The suggestion came three weeks ago during a private meeting between Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and Nancy Reagan. While in the White House, her “Just Say No” campaign had made Mrs. Reagan one of the nation’s leading opponents of drug abuse, and now the former First Lady wanted to find a way to maintain her visibility as an anti-narcotics crusader.
Perhaps, suggested Gates, who is exploring whether to enter politics with a run for governor, she might want to come along on a drug raid in the inner city?
Planning began a few days later. “We (were) looking for a certain kind of operation,” said Cmdr. William Booth, the LAPD’s chief spokesman. “We would not have taken her on an operation that didn’t have a high level of safety.”
Raid on Rock House
And so it was that late Thursday night, in one of the stranger moments in the annals of Los Angeles crime fighting, Mrs. Reagan and Gates ventured into the night to witness a raid on a rock house. She wore a blue LAPD Windbreaker for the occasion with “Police” lettered on the back and “Nancy” scrolled across the front.
The two were hardly alone. In addition to a full contingent of police and Secret Service agents, Mrs. Reagan and Gates were joined at the bust by a large assembly of reporters and photographers, all of whom had been tipped to the event hours in advance.
“Something interesting is going to happen tonight between 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.,” Booth had alerted various editors and reporters throughout the afternoon, “and there might even be a surprise or two in it for you guys.”
But all did not go smoothly with the greasing of the media wheel. At 9:30 p.m., running an hour late, Booth called to report “a snag. It’s going to happen in about 45 minutes. . . . It has to do with drugs.” At 10:15 p.m., the message was simpler: “It’s at 51st Street and Main Street” in South-Central Los Angeles.
The working press arrived to find Mrs. Reagan and Gates munching fruit salad in an air-conditioned motor home parked beside the alleged rock house. Booth said the motor home, which bore the legend, “The Establishment,” had been ordered up for Mrs. Reagan’s comfort because “she’s been on her feet all day.”
The main action was already over. Mrs. Reagan had watched from a few yards away as police SWAT team members stormed a small but heavily fortified stucco house near 51st and Main streets, arrested 14 men and women on a variety of drug charges and allegedly confiscated about a gram of rock cocaine. Immediately after the bust, they gave her a tour of the place. She retired to the motor home, freshened her makeup and then waded out among the cameras.
“I saw people on the floor, rooms that were unfurnished . . . all very depressing,” the former First Lady reported.
‘Very Courageous Woman’
Gates fairly beamed as television cameras pressed in: “We thought she ought to see it for herself and she did. . . . She is a very courageous woman.”
Officials said the original plan had called for Mrs. Reagan to wait at a nearby fire station until the raid was finished. But she just said no.
“I’m sure Secret Service agents have aged about 10 years,” Gates said later.
On the morning after, Mark Weinberg, the Reagans’ press secretary, said the intent had been to bring national attention to the former First Lady’s issue of choice.
Weinberg was disappointed, however, when he found no photograph of Mrs. Reagan in The Times.
“IT’S SO UNFORTUNATE THAT PEOPLE WERE ROBBED OF THE Booth said the photo opportunity had suffered because of the unexpected delay: “Business was so good (at the rock house) that the dealers temporarily ran out of dope . . . about 9 p.m. Our buyer said they would have another supply in 45 minutes, and we had to wait for their courier to arrive.”