By KAREN KARATSU KENNEDY
The Go For Broke National Educational Center is a local organization that educates the public about the Nisei soldiers’ contributions in World War II. Every year they have a magnificent gala, “Evening of Aloha,” to raise funds. Supporters sponsor tables and invite guests.
Their live and silent auctions have an abundance of interesting, worthwhile items to bid on. This year, one of the packages was a “Ride-Along with the LAPD” offered by Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Terry Hara, who serves on the board of the GFBNEC. My husband, Marc, prevailed over the other bidders and happily won it.
I had no intention of tagging along until Chief Hara assured me we would not be in harm’s way, and would get a private, behind-the-scenes view of how the LAPD truly protects the city.
We met him and his right-hand man, Lt. Steve Ruiz, on a late Monday afternoon at the Wilshire station. After filling out paperwork, we hopped into the back seat of their car. It looked like an ordinary black sedan until they turned on all the hidden red, white, blue, and amber flashing lights!
There wasn’t a divider between the front and back seats, so we did not feel like “convicts.” Actually, the correct term is “suspects” per Chief Hara. One is not a “convict” until proven guilty in a trial.
Our first stop was a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. I didn’t think that police officers ate while in uniform for some reason, but they do! And they apparently know the best places to eat. According to Chief Hara, officers try to “never get wet and never go hungry.” He and Lt. Ruiz admitted that they often ate quite fast because they had to leave the meal if a call came in. The food was all so good, our chopsticks were flying — we didn’t want to chance having to leave it behind!
Our next stop was the Air Support Division, where we got to climb on the roof overlooking the city and watch the LAPD helicopters land for their change of shift. Rules mandate that they be in the air for only two hours at a time. We learned they are equipped with infrared heat sensors and can see people running or hiding at night. They can also tell which cars have warm engines.
The “eyes in the sky” also have magnification powers that allow them to read license plates, and thus help find cars racing from the scene of a crime, even on the freeway.
We went to one of the older police stations, which had dark, concrete walls and benches with chains, right in the hallways. We actually saw someone in handcuffs chained to a bench waiting to be booked and vociferously pleading his innocence.
Also there was a smiling, uniformed police officer who offered us cupcakes she had baked. They were decorated with a homemade tootsie roll “groundhog”, in honor of Groundhog Day. Who knew that the police brought in baked goods for their fellow workers?
We saw a large garage area where we saw the SWAT mobile, which is like a fancy RV with meeting rooms, special equipment, food for long standoffs, etc. We also saw bullet and bomb-proof vehicles that are used to transport officers and rescue people caught in gunfire or being held hostage in buildings. Their walls are like concrete and they can ram through just about anything.
We then visited a new, modern police station, which had high ceilings and windows, a lending library for children, colorful pictures, and lights. Instead of being handcuffed to a bench, the suspects here stay in a small, individual glass room while waiting to be “booked.” We were shown a large conference center that the community can use for free. The newer station has a friendlier feel, which Chief Hara says is how the evolving department wants to relate to the community.
We visited the Communications Division, where all the dispatchers are housed in a building that can withstand an 8.0 earthquake. I thought each dispatcher was in an individual police station, but instead, they are all in one giant room in downtown Los Angeles, receiving calls for their own precinct. Each has six flat screens, and if a 911 call comes in from a landline, the location immediately pops up on one of the screens. The other screens show which officers are where, who has responded to what call, etc.
These dispatchers are the first line of help, so they are rigorously trained to get the right personnel to help.
Wherever we went, the officers were happy to see the chief. They certainly weren’t expecting him to walk in on a Monday evening. He is obviously well-liked and respected. He is retiring this year but will continue serving the community by volunteering for several civic organizations.
We appreciate seeing what the LAPD does behind the scenes to keep Los Angeles safe. Mostly we enjoyed getting to know two very kind, intelligent, caring, personable men who happen to serve as police officers. I trust them implicitly to do the right thing in all situations.