Update to “Live with Bill Martinez” Radio Show

UPDATE

The interview went very well on “Bill Martinez Live,” so well; Bill asked that I return to the show on at least two more occasions to discuss Guardians of Angels. He reported how much he enjoyed the book and he could appreciate all the work that went into the research. I will post future dates for the next interviews.

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National Radio Interview

bill

LAPD Historian James Bultema on Bill Martinez Live – Tuesday, Oct. 29th at 9:47 AM ET
Duration: appoximately 9:47 AM ET to 10:10 AM ET (appoximately 25 minutes)

Topic:  Guardians of Angels-A History of the LA Police Dept. from a police insider on the LAPD including:
  • Frontier Justice – LA Style – when Los Angeles justice dispensed with niceties
  • How a Chief of Police was gunned down by one of his cops over reward money
  • The “Man from Mars” bombing that almost leveled Central Station
  • The Dirty 30´s-gangsters & corruption
  • Christopher Dorner Rampage
  • The Simpson-Goldman Murders
  • Bultema on Mark Fuhrman, the OJ Trial and its effect on the LAPD
  • Rodney King Beating & Riots-20 years later and what needs to be told

What’s In a Picture: Historical Research Using Vintage Photographs

I love old photographs. I relish the stories that emanate from every pixel. It’s a moment in time that can never be duplicated. It allows the viewer to travel back to that instant and share with the people pictured whatever was occurring at that particular second in time. Fortunately for historians, LAPD was very photogenic. Taken by the press or a local photographer and, later, the department’s own photographers, thousands of images record the history of the Los Angeles Police Department from the Wild West era through to today’s digital age.

Photographs contain a treasure-trove of information just waiting to be discovered and used effectively in historical research. I believe these images are underused as a primary historical research tool—yet it’s a resource I enjoyed taking full advantage of through a variety of techniques. In compiling Guardians of Angels: A History of the Los Angeles Police Department, I used historical images to help illustrate the story of the department. As I wrote, I would always strive to locate the precise photograph to support the text. Once discovered, the real work began.

Most photographs from the earlier era of the department have no identifying inscriptions, such as handwritten captions identifying the occasion and the people in the shot. But with a little research, the details captured in the photograph can lead to very precise dating. LAPD has worn six badges since its formation in 1869. Since the time span for each badge is readily available, date ranges can be narrowed down simply by examining the particular badge being worn as well as by the type of uniform. Once I have that information I can look up who was chief of police during that span and narrow it down further by examining the image to see which chief might be pictured. Most made sure to be included in the photograph. By using today’s digital enlargement, fine details barely discernible in the original image can now be brought to life. It might be a close-up of weapons used, the uniform or an individual. Finally, if the image in question is vintage (not a copy), the researcher can date the photograph by the format and type of photograph taken further closing in on the year of the image.

Case in point. In researching for Guardians of Angels, I discovered a very old, unassuming vintage photograph showing two men in suits (above). The image was a carte-de-visite (also known as a CDV), which was a common style of photography from the 1860s to the early 1870s. This fact allowed narrowing down the date of the image. Further research of an old newspaper article accompanying the photo identified one of the individuals pictured as William “Billy” Sands.

sands earlyWilliam Sands, on the right, wearing the earliest known uniform of the Los Angeles Police Department, circa 1870.

In one of the oldest police annual reports of the LAPD, in October 1883, 16 officers were listed as employed, one of whom was: “William Sands, age 57, entered service February, 1870.” Subsequent investigation led to a glimpse into the life of Billy Sands, who posed for this photograph more than 140 years ago. Sands was born in Tennessee in 1826 and grew up in Arkansas. With the discovery of gold in California, the 23-year-old headed west. Briefly involved with the Civil War in 1861, Sands eventually settled in Los Angeles and became one of the earliest known city firemen.

