by Ski Ingram
I started the Long Beach City Police Department academy on June 1, 1982. After graduation from our four-month academy class, I was assigned to a Training Officer so that my real police training could begin. My first training officer was Doug Johnson (I’m sorry to say that Doug passed away on July 17, 2022, at age 69). He was on vacation at the time, so I was assigned to work with Tim Ferrell for my first week on patrol. Tim was not a Training Officer. I liked him, but I was sure he was going to get me fired three or four times a night. When Doug returned to work that was when my police training truly began.
My second training officer was Allen Jones. We worked Beat #17 in North Long Beach. Our northern border was at Greenleaf Blvd. When you cross Greenleaf you are in the city of Compton. I did not like going to Compton. I had to cross Greenleaf once or twice while driving my black and white (police car). That was scary enough, but a few times while working undercover (1994 to 1998) I had to go into Compton. That was even more scary as I was in civilian clothes and driving an unmarked police car.
Compton is a city just north of Long Beach. It was once known as the “hub city” of Los Angeles County. In 1982 it was known for its high crime. As long as I can remember Compton has been a place struggling with poverty, unemployment, gang activity and homicides. It was so bad that the Compton Police department was disbanded in July 2000. The Los Angeles sheriff’s department was hired to police the city. The movie “Straight Outta Compton” (2015) tells the story of what it was like in the 1980’s.
I liked working with Allen and in Beat #17. There was lots of exciting work up there. After about a week of working with Allen he was transferred to be a helicopter observer. That was wonderful for him, not so good for me. Melissa Bray-Riddle was working my same days off but in Beat #13, so she was assigned as my new training officer. Instead of moving me to beat #13 where she worked and was comfortable, they moved her to beat #17. Beat #13 was a very slow beat with very little crime. Melissa was not prepared to work in such a high crime beat as #17. I was her first trainee and I’m sure that I intimidated her as I was twice her size. She was very uncomfortable working so close to Compton. I’m sure that the large number of thugs, who hung out everywhere, frightened her. She admonished me many times not to stop a group of more than two black men unless we had backup officers to assist us. It was not fun going to work each day for a number of reasons, one of which Mellissa was intimidated working in Beat #17. I’ll write more about my month with Melissa in another story.
My third training officer was Hollace Page. We worked a beat downtown on the graveyard shift (10:30 pm until 8:30 am). Hollace would hardly ever talk to me. We’d start the night with Hollace driving around our beat trying to avoid calls for service. After 2:00 am he would have me drive while he went to sleep in the passenger seat. I could do whatever I wanted to do as long as I didn’t wake him up. I’d write parking tickets and even traffic tickets as long as I didn’t wake him up. After my time with Melissa, it was heaven working with Hollace.
Each and every morning around 6:00 am, we would go to breakfast at the same restaurant on Willow and Atlantic. Every morning he would order the same thing, cinnamon toast and hot chocolate. More often than not we would return to our police car after breakfast to find that unknown officers had sabotaged it in some way. I’ll talk more about that when I write about my time working with Hollace.
I was once again assigned to Doug Johnson. It was his job to evaluate how much I had improved over the last few months. Doug was my Training Officer for the first two weeks with the last two weeks being role reversal. During role reversal, each trainee is to act as the senior officer and make all of the decisions just as if he was a fully trained police office. I’m happy to say that I passed my training and was sent out into the world to do police work on my own.
My first real partner was Russ Peterson. Russ was in my academy class. Here we were, two brand new rookie police officers working the mean streets on Long Beach. During our time together we received a Class “C” award for saving Larry Dearking who was trying to commit suicide by jumping off the top of a building downtown.
After working the streets for a few months and gaining valuable experience on how to survive, I began to form my own style of policing. Many of the bad guys on the street are looking for ways to make you look like a fool or hurt you or even kill you. If they can’t do either they look for ways to get you in trouble with the brass (your superiors).
