As a teenager, I was no fan of the cops.
That was nothing unusual for a hot-rodder who liked to street race and cruise and maybe partake in adult libations at times.
After graduating high school, I got a job working security at Bendix Corporation in Sylmar. I worked nights while attending college and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Ironically, I took a journalism class, and quickly decided I was not cut out to be a writer.
The chief of security at Bendix, a retired LAPD cop, was someone I quickly came to admire. I loved everything about him: his stories, his attitude, his philosophy on life, the respect he both gave to and commanded of others. This great man not only had a significant impact on my decision to pursue a career in law enforcement, but he surprisingly encouraged me to apply to the sheriff’s department, not the LAPD.
The day I turned twenty-and-a-half, I submitted an application to the sheriff’s department. At that time, that was the minimum age to apply. The process to be hired would typically take six months, and they required you to be twenty-one at the time you were sworn. However, during those years, LASD was recruiting and hiring at a record pace, and the process had slowed because of that. Three months after I applied with the sheriff’s department, I dropped an application with LAPD as a backup plan.
LAPD is a fine department filled with great cops. Some of their specialized units are second to none, such as their SWAT teams, their Metro unit, and their Air Support unit. However, at the time I was applying, their department had gone through tremendous scrutiny. They were constantly under some sort of judicial review and the overall morale of the line troops was low. That was what had been reported to me, and it is what I had observed as an outsider. It was indisputable that politics had corroded the department. As a city agency, they were accountable to a police commission and the mayor, both of whom were viewed as adversaries by the bulk of LAPD officers.
The sheriff, on the other hand, being an elected (rather than appointed) official, and the chief law enforcement officer of the county, was far more powerful than any chief of police. Although LAPD is a very large agency, they are but one of more than forty municipal police departments within the County of Los Angeles. The sheriff can (and has) taken over the policing of municipalities for any number of reasons, though corruption would be (and has been) the most likely scenario. The point is, as stated, that the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of his county. Period.
The Application Process
Soon after I applied with the sheriff’s department, I successfully completed the written examination and physical fitness test. I was promptly scheduled for the oral interview, which I passed with ease after making a great first impression. The interview had been scheduled for 1:15 p.m. at the Hall of Justice in Downtown Los Angeles.
At the time, I drove a 1969 Volkswagen Bug. When you are young and haven’t traversed L.A. to any large degree, the freeway system, one-way streets, and traffic can be daunting. So I left early and arrived long before the interview boards recessed for lunch.
There were three rooms going at one time, each having a team of two interviewers, usually two sergeants. There were chairs in the hallway that were filled with young, nervous candidates, mostly men, sporting suits and ties and recent haircuts. I sat among them. As soon as one of them was ushered from an interview room, one of the two interviewers would see him off and call out the name of their next victim. As we neared the noon hour, I sat alone. Finally, one of the sergeants who had eyeballed me each time he came out, exited the room with his partner and said goodbye to their final interviewee of the morning. He looked at me and asked what time my interview had been scheduled for. “Thirteen-fifteen hours, sir.”
He glanced at his watch, looked at his partner, and then frowned at me. “Why are you so early?”
“Sir, I drive a 1969 Volkswagen Bug. I gave myself enough time that if I had car trouble, I could abandon my vehicle on the Hollywood Freeway and jog the rest of the way here without being late.”
He smiled. “Okay, well, we’ll be back in an hour.”
The same two returned an hour later with the other interviewers and acknowledged me silently. I sat as I had before they left, at attention in a hardwood chair. They went into their respective rooms and soon the chairs around me filled with more applicants—scared kids who looked to me for direction since I had been at this much longer than they had. I told them to have a seat and wait, that they’d be called in.
Soon, the sergeant who had spoken with me earlier came out of a room and called my name. Once inside, he told his partner, “This is the kid who’s been here all morning.”
The interview went well; the interviewers seemed to like my every answer. I scored in the high nineties, so my file would be moved to the next step in the process which was the background investigation. My background was relatively simple, or so I thought, and if all went according to Hoyle, the rest of the process would go smoothly.
Nothing is Simple
But nothing is simple, and the sheriff’s department is no exception to the rule.
My twenty-first birthday had come and gone and still no word from the sheriff’s department.
Then one day the phone rang. It was my background investigator.
The one from LAPD.
He told me he had been assigned to complete my background and that so far, everything looked great. He said I would likely be hired by LAPD in the next two months.
Back to the Hall
For the second time in less than a year, I donned my best (only) suit and tie and sputtered my way to the Hall of Justice in my Bug. I went to the recruitment office and asked for the status of my application. The person with whom I first spoke informed me that I had not been assigned a background investigator.
“Who can I talk to about that?”
A lieutenant appeared a few minutes later and asked how he could help. At this point, I felt confident: I had been almost guaranteed a job with LAPD, and my process with the sheriff’s department—thus far—had gone well.
I said, “You can complete my background before LAPD hires me,” and then told him the story about how I had only applied to LAPD as a backup, and what I wanted most was to be a deputy sheriff. He discovered that my background file had been overlooked, and he assured me they would rush the process from that point forward.
A Day to Remember
And they did. Over the next six weeks, my background and medical examination were completed. Then, on a Monday morning, I received the unforgettable call wherein I was offered a job. I was asked to start on Wednesday. Though tempted, I told him I needed to give my employer a two-week notice.
He told me they swear in new recruits every Wednesday, so he scheduled my hire date for two weeks later.
After telling my mother the news, I called the LAPD background investigator and told him I had been given a hire date by the sheriff’s department and would need to rescind my application. His words, still as fresh in my mind as the day I made the call, were: “Congratulations; you’ve chosen the better agency.”
On October 12, 1983, I made my third trip to the Hall of Justice and departed as a sworn deputy sheriff. I was assigned to work custody until the next academy started just over a month from that day.
And I would do it all over again.
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A GOOD BUNCH OF MEN
DOOR TO A DARK ROOM