Lest We Forget: The Forgotten On-Duty Death of an LAPD Officer

At one time there stood a monument in front of the old Parker Center dedicated to all Los Angeles Police Officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It is a timeless granite tribute to the men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty.  In May of 2014, the LAPD, working with city officials, erected street signs to honor the memories of each officer killed in the line of duty. Currently, 206 personalized signs denote the areas where each officer was killed. Unfortunately, one was missed.

In doing research for my new book, The Protectors: A Photographic History of Police Departments in the United States, I came across the annual report from the LAPD to the mayor, dated from 1917. Inside, toward the back of the thick book, was a section labeled: “Killed on Duty.” Under the headline were five names, one of which was that of Officer C. H. Crow. It reads:

Officer Charles "Pat" Crow

Officer Charles “Pat” Crow

“June 17, 1916, Patrolman Crow, detailed to duty in the Detective Bureau, in the investigation of a felony case, followed the suspects into a desert portion of Imperial County. Without water, and in the intense heat he suffered a sunstroke, but followed his man and arrested him. The following day he died.”

This information led me to one of the newspapers of the day, were I found one small article. The headline read: “Officer Follows Duties to Grave.” Just a week earlier, there had been a felony theft of $1,000 (which today would be about $21,000) worth of clothing from the store of Mr. Morris Cohen. Led by information provided by Mr. Cohen, Patrolman Crow and his partner, R. L. Shy, were told that there were two suspects who had fled to San Diego. Without delay, the two officers departed. Arriving in San Diego, the patrolmen, who were on loan to detectives, and Mr. Cohen were told that the two suspects were in Calexico, a very remote city located at the Mexican border in the Imperial Valley Desert, 90 miles east of San Diego.

With temperatures well over 100 degrees and, according to the newspaper, reaching 135 degrees, the trio set off for Calexico. One must realize that in 1916 the roads were predominantly dirt, with no civilization or amenities along the route. By the time they reached Calexico, Mr. Cohen was near collapse and was immediately sent back home. Patrolman Crow was also extremely ill from the sun but insisted to his partner that they should not give up. They continued their pursuit without water or provisions.

After receiving information that the suspects had fled to Mexicali, Mexico, but “were hovering” between the two cities, the officers staked out the border area. With temperatures again soaring, the two officers, ill-prepared for the extremes of the desert, suffered stifling heat but would not give up. Their patience paid off when the two suspects were seen crossing the border back into the United States and were promptly taken into custody.

Less than an hour after the arrest, and with the suspects safely put away, Patrolman Crow collapsed. His partner quickly drove him to the hospital in Calexico. When word reached the LAPD, Assistant Chief Home telegraphed that “no expense should be spared in fighting for the officer’s life.” But, according to the physicians, there was little hope of his surviving even a few hours. Officer Crow died a short time later from exposure to the elements.

The funeral service took place at Christ’s Episcopal Church and was attended by hundreds of friends. All the men who knew Patrolman Crow were granted time off to attend. As the police band played “the requiem,” attention was drawn to the back section of the church, where a disheveled man could be heard sobbing. It was later discovered that inebriated man was Danny O’Lalley, who adored “Pat” Crow (as he was known).

Until five years before, O’Lalley was a drunkard. Danny would work three days and then spend all his earnings at a bar. Then one night he had a run-in with Patrolman Crow, who was working a foot beat in the area. Crow took the inebriated man aside and explained how he could change his life around. Danny never forgot that “sermon,” and that night promptly turned over $47 he had in his pockets for safe keeping, but mostly so he would not squander it in bars.

The following night when again Patrolman Crow spotted O’Lalley, he was surprised to see him sober. Feeling encouraged, Crow returned the money to Danny, who proclaimed Crow was his best friend. From that point on, whenever Danny had the urge to spend his money at the bars, he would track down Crow and turn over most of his money for safekeeping. He told Pat that he wanted his friend to think he was a “proper” man. O’Lalley became a changed person.

Years later when he heard of the death of his dearest friend, Danny O’Lalley was at the church. Talking to no one in particular, Danny proclaimed, “Pat would let me get drunk when I felt so bad, so I took what I wanted.” As he quietly cried in the back of the church, he muttered, “I don’t think Pat would care if I got a little overdone today. He knew me and kept me straight for five years.”

That is the type of man Patrolman Charles “Pat” Crow was. He lived his life helping those in need and, when chasing down two wanted felons, knowing he was in deep trouble from the heat, pushed through and arrested the thieves. Perhaps Pat can better rest knowing the LAPD family never forgets a brother or sister officer killed in the line of duty. Rest in peace, Officer Crow. You are missed but not forgotten.

Postscript: At the time of this writing, the Department is doing its due-diligence to determine if Patrolman Crow’s name should be listed to the Officers Killed in the Line of Duty records. I for one believe without a doubt he should be. Why he was not listed in his time, no one knows. If you have any feelings on this subject, please let me know and I will pass it along to the Department: jabultema@lapdhistory.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guardians of Angels: 2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats experts prepared a 2014 annual report for Guardians of Angels: A History of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people. Thank you all for showing an interest in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Click here to see the complete report.

1911 LAPD: A Leader in Technology … Well, Sort Of

In 1911, the Los Angeles Times warned “Lawbreakers Beware” as the Los Angeles Police Department was at again. You see, LAPD loves technology—whatever it takes to get one-up on the bad guys. Seemingly always outnumbered, the department of 1911 had to be inventive; so as they would throughout their history, its leaders instinctively turned to technology.

An LAPD officer trying out the "Power Skates."

An LAPD officer trying out the “Power Skates.”

With the benefit of cutting-edge devices, the modern LAPD patrolled the entire city in the early 20th century using automobiles and motorcycles, leaving the old, dependable foot beat cop in the dust. The new machinery only seemed to emphasize the slowness of patrolmen. But the street-smart cop was not about to fade away like his four-legged friends.

So when a local citizen came to then Chief Charles Sebastian (1911-1915) with an invention to literally propel the foot beat cop as fast as those in the new automobile, the chief quickly ordered a field trial of what Mr. Herbert Chamberlin termed his “Power Skates.” According to his design, these specially created skates would allow properly equipped foot beat officers to “speed past” their motorized colleagues. There were two types of these skates: One had two wheels and was a “high-speed” design that would allow the cop to reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour; the other had four wheels for each skate and was for regular, slower foot beat duty. The skates were propelled by the weight of the officer stepping forward as if walking; a worm gear “commuting the vertical to circular motion” drove the officer forward—or so it was promised.

As history would have it, the “Power Skates” were not approved, possibly saving hundreds of days of lost time from injuries—as the one big drawback of the design was clear: no brakes!

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.