Blew off the top of the radio car?

By Harry Penny


     This is one of those instances that you hear about happening to someone else.  Yeah, right.

Firestone Station circa 1967.

     It was a Friday night at Firestone.  Of course, this was one of those weekends when students in the Academy would be sent to various patrol stations to get some “in-the-field-hands-on-experience.  Oh, Goody!  We were getting six “Cadets” as they were called back in those days. 

     The Watch Sergeant would pick various cars and split the partners up with each regular Firestone Deputy being assigned one of the cadets who would ride as the second man.  His regular partner would be assigned another car, usually in an adjacent beat, with another cadet.  This particular Friday night we were fielding 19 cars on the EM shift.  Six of those cars were going to get split up. 

     In the locker room you could hear the normal chatter. 38 Deputies each bitching and griping, par for the course. 

      “Hey, I hope the Sarge doesn’t pick me again this week”.    “Shit, I had it last week” etc., etc., etc. 

I was doing my share.  My partner and I had just finished a three month stint as training officers, each with a new deputy that had just been assigned from the Jail division, which is another story in itself, and we were anxious just to get back to a normal tour.  I was confident that my partner and I wouldn’t get split up. My partner, Brad Mills, and I were working 18 EM’s in the Carson area.  I was scheduled to drive that night. Coffee cup in one hand, cigarette in the other, I made my way from the locker room to the briefing room.  Brad was following right behind me in the same manner; coffee cup and cigarette.

     We read the briefing boards, made our notes in our notebooks, grabbed a “Hot Sheet” (LAPD would print out an 8X11 sheet with the license plates of the stolen cars which we would put on the sun visor with rubber bands.  These were the latest thing during this era.) then sat down at the long table.  The cadets were all standing at the back of the room at semi-attention.  I, myself, understood what they were feeling as I had been in that position a few years earlier but no way was I going to cut them any slack.  Neither was anyone else. 

     The Sergeant came in, took roll call, gave briefing, and then proceeded to split up the various cars.  He picked cars 11A, 12, 13, 14, 16, and finally came down to deciding on the last one.  We were sitting pretty.  I knew he wouldn’t split up the Willowbrook cars but we had a good shot at not getting picked.  Until…. Brad made some comment under his breath.  Penny, you and Mills will be the final car.  Agggghhhhh! 

     We left the briefing room and went and got our shotguns from the armory and proceeded out to the parking lot.  It was normal procedure to show the cadet the proper way to check the shotgun, step-by-step, then have him do it. We had the Ithaca shotguns and one feature was that once you put one in the chamber it was ready to go unless you put the safety on.  If not…well, you can figure that one out.  Also, if you kept your finger on the trigger you could just point-and-shoot rapidly by just pumping another round.  I followed procedure to the letter.  I checked the shotgun after he went through all the steps, then unloaded it and told him to do it again and put it in the shotgun rack.  He did it right the first time, so I left him and went over to where Brad’s car was.  We were setting things up to make a meet once we got in the area. 

     Just as I lit my cigarette and got to Brad’s car there was a loud BOOM!  We all knew what that sound was and immediately ducked for cover, glancing around to see what idiot made his mistake.  After determining that no more rounds were going to be forthcoming…nobody would be stupid enough to do it again…we all started coming out from cover.  Of course, there was some laughter in the parking lot, with the exception of three individuals:  The sergeant, the lieutenant, and ….my cadet.

     I looked over to my radio car and there was my cadet…still halfway in the car, bent over in the same position, as he was when he put the shotgun in the rack.  His finger was still in the trigger guard, his eyes were tightly shut, and…one of the red lights from the top of my car was hanging down by the windshield and gently bobbing at the end of its wiring.  The metal base plate where the other red light, the siren and the amber light behind the siren were mounted were sitting somewhat askew atop my car and there was a jagged hole in the top of the car.

     Yes…it was going to be a long, very long, night.  As a matter of fact, for a period of time thereafter.