By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
"Once we put them in the holding cell, I'll look back and say, 'Good luck.' As hard as they can be, there's just a better way of living, and they don't have to be in that situation. My partner, Renee, says when I try talking to these suspects, I talk philosophy. I expect good things from people, and when they choose to do evil, they are not living up to what God put into them, or created them for.
"I can't believe I'm doing what I'm doing," he continues. "It's what I always dreamed I'd be doing. A common saying is, 'We're lucky to be here.' 'It's a great job.' I look at my badge, and I smile. I wish each officer would feel as happy about the job as I do."
But make no mistake, Ureña is no religious naif, or a kindly sociologist who dresses up in a Kevlar flak jacket, midnight-blue slacks and a shirt with a gold badge pinned to the breast. After recently arresting a pair of boys, one 13, the other 17, for attempted robbery, Ureña says, "As smooth as it gets."
"Lucky them," he jabs back, crisply.
"I've heard it said, and I believe it," Ureña says a few days later, "that some police officers are 'gunfighters.' Somebody who actively seeks the hardcore element. I would be happy to be called that: 'Here come the gunfighters.'" He smiles slyly. "It's been said of me, and I don't mind it."
Check out the northwest corner of Cochran Avenue and Westhaven Street, and you'll encounter proof that Ted Ureña is a tough cop. The Smiley-Hauser clique, a branch of the 18th Street Harpies, took advantage of a newly poured wheelchair ramp to immortalize their LAPD adversary. "Fuck Ureña. Police K. 0-3 Killers." Translation: Teodoro Ureña is a killer, and a marked man.
"PEOPLE SAY THAT CRIME IS ABOUT ENVIRONMENT, that people who commit crimes grew up in bad neighborhoods," Ureña says. "But why do they use environment only to explain the bad? There are far more people who grew up there to do good than bad." Ureña believes, simply, that criminals "take the easy road." Crime, he insists unswervingly, is a matter of choice, not necessity. "They are not willing to make the sacrifices to do good. I think all people are born with a sense of right and wrong. Some people just choose to ignore that voice that tells them what they're doing is wrong. I don't really fall for reasons or excuses. 'I had to steal because of this.' No, you didn't have to steal. You chose to steal. And if you're in your bad situations, it's because of the choices you made that led you directly right there." It is that cut-and-dried.
This unsentimental view applies as well to the subject of punishment. "I feel confident that the majority of people in jail deserve to be in jail," he says, as if thinking otherwise defies common sense. As for incarceration, it is retribution -- period. "I think convicts are incarcerated to be punished. I don't expect them to be rehabilitated. I don't."
In uniform and out, Ureña will reiterate this seemingly unyielding conviction, which borders on a priestly view of good and evil. Yet, at the scene of a crime, his attitude can quickly soften. At 11:30 on a Thursday night, for instance, Ureña and his partner, McAlonis, answer a call about a man brandishing a knife on Arlington Avenue, on a block of crumbling apartments just south of Washington Boulevard. It turns out that the man has actually disarmed his stepdaughter, a 20-year-old woman who had her first child at 15, who was having a fight with her drunk boyfriend. The boyfriend, it seems, burst into the woman's apartment and picked a fight. He hit her, and she grabbed a knife. By the time Ureña leaves the scene, the girl is in handcuffs, charged with assault with a deadly weapon, while her boyfriend faces a much lesser charge. "In these kinds of situations," Ureña says on the way back to Wilshire Division, "you feel bad. You sometimes wish you could arrange it so that justice is done. He came here drunk, and then she lost her head a little bit with the knife. So I feel a little bit badly for her."
A week later, Ureña, who makes it a practice to forget about a call as soon as he leaves for the next one, is still thinking aloud about the boyfriend-girlfriend spat on Arlington. "Technically, the girl pulled the knife. Now, if a person were there to see it all the way through, I believe they would have compassion for the girl, and realize that she was not the person who instigated, it was the guy being drawn upon. So you would have sympathy for her -- at least I did. I mean, for me it's never 'It's just a body in jail,' another statistic. I know we are dealing with human lives here, the same way I would not want to be put in jail for a mistake of the heart. So sometimes people do technically commit crimes. But are they really guilty of being a criminal? I don't know. Sometimes it's hard."