Eight years later in 1869, LAPD hired its first six full-time paid officers. A few months later, Sands was hired as a replacement officer for one of the original six officers. Because LAPD did not adopt an official police uniform until several years later, the photograph of Sands standing with an unidentified individual (almost certainly another officer) is vital to the history of the department. It appears that the clothes worn by these two men are the earliest known example of what the LAPD uniforms resembled, before the official formal uniform was adopted in 1876.

The fact that both men are very similarly dressed, including their hats, jackets and pants, has to be more than a coincidence. Additionally, while most histories of the LAPD credit Chief William Warren with development of the sunburst-designed badge in 1869, I would argue that the first badge was not issued until 1877, under Chief of Police Jacob Gerkens. If these officers took the time to have their photograph taken in uniform, they most definitely would have displayed a metal badge on their lapels.

Officer Billy Sands remained on active duty until his death on November 9, 1885, at the age of 59. At this time, he was the most senior officer in the young department. The photograph, hidden from sight and deliberation for years, represent the founding officers’ uniform of the 1870 LAPD.

Over the next few months, I want to share just “What’s in a Picture” and several of the photographs I discovered in writing Guardians of Angels. Each one makes for interesting viewing, reading and historical research. Please comment on my blog and share if you have any special interest you would like to see in this column.

Why Guardians of Angels?

John Powers, while waiting for an ambulance to arrive, describes the details of the shooting to a detective, his wounded partner next to him.

  • John Powers, while waiting for an ambulance to arrive, describes the details of the shooting to a detective, his wounded partner next to him.

Everyone and everything has a history. Yet for the Los Angeles Police Department, it has been more than 75 years since the last in-depth historical account was written about—75 years since anyone has chronicled where the department has come from and what makes today’s officers who and what they are. I thought it was time for a new comprehensive examination of the LAPD. Not some boring factual account of its history, but engaging stories told by the men and women who lived them.

Guardians of Angels: A History of the Los Angeles Police Department details how the department started with just six hard-fighting, Wild West cops transformed over the next 160 years into the modern, technologically advanced LAPD of today. With the use of hundreds of rare photographs and scores of interviews, the book brings the history of the department to life—turning readers into time-traveling witnesses into the very essence of what makes LAPD such a major player in the world of law enforcement. When Chief of Police William Warren is gunned down in the dirt streets of Los Angeles by another officer over reward money, you can almost smell the smoke in the air from the gunfire. It’s the stories that make history so fascinating.

Guardians of Angels uses many first-hand accounts taken from either the person making history or from primary documents of the time. When John “Two Gun” Powers talks in detail on how he earned the nickname of “Two Gun,” he gets your attention:

He [the suspect] fired that .45 and I didn’t even think, my reflexes just took over, and I drew my gun…and I emptied it at the suspect with the .45. He went down—he went down hard—and the .45 skidded out of his hand. I had hit him twice, so he was down and out. So I take a deep breath and I hear shots on the other side of the car….

That’s the power of first-hand accounts. When Powers told me what happened that fateful day, I could visualize the suspect firing his gun and being hit with return fire. I could see him go down and watched as the .45 noisily skidded across the payment. This is want I want the reader to experience throughout the entire book—a 3-diminisional history coming to life right before your eyes. This is what Guardians of Angels is all about.

While its badge has varied—from a tin star of the 1800s to the most recognizable police shield in the world today—the symbol of the LAPD has always carried the same promise, just as the wearer carries the same responsibility. Each officer who has pinned on this badge, holstered a gun and traveled the corridors of history has left behind the rich traditions that are today the Los Angeles Police Department. The chronicle of the LAPD is the story of these men and women who have committed themselves as the guardians of the city of Angels.

In writing a history of LAPD . . .

jim_of_bio.jpgI wanted the reader to experience the look and feel of the department through the treasure trove of photographs available. During my many years of research for this book, I have collected photographs at every turn knowing that I would someday write Guardians of Angels. All photographs used in the book are from this endeavor and carry no caption. For photographs outside the collection, I have listed the appropriate person or institution when known. Every reasonable effort has been made to identify owners of copyrights. Any errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions.