on my return and was detained for an overly personal once-over.
Turning up at 6am on a Sunday morning at the Northeast Area Division station of the LAPD, I had no idea what I would be getting up to for the 12 hours I was going to be spending with them. On arrival, I was introduced to Sergeant Bowler and we signed the waiver that agreed I wasn’t going to sue the city in case I was injured in this “inherently risky” activity.
Introduced to the rest of the team, we turned up for morning briefing just as the discussion of last night’s events was occurring. Apparently a Swatting incident had taken place at a celebrity’s home and the police had turned up with assault rifles only to discover an empty house. The culprit was someone hiding behind an internet proxy and a fake caller ID.
10,000 officers patrol this vast city of almost 8 million citizens.
Now that we had been briefed, Sergeant Bowler and I got ready for the patrol ahead. Despite ignoring my subtle hints to let us carry a shotgun and bean bag gun in the car, Doug did however get the keys to the eponymous police Crown Victoria. Giving me a tour of the beat which the Sergeant had got accustomed to over his 20 year career, he pointed out the house where a stalker had flown all the way from Australia just to visit Colin Farrell and also the 7/11 where two clerks were brutally murdered just before Christmas.
Staring down at the city from the Griffith Park Observatory high in the hills, with the Hollywood Sign in the background, it was hard to comprehend that only around 10,000 officers patrolled this vast city of almost 8 million citizens. In comparison, the similarly sized London has 31,500 officers within its borders.
Why trade a gun for dope when you can get dope for free with a gun.
Stopping for breakfast, I got to know the veritable Dixon of Hollywood, who was not only a veteran of the Military Police in his younger years, but also had experiences of most areas of Los Angeles since the early 90s. When he entered the LAPD in 1993, it was still scarred by the 1992 riots, and was one of the first of the new generation of a more representative police force.
Only four years into his job, Sergeant Bowler took part in the North Hollywood Shootout, where two heavily armed robbers attempted to rob a bank, and the LAPD, powerless to stop them with conventional weapons, was forced to rent rifles from a gun store as a result. The Sergeant had seen a lot.
Early on in our ride, a call came in stating that a male was trying to swap his gun for drugs. Bowler’s reply was simple and filled with sage experience. Why trade a gun for dope when you can get dope for free with a gun?
Despite his encyclopaedic knowledge of Los Angeles, Sergeant Bowler was coming to the end of his time on the force. With a love of country music he was planning a quiet retirement in Tennessee for himself and his collection of 3,500 movies.
Starting out again, the Sergeant and I visited some of the most famous parts of Los Angeles, including South Central and the infamous Skid Row.
Passing through from the utterly deprived and hopeless faces of Skid Row into some of the nicest parts of town was startling and myself and Sergeant Bowler got talking about some of the issues he had faced over his years in the service. When Britney Spears had her famous meltdown he was offered $100,000 for any photos of the inside of the house she was staying in.
He claimed that the photographer who took the picture of her being loaded into an ambulance received $1.5 million. As we sat down to lunch, Sergeant Bowler explained: as soon as it turned 3 p.m., things would start to get bad, and that once we started eating a call for assistance would come in. Almost on cue, a call for a Supervisor from the Northeast Area arrived for four males fighting in front of their house.
Turning up soon after it had dissipated, we discovered a man hitting his head against the interior divider of another police car. The man was, it turns out, under a Psychiatric Hold, and what turned out to be his brother and friends were battered and bruised. Seeing we were no longer required, the Sergeant returned to patrol with me to see what we could find before the shift finished.
Very quickly a call came in to the car about a male transient verbally abusing members of the public, and throwing things at them in a store’s car park. Arriving, we found nothing except distraught citizens, yet within minutes there was a call describing a very similar gentleman three miles away.
Clearly we were either dealing with Jesus or a man who was off his meds. Once again turning up to angry people, the transient was nowhere to be seen. However, over the nearby wall I spotted what had to be the gentleman, who quickly disappeared at the sight of Sergeant Bowler’s uniform. The only recourse left was to call up the helicopter, which I had visited earlier, to try and spot the vanishing tramp.
Turning up nothing, Sergeant Bowler and I began to wind down as the shift came to a close. Seeing a city like Los Angeles from behind the wheel of a police car and visiting the memorial wall to the 200 LAPD officers who have died in the line of duty was surreal. Dealing with a city where there’s only one police officer for every 426 residents and where crime is so infamous is a hard job, and Sergeant Douglas Bowler is clearly one of the best to deal with it.
Watching the two shifts at the Northeast Station switch over, a full 12 hours since I’d seen the reverse occur reminded me that, much like New York, this is a city that truly never sleeps.