This is the fifth installment in a series of as-told-to stories from Angelenos who witnessed the first 48 hours of the 1992 riots. At the time, Glynn Martin was a Major Narcotics detective for LAPD. The unit had seized 10,000 pounds of cocaine in two record-setting cases the year before, records he says still stand today. On April 29, 1992, Martin's unit had to drop preparation for two major federal trials and assist with the all-hands-on-deck order from Chief Daryl Gates.
The verdicts came down, and we were in a squad room. There wasn’t a television. Either I walked into another office or somebody came in and told us. And at least for a short while, I didn’t detect anything that was particularly out of the ordinary.
The Major Narcotics office was on the third floor of Central Station, which is at Fifth and Wall downtown. I waited in the office until the verdicts came down, then I got in my car and went to take care of some case-related matters.
When I headed out in the field I started hearing all the radio traffic. They were calling for assistance and calling for a large number of officers to respond. I want to say it was within an hour of the verdicts. I was down on Spring looking north. I’m a Major Narcotics detective, far from being the first line of defense. And on top of that, long hair, not fit to be in uniform or anything. So really I’m just looking and watching and hoping that this is going to be a short-lived event.
Hill’s Code 7 was a restaurant frequented by people assigned to Parker Center. It was on the south side of First Street, right where the current LAPD headquarters has since been built. I was south of Hill’s Code 7 when I saw all kinds of crap going on there. I just remember sitting there looking northbound going, eh, an awful lot of people here that normally wouldn’t be here, doing things that they normally wouldn’t be doing. And that was my first indication, my first personal observation that things were not well.
I’d done five years in Hollywood, and things spilling out into Hollywood Boulevard or Sunset Boulevard wasn’t entirely unusual up in Hollywood. And having no experience downtown, I kind of wrote it off to that. Maybe part of that was just the hopefulness of it all, that it wasn’t going to grow into anything bigger than what I’d seen on a rowdy night in Hollywood.
I kind of peeled off, went back to the office. We weren’t being assigned anything, so I went home. And by the time I got home, things were getting out of hand.
At that point I was watching it on TV, pretty much glued to the TV, waiting for the phone to ring. Ultimately, I was notified to come in. I think at 6 the next morning is when we started.
We immediately started on 12-hour shifts. It was 12 hours on, 12 hours off, all your days off were canceled. In Major Narcotics, we had to drop what we were doing and assist with the all-hands-on-deck order. Our function was to provide intelligence to the decision makers so they apply their resources as needed.
I was in the office receiving all the intelligence from the squad that I worked. We were receiving on both ends of it. We were taking incoming phone calls from citizens, sending that information out to our guys in the field, and our guys in the field were sending back in stuff that they had witnessed or been told about. So we were trying to head the stuff off.
I remember the attack on Parker Center, the attack on the federal courthouse. I think the parking shed at Parker Center got torched. In terms of structure defense, I think we did pretty well with that stuff. Unfortunately, it was places like Hill's Code 7 that took the brunt of it. And Howard's [Cafe] at 11th and Alvarado, which was in Rampart Division. And they got targeted simply because they had a reputation as a dining place for LAPD officers.
I’d had all kinds of crowd-control training, all kinds of training on how to amass personnel resources and properly deploy them. The challenge was, a hot spot in some small city might involve five people. But this is a major metropolitan city where there are hot spots that involve 50, 70, 100 or 200. So the resources you need are substantial.
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There was a lot of looting going on, a lot of the uprising showing up in various places and various pockets. I remember we had some information that the Sears over at Olympic and Soto was going to be targeted. I remember distinctly calling Sears and letting them know. Because that’s their decision to make, whether they want to continue operations or whatever the case may be. But I remember distinctly phoning Sears and letting them know that we had information that people were headed their way to loot.
There was a strip mall at Washington and Hill or thereabouts. The information that was coming into us, all of it turned out to be true. Both of those places got looted.