Ex-Gang Brawler Friedman: a Cop of Contradictions

Times Staff Writer

California State University, Northridge, Police Chief Stan Friedman sits in his office surrounded by plaques and certificates and remembers the days when he carried a switch blade, participated in gang fights and had run-ins with police.

“Given another set of circumstances, I could see myself having become a criminal,” said Friedman, 43, who heads the police and public safety operations at the 27,715-student Northridge campus. “Sometimes, witnessing a young kid coming in who’s been arrested for something, I get a sense of deja vu.

A cop of contrasts and contradictions, Friedman carries a concealed .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver but practices yoga and meditation, worries about nuclear annihilation and has reservations about capital punishment because “there’s nearly always a possibility that somebody might be innocent.” Generally, he said, he would prefer to subject convicted murderers to “endless studies by behavioral scientists.”

If Friedman’s attitudes and outlook are unusual for a police officer, it may be because he has had an unusual life. In addition to once having been a gang member, Friedman was a teen-age runaway, a Berkeley hippie and a college sociology professor. He became a police officer out of curiousity 11 years ago and ended up liking the work.


‘Gave Me an Insight’

“Each one of those experiences gave me an insight, gave me something to draw from in my mind’s eye when looking back at the world,” Friedman said. “I size up a situation from lots of different vantage points.”

Because of his background, Friedman said, he can communicate easily with anyone from bikers to businessmen.

Since taking over the chief’s job in May, 1984, Friedman has drawn high marks from students, faculty and administrators on campus.

“I have heard nothing but praise for his professionalism and the way he is discharging his responsibilities from faculty, students and staff members, and also from members of his own staff,” Cal State Northridge President James W. Cleary said.

‘Closer to the Pulse’

“Stan seems to be closer to the pulse of the student body than most campus security officers I’ve been acquainted with during my 25 years in higher education,” said Richard Williams, assistant dean of student programs at the university.

“When there’s something students want to do on campus, it’s pretty easy to say, ‘There’s a policy to say you can’t do it,’ ” Williams said. “But he sits down with them and tries to figure out, ‘How can we do this so there’s no danger and it’s legal?’ He’s constantly working with them. I think sometimes we spread him awfully thin. But he’s always willing to help in whatever way he can.”

Growing up in a large house in an affluent West Los Angeles neighborhood, Friedman was conscious of his heritage as the descendant of a long line of Orthodox rabbis and scholars on one side of the family and doctors, lawyers and professionals on the other.

“Then my father died when I was 8, and my mother remarried a guy who was a reluctant parent who made our life really miserable,” Friedman said. He said his home life was punctuated with episodes of violence, screaming, cursing and throwing things.

“I did not like it at home,” he said, “so I made it a point not to be at home.” At the age of 11, Friedman began running away from home, associating with hoodlums and gang members, he said.

Wore Gang Attire

He dressed in the gang member attire of khaki pants and French toe shoes, wore his hair in a greased-back “lid” and walked with a swagger that he can still demonstrate, swinging his arms from side to side. He was frequently stopped by the police for questioning, he said.

Friedman said he usually carried a switch blade as a teen-ager and kept a sharpened screwdriver, baseball bat or other weapon in his car. He said he kept the weapons to back up friends in gang fights but never hurt anyone. In one gang fight, though, his leg was deeply gashed by an angle iron, he said.

Once, Friedman said, he and several friends were caught riding in a stolen car. He was subsequently charged and placed on probation, he said.

But he was lucky to escape other brushes with the law. For instance, he said, he was present in a car transporting large quantities of heroin and in rooms filled with stolen property. “If I had been caught, I might have been charged with a host of things,” Friedman said.

Skipped Classes

Unlike many of his friends, Friedman stayed in school, although he skipped classes frequently and got poor grades. By 1960, as he neared graduation from Hamilton High School he realized that he didn’t want to waste his life.

“I don’t know why to this day,” he said. “I had a sense of purpose. I didn’t know what it was, but I pulled back and said, ‘I’m going to straighten out my act.’ ”

Joining the Army Reserve and seeing experienced sergeants with limited educations taking orders from much younger men with college degrees strengthened Friedman’s resolve to pursue an education.

His high school grades were a problem, however.

“If I had a C average, that would be pushing it,” he said. So he enrolled in a business college, then transferred to a junior college, feverishly studying and getting such good grades that he got accepted by several major schools.

Fascinated with juvenile delinquency, Friedman chose USC because of its criminology program and received a bachelor of sociology in criminology degree in 1966. Friedman’s study of the Hells Angels, researched at bars and other Angels hangouts, so impressed a dean of the University of California, Berkeley, where he applied for admission, that Friedman was admitted on a full-tuition National Institute of Mental Health scholarship in 1966.

Grew Long Hair

He grew his hair to the middle of his back, participated in anti-war demonstrations and established a stand on Telegraph Avenue, selling earrings from Borneo. During that time, he also married and divorced.

Did he use drugs? “No,” he said, smiling. Would he admit it if he had? “No,” he said, smiling still.

Friedman received his master’s degree in criminology, took his doctoral orals and completed course work on his doctoral degree. Then in 1969, he left to become an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio University’s Zanesville campus. He intended to spend his life in the academic world but became increasingly fascinated with the police officers who took his classes, partly because of his youthful brushes with the law, he said.

“There is a love-hate relationship between juvenile delinquents and the police,” Friedman said. “On the one hand, there’s a fear or hatred toward them. On the other, they’re half knight in shining armor.”

Now, talking with his police officer students, Friedman wondered about their “ideology about the world, their cynicism. I saw it as a subculture that I didn’t understand. And it seemed to me that if I wanted to really understand it, I’d have to become one.”

