While most people manage to spend time with family and friends on holidays, away from the daily grind, on-duty law enforcement officers can never be certain what the next moment will bring. Southern California owes a debt of gratitude to the thousands of men and women in uniform who stand prepared, whatever the calendar reads, to risk life and limb. A couple of stories from the regional police report on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were especially instructive.
It was not until Wednesday that a harrowing and confusing New Year's Eve hostage situation at a Bank of America branch in Placentia began to sort itself out. A gunman had held 29 customers and bank employees hostage for 7 hours. He eventually escaped and later committed suicide. When the dust cleared, it was apparent that cool and cautious work by scores of officers from various local and federal agencies, SWAT team members, firefighters and medical aides was responsible for getting everybody safely out of the bank to reunite with anxious relatives. A bomb threat and the bizarre behavior of one hostage who emerged bare-chested from the bank 5 1/2 hours into the ordeal tested police.
Placentia Police Chief Mannie Ortega said, "We'd rather . . . err on the side of caution than rush into something when we're not fully aware of what we're up against." That's wise.
Early New Year's Day, Los Angeles Police Officers David Porras and John Tarankow, returning to the North Hollywood station, saw smoke pouring from a motel room on Lankershim Boulevard. They called the Fire Department and quickly pulled to safety a burned man, lying near a mattress engulfed in flames, just as intensifying heat shattered a room window.
Fire and hostage drama took no New Year's holiday. Some dedicated people did their jobs well.