The Fight Against Crime: Notes From the Front : LAPD Officer Is Sewing Up His Retirement

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Officer Bob Mika was one of the best-known members of the Los Angeles Police Department. Indeed, he has a national reputation in police circles.

But not for acts of bravado.

"In 20 years, the guy never once fired his gun on patrol," said Officer Art Grenci at Mika's retirement party Monday night at a Sherman Oaks Italian restaurant.

"He treated everyone with such respect," Grenci said, making a cappuccino in the kitchen of the restaurant that police officers often patronize, "that even the guys he arrested liked him."

Mika's fame among police came from his inventions.

To demonstrate, Grenci pulled up his blue polo shirt. Snuggled into his waistband was a thin, vinyl holster holding a handgun.

"Everyone has one of these," said Grenci, pointing to the holster. "All over the country, they get them from Bob."

They get them through advertisements in police magazines and through mail-order brochures, such as one that declares, "Be it plainclothes attire or formal evening wear, Mika's Waistband Holster fits every occasion."

The popularity of the holster and other inventions has allowed Mika, 41, to retire from the LAPD and develop his creations full time.

"This is what made it all possible," said Mika the day after the party, standing at his kitchen counter in Woodland Hills. Before him were several different models of the holsters.

At his feet were several moving boxes--Mika and his family will soon be leaving Los Angeles behind for rural Wisconsin.

It was about seven years ago that Mika started working on improving the waistband and pocket holsters then available.

"They were usually made out of suede leather," said Mika, placing a gun and a holster in his pocket to demonstrate. "The trouble was, when it got hot and sweaty, the gun would tend to stick to the holster."

He pulled the gun out of his pocket, holster and all.

"You have to reach over and take the holster off the gun," he said. "You might not have that extra time."

Using some pieces of vinyl left over from repairs he had made to exercise equipment, Mika's wife, Patty, sewed together a prototype he designed.

They made 50 of the holsters and he gave them out to LAPD officers for testing, along with a questionnaire. The responses he got were so positive he sent them to Police magazine, which ran a feature on the device.

Orders started coming into their home and Bob Mika began sewing the holsters--which now retail for $9.95 to $23.95--one by one on an industrial machine set up in the den.

"We used to sit and watch TV together," said Patty Mika with a laugh. "Now, he is in here every spare minute doing his sewing."

Bob Mika said he has sewn almost 15,000 of the holsters so far.

Later came his "tactical pocket mirror," which is little more than a plastic hand mirror with a short holding stick attached. When looking for someone who might be armed, it can be used to see around corners.

"The mirror minimized my exposure to hostile fire," wrote one satisfied customer--a Houston policeman--in a letter to Mika. The officer said he used the mirror while searching for a man suspected of wounding another policeman. "I was confident that in using the mirror to look around corners, I would not become another statistic that night."

It's the kind of endorsement that can give someone the confidence to leave a steady job and go the entrepreneurial route.

Mika said he hopes that in Wisconsin, where he and his wife have bought a stone house and 143 acres of land, he will be able to hire local people to do the sewing and other hand work. He can then spend his time on research and development of new products.

In the meantime, his quiet demeanor will be missed at the LAPD. "If I ever had an officer on probation or with some problem, I would put them with Mika and that would take care of it," said Capt. Ken Small of the Van Nuys division. "He is one of the ones you don't want to lose."

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