Returned to California

In 1974, he resigned his professorship and returned to California with his 200-page doctoral dissertation, intending to become a police officer and complete his doctorate.

He applied to several municipal and campus departments, accepting the first job offer--with the University of California, Davis, police. UC Davis Police Chief Mike McKewen said that Friedman’s application to join the department raised eyebrows.

“We hire a lot of people with bachelor’s degrees,” McKewen said. “We hire some people with master’s degrees. But this guy was an intellectual.”

Friedman worked patrol and training assignments and quickly distinguished himself with his skill in dealing with people, McKewen said.

Gave ‘That Extra Touch’

“He was an easy person for people to talk to, empathetic to people with problems,” McKewen said. “He’s the kind of officer that would take the extra few minutes to give the case he was handling that extra touch.”

McKewen also praised Friedman’s sense of humor and ability to “think things through,” although one result of that trait was that Friedman frequently questioned methods used by his superiors.

“It didn’t bother him to come in and say, ‘You know what you’re doing with this thing over here? I think it’s wrong,’ ” McKewen said. “He would suggest alternate ways of doing things. It was gutsy, considering that he was a patrolman and I was a chief. But Stan had a knack of doing things so you didn’t get mad. I miss him. He was kind of fun to have around.”

Friedman’s dream of getting his doctorate, however, proved elusive. The criminology department at UC Berkeley was phased out by the school administration and Friedman was denied his degree, he said. Friedman did not fight for the degree because a lawyer friend told him that it would be a costly and difficult battle, Friedman said. “It’s a very sad thing in my life,” he said. “I feel I was robbed of a degree.”

Only in the last two years has Friedman begun attending USC to work toward a doctorate in public administration. “I thought I will bite the bullet and start all over again,” he said.

Friedman left UC Davis in 1979 to become a sergeant on the UCLA police force. There he headed a detail responsible for protecting visiting ambassadors and other VIPs. He was later promoted to lieutenant and given responsibility for police operations at UCLA Medical Center. He also served on the interagency committee responsible for training police from 155 agencies to work the 1984 Olympics and was selected to attend the prestigious FBI Academy program for police officers.

“Only one-half of one percent of all law enforcement officers nationwide have attended,” Friedman said proudly.

Friedman beat out more than 75 candidates vying to replace the retiring police chief at Cal State Northridge.

‘A Broken Spirit’

“When I first got here, I walked around the place and I felt there was a broken spirit,” Friedman said, “that people had almost sort of given up, a lack of self-worth, self-respect, pride. I told them I expected excellence from them. I wanted it to be the most professional, dignified law enforcement agency it could possibly be.”

Determined to instill pride, Friedman ordered all of his male officers to wear neckties to work, had the police station painted and carpeted and had the dents in all of the patrol cars hammered out. The cars were also painted and washed on a regular basis. He installed a weight-lifting room at the station and encouraged officers to develop their bodies and continue their education as well, campus police have said.

He also took an officer out of uniform and put him in charge of long-range planning.

“Under past chiefs, if somebody came up with an idea, if they didn’t pester to get it followed through, it died on the vine,” said Stephen Margolis, who works the planning and research post. “He’s a creative guy. That’s what I’ve admired the most. I can walk in and throw an idea down, no matter how wild. The great majority of times, he’ll say, ‘Yeah, that’s good. Let’s go for it; let’s try it.’

“We have gone through a tremendous metamorphosis since he came on board. There just seems to be a generally good spirit. And it’s a pleasure to come to work, which was not always the case.”

13 Officers

Friedman now heads a department of 13 officers, two investigators, three administrators, four secretaries, three dispatchers, six civilian information-booth attendants, six civilian parking officers, a civilian environmental health and safety manager and two student assistants, in addition to a radiation safety officer who monitors radioactive materials and experiments on campus.

Friedman beefed up the department’s community service program from about six students to more than 30, who provide a campus escort service and patrol, often on bicycles, looking for anything amiss.

Friedman’s concerns are primarily thefts, auto burglaries and occasionally a rape. More typically, his force is called on to investigate the theft of a backpack or bicycle, equipment missing from a campus laboratory or office or to roust transients who try to use campus showers.

Friedman has been praised by campus leaders for his handling of a recent anti-apartheid demonstration in which students peaceably occupies and slept in the Administration Building.

No ‘Storm Troopers’

And when citizens living near fraternity houses complained about noise, drinking and other problems, Friedman “sat down with committees of students and tried to work the problem out, rather than just sending out storm troopers,” said Leroy Geter, a campus admissions counselor.

Allegations of racism, prevalent in past years, still crop up, said Belinda Acuna, who has been on campus for 12 years--first as a student, then an administrator. But Acuna said that Friedman seems to be even-handed in his dealings with campus minority groups. And many on campus have the perception that he cautions his officers to do the same, she said.

Friedman lives with his older brother, an actor, in Granada Hills and travels to Northern California frequently to visit his fiance, an Oakland psychotherapist, and his three daughters, who live with his ex-wife in Contra Costa County.

Friedman said that he wants to make Cal State Northridge’s police force the best in the state college system.

‘Total Energy’

“I like to do things that I’m proud of,” he said. “Even something as mundane as writing a proposal, I put my total energy into doing that. I care about the quality of everything that I do.”

Eventually, he said, he would like to work as a municipal police chief, write about management philosophy and go back to teaching. His ultimate goal, however, is personal, he said.

“One day, I’d like to feel as though I’ve achieved some semblance of wisdom,” he said.