The scanner crackled. Two sailors had been nabbed urinating on a wall.
No big deal. But in a nearby patrol car, the commander of the Long Beach Naval Station leaned forward. It would be his first chance to see his men in a brush with the law.
And that was why Navy Capt. Kevin M. Healy had placed himself one long recent evening in the black leather back seat of a Long Beach Police Department cruiser.
As Healy’s black-and-white wheeled up to the seamen, its headlights flashed across their baby faces. They were staring at their feet, their shoulders hunched forward. An earlier brashness had evaporated into the early evening air.
The captain was on his way, they’d been told by the police officer who spotted them in a parking lot near Anaheim Street and Pine Avenue, a shadowy place in an area not considered safe after dark. They should expect at least a few days in the brig.
So when the captain arrived, everything was “Yes, sir” and “No, sir,” politeness and contrition.
“I’m not too used to this city life,” explained one of the sailors, a stocky 19-year-old from the battleship New Jersey who had tattoos of an eagle and a bulldog on his arms.
But it didn’t take the sailors long to realize they were not the kind of trouble that Healy, or the police, were looking for that Friday, the last Navy payday in March.
“We’ve got some high-class ladies here on this street, and they might be offended by your behavior,” Officer Steve Lasiter said with a smile.
“You know,” Lasiter said, turning serious, “a lot of people know you’ve got your payroll in your pocket.”
A buddy had ended up in the hospital on their last visit to town, the stocky sailor said, promising to catch a bus to the base. “We’re not going out to get trashed,” he said.
Back in the patrol car, Healy said, “Now they’ll think I’ll pop up anywhere, and I like that.”
Healy’s purpose for patrolling central Long Beach, however, was not to traumatize young sailors, but to kick off a police ride-along program that he hopes will give most of the 35 to 40 commanding officers on ship and shore at the naval station a chance to better know the city.
“Our skippers sit back there and they get one side of the story,” said Healy, 46, base commander for 15 months. “And a lot of times I know it’s the wrong side. Our COs see this city as a den of iniquity. They have got to get out and see what their guys are doing.”
Their guys were not doing much that last payday. And Healy’s escorts, patrolmen Lasiter and Lewis (L.C.) Ross, said that was pretty usual, even though 13,000 sailors are stationed at Long Beach.
“The only problem I’ve ever had with sailors is when they get intoxicated,” Lasiter said. “Mr. Bud and Mr. Beam bring out a type of pride. Some dirt bag who hasn’t worked in years is at the end of the bar and he calls them a squid, and then we’ve got a problem.”
Lasiter, 25, is a big, square-jawed guy with Popeye arms and a thin waist. His partner, Ross, 42, is a diminutive ex-drill sergeant who has memorized Louis Gossett Jr.'s opening scene from “An Officer and a Gentleman” and whose favorite movie is “D. I.,” starring Jack Webb.
Arkansas-born Ross is a master of the one-liner, Lakewood-born Lasiter his upright counterpoint. Together they gave Healy an interesting and busy, if uneventful, evening.
They saw no more sailors after that first stop, and made no arrests except for that of “Mr. Lackey,” an intoxicated and profanity-filled street person the officers jail every so often when he is staggering so badly that he endangers himself.
They responded to maybe two dozen calls--a loud party, a truck parked in the wrong direction, a barking dog, a blocked driveway, a landlord-tenant dispute, sidewalk drug sales, a TV stolen by a man who “swooped” in and grabbed it while it was still on.
About midnight, they notified a leather-jacketed mother that her daughter is in juvenile hall. The mother and her friends, all hanging out in front of her apartment, said the police should have given the kid a break.
“We’re like social workers,” said Ross, who admitted he kind of likes the role. “Every problem society has comes to us.” But Lasiter said he lives for the big bust once a month, “that adrenaline rush when you’ve caught somebody worth catching.”
They chatted with the “he-shes,” the men dressed as women along Pacific Coast Highway. (“That really gets you because you’ve got to let that walk the streets,” Lasiter said.)
They told two teen-age cruisers, gang members called Psycho and Cricket, whose windshield has been broken in an ambush, to get back to their own turf. (“You’re not going to die tonight, not on our beat,” Ross said. “I’ve seen them killed,” he said later, “for a record album, or because ‘he looked bad at me.’ ”)
The officers use humor to break the routine. Ross, glancing at Healy, tells one repeat offender, whose arms he checks for needle marks, “Why don’t you do something with your life, like join the Navy.”
Then Ross and Lasiter pick their “Jerk of the Week,” an obnoxious jaywalker from Chicago.
When the 10-hour shift is over at 2:30 a.m., Healy says: “It’s hard to believe people can do (all these things) to each other. . . . But I was genuinely impressed with those two cops. They did so many good things out there. It’s something my COs ought to see.”