Just the facts, Ma’am

Having lived in Hollywood for just over four decades, I’ve had dealings with the police; generally working either of two ways:

When I call them, it’s because my apartment or car has been broken into and property taken from it. This has happened several times with me, and can be written off (unofficially) as part of the cost of living in Hollywood. Things are getting better: I haven’t been burgled in, maybe, fifteen years. Having security doors on my apartment and driving a sixteen-year-old car may play a part in my “luck.”


When I get a call from the police, on the other hand, it turns out to be someone soliciting contributions in their name to some ostensibly police-related fund or another . I hear from people claiming to represent the fire department, too, with the same pitch. In both cases, I ask them to mail me the pertinent information, and I don’t hear from them again until the next solicitation.

So, when the phone rang just shy of ten o’clock  Monday night and the caller identified himself as a policeman, my first reaction was to ask him how much money he wanted, and to ask if calls that late weren’t illegal. (I should add that the caller I.D. read “Civil Defense,” not “LAPD” or anything like that).

The man forced a chuckle — the kind you make when you don’t know what’s going on but want to appear affable — and asked me if I knew I was under subpoena. I said I did not. Then he told me I was to report to court the next morning at 7:30. This sounded strange; but, playing along, I asked what I was being called to court for. He said it was about someone, and gave me a name, who — he thought — may have been my roommate. I explained that I haven’t had anything that could in any way be defined as a roommate since the late ’60s and that I personally knew of four other people in the Los Angeles area who had my name. He must be looking for one of them.

“I came by your house (he gave the address) today, and it looked like you weren’t living there any more,” he persisted. That proved it: I’ve lived here for more than half those forty years, and was home all that day. I’d just arrived back after a few hours, but it was ten o’clock, and I hadn’t left until five. Clearly, the “policeman” was mistaken. I told him as much, added that I wasn’t going to reveal any more personal information, and hung up.

Worried that someone knew where I lived, I called the Hollywood Division.  Not 911, it wasn’t an emergency; I called their office line. Three or four levels of automation later, the machine told me (doesn’t this sound like the government?) that they were receiving so many calls I should hang up and call back later.

And then, a thought hit me:

Some weeks earlier, there had been a disturbance in my building It was noonish on a Sunday, and there was a lot of noise coming from the apartment — normally quiet — above me. It sounded like furniture as being moved around, and a man was shouting unintelligibly but clearly not pleasantly. After several minutes, I’d called 911 to report the disturbance. No sooner had I hung up the phone then there was a knock on the door from a police officer. Clearly, I was not the only, or even the first, person to have called in the troops. They pulled the man out of his apartment and took him away. Numerous police had shown up,and several tenants — as well as dog-walking passersby — were out observing the excitement.

This hasn’t been a particularly exciting neighborhood in decades; other than when, about once a week, an ambulance and/or fire department rescue unit arrives to deal with one of the many older people who live hereabouts. I heard a but later that the man was taken to Kaiser Hospital’s mental ward for observation. My landlord told me that he wasn’t really a tenant, but a guest of the real occupant. There had been problems that I didn’t know about, to the extent that the woman who was his host (separate bedrooms) had moved out to stay with a friend. The landlord also said that she’d heard that the “guest” had just that morning threatened another tenant, evidently an acquaintance, with a knife. That was the end of that particular story, and I never did know the man’s name.

I called the landlord (keep in mind, this was well after ten at night), and confirmed that the “guest” was the man erroneously characterized by the policeman as my roommate. So the call may have been legit, though for all the reasons mentioned above, unconventional and suspicious.

To cover myself, I attempted to reach the police department. As with the Hollywood division, they don’t make it easy. Short of dialing 911, the best the department’s website could come up with (that I could find, at least) was a sort of general “information” e-mail address. I wrote up what had happened, adding that I really didn’t have anything to say about what had gone on with the “guest,” but of course would honor the subpoena if only they would serve it properly. I then called the “Civil Defense” number where, after a taped greeting from the Mayor, I was shunted into another phone mail system that eventually told me to bother them some other time. As least they didn’t say they were too busy to talk to me, but I wondered what happened to the officer who had spoken with me earlier; and what they had to do with “civil defense.”

And, for that matter, aren’t subpoenas served by marshals, and not police officers?

* * *

Tuesday afternoon update: There have been developments. At the same time they called me, the police called one of my neighbors. She picked up what was going on quicker than I did, and still told ’em she wasn’t going to come downtown on nine hours’ notice without proper service. She also told me that some police (car parked out front) were pounding on my door at midnight. I’m a sound sleeper, and they didn’t bother to call, this time.

I have now (well, about an hour ago) called the Hollywood Division and left messages for two policeman; one of whom was on the case when the guy was first arrested. Neither call yet returned.

* * *

Wednesday morning: I finally spoke with a detective who’s familiar with the case. The subpoena was legit, though the last minute service was an accident — maybe because the d.a. had taken his time providing a list of witnesses. In any event, the trial was continued, because the “victim” (the tenant who’d supposedly been threatened with a knife) couldn’t show up.

I explained that I really didn’t have much to say — I hadn’t really seen anything, and my knowledge of the “threat” was secondhand  — and the detective (whose caller I.D. also said “Civil Defense,” btw) said he’d pass that on to the d.a. and maybe I wouldn’t be called again. I told him, though, give me some notice and now that I know it’s legit, I’d have no problem fulfilling my civic duty.  And I took his name and direct number, just in case.


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