That wasn’t Gorky Park that a burly Russian cop was swooping over Monday in a police helicopter.
That was Griffith Park.
Leningrad policeman Albert Vorontsov went airborne to get acquainted with Los Angeles and launch a first-ever swap of Soviet and local police officers that is aimed at spreading goodwill--and trading good ideas.
Vorontsov will shadow Los Angeles Police Sgt. Greg Braun for two weeks. Then Braun will travel to the Soviet Union in June to work with Vorontsov.
Although movies frequently have portrayed Soviet and American lawmen working side by side, it has never before happened with real Los Angeles officers. So police at the West Valley station in Reseda where Braun works were curious about their visitor.
Officers at a Monday morning roll call listened intently as Vorontsov explained that a shortage of automobiles keeps most Leningrad cops on foot patrol.
They nodded knowingly when Vorontsov explained that officers at his Kujbishevsky District station in the center of Leningrad struggle to cope with car thieves, drug pushers and a balky court system. They were surprised when he told them that violent crime in Leningrad has jumped 40% in the last year because of economic hard times.
They smiled when Vorontsov explained that Soviet police are routinely disciplined for being “impolite” or for striking suspects with their hands--but rarely for hitting them with nightsticks.
The group laughed when Vorontsov told them that Soviets have become aware of American police techniques through Hollywood cops-and-robbers movies. Fifteen theaters in his district alone are showing that type of film as a result of glasnost.
And some of the veterans in the back of the room cheered when Vorontsov explained that female police officers in Leningrad are assigned to desk jobs or juvenile units. “We like women too much to let them go out on patrol,” he said through interpreter Serge Riyevski--a Russian-speaking LAPD detective assigned to Hollywood.
For his part, the 45-year-old Vorontsov, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Leningrad Criminal Militia, was intrigued by computers scattered on desktops and attached to dashboards of patrol cars at the Reseda station house.
He thumped on the chests of several officers wearing bulletproof vests beneath their uniforms. He thumbed through West Valley homicide detectives’ blue-binder “murder books,” which contain detailed accounts of killings, investigations and arrests for use in court.
Vorontsov handed out small replicas of Soviet police badges to Lts. Bill Gaida and George Rock and to Detective Robert Peloquin as Braun looked on.
Braun vowed to take an ample supply of uniform shoulder patches and police pins with him to Leningrad, even though LAPD pins cost $3 each.
The Soviet trip will cost him about $3,000, Braun said, although he hopes to receive grants from the police union and an LAPD training support group called the Parker Foundation. For months he has been preparing for the trip by studying Russian in night school and through a private tutor.
Braun said he was invited to join the Soviet-American swap after he helped Bakersfield police officers arrange for the arrival of the first group of visiting Soviet officers two years ago. At the time, Braun was assigned to the Los Angeles International Airport police office.
While Soviets are dazzled by American police technology such as computers, 911 systems and helicopters, U.S. officers come away from the exchange with plenty of Soviet police ideas, said Tim Kibbey, a Bakersfield policeman who helped organize the officer trade.
Kern County lawmen have adapted a simple Soviet “pole vault” technique that can flip SWAT team members into second-story windows, he said. They are evaluating flexible rubber batons used by Soviets that minimize bruising to suspects and are studying a special Soviet ballistics technique. It can help investigators identify barrel markings from shotguns thought to have been used as murder weapons, Kibbey said Monday.
“We may think we’re on the cutting edge of technology in police work, but a lot of other people are doing very innovative, bright things all over the world,” said Bayan Lewis, an LAPD commander who helped Braun arrange for Vorontsov’s visit.
Braun, 44, said he plans to take Vorontsov to an Optimist Club’s “officer-of-the-quarter” awards breakfast on Thursday and to a City Council meeting and a frontier-era U.S. Marshals display at the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum on Friday.
“I was expecting him to be a cigar-smoking, vodka-drinking guy,” Braun said. “But he isn’t.”
So when they are off duty at his home in Thousand Oaks, Braun is showing Vorontsov a suburbanized good time.
“We went to the Conejo Valley Days rodeo yesterday,” he said.