J U S T S O M E R E M I N I S C I N G
BY Gar Austin
I served at Fpk from 1962 through the Watts Riot in 1965. What a ride! I had worked ELA in Patrol and DB and was promoted to Lt. from there. I had also served a couple of hitches in Vice and worked Fpk Station area including the infamous 68th and Central. How well I remember my first contact with their brass. I was booking a hooker and Lt. Gene "Iron Fist" Bailey came by the cage and fired one across my bow and said, "come over here kid and I'll piss on your leg so you will at least smell like a cop". Welcome to Firestone. Bailey thought real police work started and ended with patrol and let everyone know it. I'm not sure any of my prior experience prepared me for the world of Firestone Patrol.
I thought ELA was a fast station with a fine group of personnel but Fpk was in a different category. There wasn't any honeymoon period there, you hit the ground running with never a dull moment. The saving grace was the caliber of the personnel working there. What a group of men and women they were. I came in behind the promotion of John Arruda who had been promoted to Captain and went to another assignment. Bob Weddle was the Station Commander and what a great mentor he was for me. Meenk, Greenleaf, LeBerthon, Dargon and other Lt's. were helpful. The Sgts. were as strong as you could find anywhere and together with the desk personnel were instrumental in my transition to a Patrol Watch Commander. I learned from every one there from the top to the field Deps..
Weddle was later promoted to Inspector and Arruda returned as Station Commander. His previous Fpk experience was invaluable and he was a great and supportive Captain to work for. I don't really like to be one of those lost in the "not like the good old days" but they definitely were of a different time. A time when you weren't looking over your shoulder thinking you might be second guessed. A time when screw-up's were separated between mistakes of the heart or poor judgment and a verbal reprimand was usually sufficient to correct a problem. A time before every infraction had to be documented when the situation had already been addressed and corrected. With the volume of calls handled in a high crime rate area, complaints regarding misconduct were to be expected and were handled. Not always to the satisfaction of some irate, irrational person. A time when if a Deputy was being reprimanded for a screw up he could then accept the consequences without being worried that it would follow him forever.
It was kind of sink or swim with continuing situations being confronted. The less capable usually didn't last long and some realized it and requested to go back to their previous or any other assignment. Deps. usually didn't burn the less capable Deps. who had marginally passed probation unless they were really incompetent and would put their partners or others in jeopardy, however they would request not to be assigned to ride with them. A sure tip off that there was a problem. After a couple of such requests it would be time to call the problem Dep. in and suggest he wasn't quite cut out to work a station as busy as Fpk and it would probably be in their best interest to request another assignment.
The supervision exercised by the Training Officer's was very effective and reduced the necessity of intervention at a higher level. Actually, with the strong and experienced Sgts. at the station most problems were handled at their very competent level and in spite of the sheer volume, supervision may have been easier there as a WC than at other places. I did have occasion to write up one Dep. recommending discharge for cowardice when it was brought to my attention that he refused to climb a fence at one of the junk yards after he and his partner responded to a 459 alarm. His partner went over the fence but he remained outside the fence. A gunshot was heard. Those were the days before our hand held radios were available. Backup, who had already rolled, were there almost simultaneously and contained the area and several Deputies said they were going over the fence with him but he refused. The other Deputies went over and found out immediately out that his partner had accidentally discharged his weapon, was not injured and there was no present danger but his partner didn't know that. I knew there wasn't a person at that station who would ever ride with him again. He was probably fortunate that they didn't pull a dungaree liberty on him. He subsequently resigned.
In a more humorous vein was my ass chewing of Bill White when he shot Doug Travis with a blank pistol after Doug had goosed him one too many times while Bill was getting dressed in the locker room. It was a routine thing for Doug as he knew Bill was really goosey. This time Bill reached in his locker and pulled out a pistol and said, "@#% Travis, I told you not to do that" and fired two quick shots. The wadding struck Doug and he thought he had been shot. Fortunately no one in the locker room over reacted and as I ran from the W/C office followed by desk Deps. who heard the shots, someone in the room called out Code 4 as we entered. Doug's ruddy complexion was white as a sheet but soon realized he had not been shot. After the obligatory ass chewing in my office regarding the extreme hazard of shots fired in the station, Doug grabbed Bill in a big bear hug and said "Bill you really got me that time" which was something for Doug who was a master of pranks. True to Firestone tradition, that incident stayed in-house, no harm no foul, handled to conclusion, although I did hear it was referenced at the Academy when sea stories were being told. I'm not so sure that today's climate would be the same. I value every minute at the "Stone" with the greatest group of men and women that I was privileged to work with. Many of those relationships continue today.