LAPD officers work behind the scenes — and the camera

LAPD officers work behind the scenes — and the camera
Joel Morales, with the Los Angeles Police Department, is working on a video documentary about officers who have been killed over the years in the line of duty. (Rick Loomis, Los Angeles Times)

If Officer Joel Morales was nervous when he met Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck outside the department's downtown headquarters, he didn't show it.

And if Beck was anxious that the young patrolman might make him look bad on a video Morales was preparing to shoot, he didn't show it either.


When it is finished, Morales' video will explain how the Los Angeles Police Department plans to pay tribute to its 207 fallen officers by placing a 3-1/2-foot sign at locations where officers were killed on duty. Each sign will be inscribed with an officer's name and the date of death.

"I've done this a couple of times before with him and it's worked great," Beck said. "Joel's made some good pieces for the department."

For the video, Beck recounted the personal shock he experienced in 1979 when his partner, Officer James Choquette, was killed. Choquette's unmarked car was struck by an intoxicated driver on Central Avenue, north of Imperial Boulevard, as the two officers responded to a purse-snatching call in Watts.

Beck, a young officer assigned to southeast L.A., was driving behind Choquette, a 10-year veteran. Beck watched in disbelief as a Cadillac plowed into Choquette's car. The 34-year-old officer died in Beck's arms.

"These signs going up make sure we'll never forget," the chief said. "His death was very difficult. But I remember the good things, too, about Jim."

The memorial-sign tribute was launched in May. Cmdr. Rick Webb of the department's Office of Administrative Services has estimated it will take about six months to install all of them. Eventually, the department hopes to create an interactive map so passersby can search for a fallen officer's badge number and learn details of the death, Webb said.

"You're always shocked by the talent in the LAPD," said Beck, referring to patrol officers who have shown they have talent behind the camera.

Four years ago, Officer David Marroquin created a 4-minute, 40-second music video to cheer up fellow downtown-area Officer Joshua Cullins, a Marine Corps reservist staff sergeant who had been injured while disabling a 15-pound roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Instead of sending their friend a get-well card, officers at the Central Division decided to send him messages filmed by Marroquin. To spice it up, Marroquin turned it into an MTV-style music video with the help of a friend, actor-musician J. Hunter Ackerman.

Although Cullins bounced back from his injuries, he was killed by another roadside bomb two months later.

Marroquin, 31, has continued his off-duty video work. Last year, he created a feature-length film about the plight of a drug-addicted homeless woman.

Morales, 29, taught himself how to edit videos. He used his skills to create a video highlighting work done by the 77th Street Division's youth services office, where he was assigned.

When his captain learned of his off-duty talents, he commissioned Morales to videotape his "captain's corner" series, which explores other activities that involve the southeast Los Angeles station.

Since creating his first police video two years ago to publicize a memorial ride to benefit a 77th Division scholarship fund, Morales has produced 55 videos for the department. Many of those have been monthly community videos that discuss subjects such as crime statistics and police events. He has been reassigned from regular patrol work to his station's community relations office.


He uses his own Canon 5-D Mark III camera and lenses, and a fluid tripod head and camera "slider" provided by the department. Morales edits his videos on his personal Mac at his Pomona home.

"I learned editing from watching YouTube videos and reading," he said. "I want videos to be entertaining as well as informative. Someone said we're one of the biggest departments in the country and we should be in the forefront of videos, stylistically, at least."

He already has another project lined up after he wraps up the video commemorating the 207 fallen officers.

Morales will be making a training video to help the Los Angeles Fire Department work more closely with the police during active-shooter situations, such as the one firefighters and law enforcement officers encountered last November at Los Angeles International Airport.

First responders had trouble communicating during that incident because they did not have radios that functioned with each other, and it took 45 minutes for agencies to put together a unified command structure. Authorities determined that some red emergency phones in Terminal 3 were not working properly; police finally learned of the shooting when an airport worker called them directly on his cellphone.

Twitter: @BobsLAtimes