I developed two rules to live by. Number one “Go home at the end of my shift.” That means you don’t go to the hospital; you don’t go to the morgue. You don’t go to the watch commander’s office to explain why you did something to get in trouble (which is all too easy to do). Rule number two “Have as much fun as you possibly can before you go home.” I was having fun putting bad guys in jail. Chasing them down dark allies and catching them. It was fun outsmarting a crook while he was being interviewed or interrogated. Another way to have fun was to out smart a Defense Attorney in court. You are not having fun if you go to the hospital or the morgue or even the commander’s office to explain yourself.
When a bad guy would try to challenge me by seeing if I would fight him, I’d hold my index finger and thumb very close together and say” Don’t try anything, I’m this much meaner than you.” In most cases this worked, and the bad guy would stop testing me.
I say in most cases this worked, but not always. One time in particular almost got me in trouble. My partner and I were sent to investigate a drunk and unruly person at the New Car Show being held at the convention center. I won’t mention my partners name, I’ll only say that he had a different Idea on how to do police work then I did. I was sworn in as a police officer on June 1, 1982, my first day in the police academy. My partner attended the reserve academy which started about a month before my academy class. He was sworn in on his last day of class just before graduation. He liked to tell me that he was the senior officer because he started his academy class before I did. However, he was not sworn in as a police officer until the end of his class, which was some months after my class started. Therefore, I was the senior officer. We had many heated discussions about this.
Back to the drunk and unruly subject. We entered the Convention Center and were immediately directed to the subject we had been sent to investigate. He was obviously too intoxicated to care for his safety and the safety of others. I was prepared to take him to jail right then and there. My partner, however, wanted to give the guy a break for some reason. In order to keep peace in the partnership I let him have his way. It was only a drunk guy after all, not a murder subject. My partner talked to him and had him agree to leave the venue. We escorted him out of the building before going to another call for service. A few minutes later we were sent back to the Convention Center as the drunk subject had returned and was again causing trouble. This time it was reported that he was harassing women at the various car displays within the Convention Center.
It wasn’t hard to find him as he was yelling at a beautiful car model at the top of his lungs. I grabbed one arm, and my partner grabbed his other arm. We walked him outside to where our police car was parked. As I was about to handcuff him, my partner let go of the arm he was holding. The subject turned suddenly in an attempt to hit me in the face. I used his momentum to spin him around then placed him in a carotid restraint hold, (commonly referred to as a choke hold). After he passed out, he was handcuffed and taken to jail.
After writing the arrest report we were called into the commander’s office. Someone had complained that I had used excessive force while making the arrest. I must admit the arrest must have looked excessive to the old lady who was making the complaint. I am 6 feet 4 inches tall and at the time about 220 pounds. The arrestee was about 5 foot 7 inches and only about 150 pounds. It looks bad when a big cop beats up on little guys. After explaining what happened and what we did, the commander agreed that we had not done anything wrong. I was soon to learn that many small guys were quick to challenge me. I never understood why as I was usually so much bigger than them.
The first time I got to use the carotid restraint hold was on my second week in training. I was working with Doug Johnson. We were investigating a theft of beer at a liquor store near the Circle Drive-in Theater. We heard a call of unruly teenagers at the theater. Since we were only a block away, we decided to handle the call. Just after we entered the theater, we stopped the suspected vehicle as it was about to drive out of the theater. As soon as the vehicle stopped, a male 18 or 19 years old got out of the vehicle and ran over to the drive-in’s fence and attempted to climb over it. I ran over and pulled him off the fence. As soon as he hit the ground, he turned toward me and attempted to hit me with his fist. I took a half step backward and used my left hand and his momentum to push his body back around to face the fence. I then put him in a carotid restraint hold and “choked him out.”
This was the first time I had used the restraint hold other than in training. In training we were not allowed to continue the hold long enough to cause our training partner to pass out. I was so surprised at how well it worked and how fast the guy passed out that I didn’t lower him gently to the ground as I had been trained. Being so surprised at how well it worked, I dropped him on his face. When I picked him up, I discovered that he had a two- inch long cut on his forehead. Over my career I “choked out” quite a few people, but this was the only time I ever dropped one.