By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photos by Gregory BojorquezTo the soldier the civilian is the man who employs him to kill, who includes the guilt of murder in the pay envelope and escapes responsibility.
It is just past midnight, within the first half-hour of Friday, July 26, and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division radio band has come alive with chatter about a high-speed chase tearing through Venice. Patrolman Teodoro Ureña is nowhere near the pursuit, but he sends a message to his supervisor via his mobile MTTP computer to his supervisor, who is patrolling ahead of him. "Wnt to hd to Arl ovrps?" Want to head to the Arlington overpass of the Santa Monica Freeway? It is clear by the time Ureña types out this message that the perp is going east, back to home turf, somewhere in the brecciated streets that spread unremittingly into the balmy night. This is a chase that’s too late for the 11 o’clock news, too early for the 5 a.m. broadcast. But it is a chase that, if it passes anywhere near the Arlington overpass, will be "fun," as they say at Ureña’s Wilshire Division.
The radio crackles with a Chick Hearn–like play-by-play. The stolen white Toyota is now heading toward Motor Avenue, and Ureña’s supervisor announces excitedly, "He’s heading this way." Minutes later, the Toyota jumps onto the eastbound 10 freeway, and within moments Ureña and his partner, Renee McAlonis, are parked in their black-and-white on the Arlington Avenue overpass, peering down on the speedway below. The oncoming cars move like a school of illuminated fish. From their midst, a pod of bright white lights appears — police keeping a discreet but tight distance behind the runaway car. And then the fun begins. The kid driving the Toyota shoots up the offramp, swoops south on Arlington, west on Adams, not only with half a dozen Pacific Division cars on this tail, but an armada of Wilshire and Southwest cruisers trailing swiftly behind. Thirty seconds later, he gives up, pulling into the Chevron on Adams and Crenshaw. Barely three minutes later, the runaway driver and his passenger are safely spread-eagled on the ground, and Ureña is standing in the middle of Adams Boulevard, kibitzing with his pals and former partners, who, as if from nowhere, have descended on the scene.
"The ends of chases are like reunions," he remarks, introducing his former partner from Southwest and another officer who was a classmate at the Academy. Awash in a swirl of amber and blue light, the incandescence of the gas station casting a chilly white mist across Adams, the police officers and their battalion of cars are suspended in time. Nothing else exists. It is as if, for 10 minutes or so, the LAPD owns that street -- and it does.
"That was fun," Ureña says as he slips back into the driver's seat of Adam-4.
Ted Ureña is bright, thoughtful, conscientious and invariably polite. He does not drink, he does not smoke. He addresses everyone as "sir" or "ma'am" in a supple voice that conveys respect and authority, without condescension. He is alert, and he has a sharp memory. When he is inside Wilshire Division, the two-story concrete bunker station house on Venice Boulevard near La Brea Avenue from which he works, he is anxious to be back on the streets, where, he hopes, he'll land a "caper," a felony, if not in progress, then soon enough after the fact to make an arrest. With seven years on the force, he thanks God that he has never had to fire his service pistol, a 9mm semiautomatic Beretta 92FS, or the Remington 870 shotgun he checks, with cozy precision, from ejector to extractor to shell carrier and chamber. He never tires of the task. "You can't do that too many times," he says, before he begins another all-night shift. Not that he hasn't drawn his pistol or reached for his shotgun. He has, and he has come close to firing, a split second away in one case, in which, he says, "a couple of seconds changed the whole situation."
Guns do not make Officer Ureña nervous. Of his own and those belonging to his suspects, he says, "Never assume a weapon is unloaded. Never allow the muzzle to cover anything you do not intend to shoot." Although he does not want to use deadly force, if it comes down to his life or yours, he will shoot you. Which is to say: Ted Ureña is a good cop. ä
TED UREñA MAY NOT LOOK MUCH LIKE THE OFFICERS we've seen for decades on myriad L.A.-based TV cop shows, but he is, in many ways, typical LAPD. He is 30 years old, 5 feet 8 and 150 pounds, and he fits right in. His fellow patrol officers attending roll call for Watch 7, the 3-in-the-afternoon-to-4-in-the-morning shift, are also around 30 -- though a few of them are younger. They are fit, but none of them are beefy college fullbacks. And they do not seem to have been recruited from Idaho or Iowa. They are black, Hispanic, Asian and white. Half of them are bilingual. Today's crew of 14 includes six women, one of them his partner, McAlonis. They have a predilection for gallows humor, and they banter freely, like camp counselors on the first day of summer -- not exactly the military discipline you'd expect from a group who came up largely under recently ousted Chief Bernard Parks. Unlike several of the officers in Wilshire, Ureña isn't ex-military. He didn't spend time in Somalia, like some of his young contemporaries, a man-child posted overseas, armed with an automatic rifle and cut off from the easy drift of life immediately after high school. He didn't make the natural transition from one uniform to the next.