The Patrolman with Glass Arms

Since the founding of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1869, just four years after the Civil War, LAPD officers have performed feats of bravery on a daily basis, most of which go unnoticed. Whether it’s a shootout with bank robbers, saving a family from a burning home, vehicle pursuits, or sustaining injury while protecting another officer, LAPD men and women without hesitation, take action by putting their lives on the line. They do so much more than Protect & Serve the citizens of Los Angeles.

In the fall of 1902, it was a time in Los Angeles when the horse and buggy were about to be replaced with the newfangled automobiles. For LAPD, it meant patrol officers worked a footbeat—alone. One such officer was a towering Irishman, with a baroque accent so heavy that it was difficult to understand. Patrolman Michael Holleran was born in Ireland and joined the LAPD in the mid-1880s. The Los Angeles Times relished giving a label to Holleran and officers like him:

Los Angeles has many policeman with rubber necks, some have wooden heads; a few have flannel mouths; several have silver tongues and others have leather lungs; a good many of them have marble hearts, and leaden feet go with the average copper. But there is only one man on the force who has glass arms.

It was in the middle of the night as Holleran skillfully spun his nightstick as he patrolled down Grand Avenue approaching 6th Street. It came without warning, the night sky became illuminated with flashing blue and green flames, leaping off the ground as if they were alive. A transmitting cable of the Edison Electric Company had just fallen across the trolley wires and draped onto 6th Street—all bursting with 50,000 watts of electricity.

stop horseJust at that moment, Patrolman Holleran noticed a milk wagon bearing down on the hot wires at a full gallop. As the horses were fast approaching the wires that were still spitting electrical flames, Holleran ran to the middle of the street, jumped in front of the team and grabbed the reins of the horses stopping them just feet from the downed wires. With the milkman looking on in wide eyed disbelief, Holleran coolly picked up the sizzling wires with his bare hands and deliberately dragged the heavy wires to side of the street. Then for good measure, tied them around a wood pole as if he was tying up a horse.

With that emergency taken care of, Holleran went to a call box and requested a crew be sent out to repair the mess. When a grisly veteran linemen arrived with his crew, he was stunned to learn the patrolman handled the “death dealing wire” without rubber gloves or mits. He joked with the undaunted officer that the only way he was still breathing is that he must have a set of glass arms as that would be the only reason the electricity did not reach his vital organs. Holleran just smiled and was back on his footbeat making sure all stayed safe on his beat.