Personally, I was never cut out to work a traffic car. I especially got no kick from citing working people who were only trying to make a living. I hated issuing tickets to people who made some traffic boo-boo, like we all sometimes make, and now would have to take time off work and pay fines that would make it even harder to make ends meet.
Sometimes the violator’s vehicle would be seized, towed, and stored. The owners would be unable to even keep their tags current, and the exorbitant fees resulted in their cars being sold at police auctions. Everyone else profited from the working stiff’s loss, including: the local government, the tow company, and the storage yard. I personally knew good people who lost two or three cars in this way.
I probably wrote a couple of dozen traffic tickets in my patrol days. Now don’t get me wrong, I used the vehicle code to get my probable cause for dozens of traffic stops every day. However, unless the driver was holding drugs, guns, or was a wanted suspect, I usually cut him loose with a warning about the vehicle code violation.
Traffic Cop, let’s call him “TC,” was just the opposite. He derived some sadistic pleasure from citing people for the slightest perceived violation. Teens, working people, and even grandmas, it didn’t matter, they were his favorite targets. He would grin a huge Cheshire Cat grin as he cited his victims, and he was in heaven when he was placed in charge of the Commercial Trucking Enforcement Unit.
Having grown up around truck drivers I knew that most of them drove rigs owned by a company, so trapping them in a commercial vehicle check point and writing them up for every minor mechanical fault had little effect on the trucking company and only hurt the driver.
These citations would threaten the driver’s ability to make an honest living. Many times the drivers were forced to run overweight and with doctored log books in order to keep their jobs. This made them easy prey for Commercial Enforcement cops like TC.
On the other hand, gang members very often drive without a license, they were commonly under the influence of drugs and alcohol while driving, and they drove unregistered or stolen cars and used them to transport stolen property, weapons, or drugs. So one afternoon I began teasing TC about ticketing grandmas while real criminals drove around with impunity. “Hook ‘em and book ‘em TC, not write ‘em and cite ‘em,” I joked.
Much to my surprise, TC later approached me and asked, “Would you teach me about working gangs?” So what could I do but teach TC about how to work gangs. For the next few weeks TC rode with me in the Lynwood-Compton OSS Gang Unit. I guess it was really my fault that this square peg got put into the round hole.
TC grew up as a white lowrider in a small town in Los Angeles County. This town and its school system are not known for its academic excellence, but TC excelled and graduated from college. Possessing a superior vocabulary, he would often ridicule gang members by talking over their heads and using words they were not familiar with. He thought it was funny to ridicule their poor English by mocking them.
As a result gang members spread the word about this “smart-alecky” tall white cop. Having TC walk into a gang traffic stop or suspect interrogation was like pouring ice water on a smoldering flame. Any gang intelligence would immediately cease. All the local gang members hated him.
Picking the right people, who have the skills and ability to work with gangs and in small specialized units, makes or breaks any gang unit, but the OSS (Operation Safe Streets) leadership (in a major lapse of sanity) promoted TC and transferred him into the gang unit. He was placed in charge of a team, and this team became a problem.
Once, the TC team responded to a gang shooting scene at a local residence. While standing near parked vehicles on the driveway of the residence, TC became the only OSS Sergeant to become the target of a gang drive-by shooting. This was no case of mistaken identity; the gang shooters specifically aimed at him and narrowly missed hitting him. No other OSS detectives were targeted. The gang suspects and vehicle got away.
TC’s team had some good gang detectives transferred as personnel problem employees. I asked the administrative sergeant. “Don’t you get it?” I told him, “It’s not the subordinates with the problem, it’s the supervisor.”
The original OSS detectives worked under a government grant. The salaries were budgeted, overtime, new radios, and informant fees were budgeted. But desks, files, phones, and vehicles were not. Each team “scavenged” these unbudgeted items from other county sources. (We stole them.)
My team in ELA had pieced together a “Frankenstein” radio car from pieces of black-and-white vehicles from the county “bone yard.” I persuaded the local tow company to notify me when it was going to paint one of its own salvaged vehicles, and I would pay for the additional paint to spray our Frankenstein vehicle the same color. We sanded and primed the car in anticipation and soon we had a beautifully painted black plain wrap police car.
TC was beside himself with envy. He asked me to paint his team’s long low four-door sedan, but I explained that this work was done voluntarily by our own team members and paid for out of our own pockets with the assistance of a friendly tow company. He should do the same thing with his people. My mistake was mentioning the tow company’s name.
A few days later I received a telephone call from the tow company owner who said that he had been visited by TC. Because he had done me a favor by painting my vehicle, he had been intimidated into agreeing to paint the other team’s car for free. He now cried to me that this would cost him money for the paint and he did not appreciate the heavy hand of TC. I told him that I would make it up to him and that I would provide the paint for TC’s car.
Conspiring with another OSS team, I procured a gallon of the horrible luminescent green paint used by a local city to paint its fire and rescue vehicles. I delivered this paint to the tow company boss telling them that TC’s car had to be painted this horrible vomit green.
When TC came to pick up his car he did a perfect imitation of Donald Duck throwing a tirade. He had a complete meltdown. If you watch the old gang classic movie “Colors,” you will see this incident depicted in the movie. The scene was taken from this real incident. For years TC’s vehicle was the source for much good-natured teasing and the butt of numerous jokes.
Despite his personality faults, I actually liked the man I’m referring to as TC. I blame the administrators of the LASD and OSS more for the problems he created in the unit. He was just the victim of being placed in a position he was not suited to fill. Eventually he was promoted to lieutenant and transferred into an administrative position. That was best for everyone.