I understand and even support the use of police helicopters to keep Los Angeles both safe and law abiding. Nonetheless, of the many things I prepared myself for when we moved last autumn from New Jersey to Studio City, airborne law enforcement was not on the list. It is a harrowing experience, for me at least, to be unable to sleep not because of indigestion or the constant re-visualization of an awkward choice made for an audition earlier that day, but rather because of the thunderous vibration of propeller blades of military grade attack vessels hovering overhead.
Los Angeles is a city unlike any other I have known, and its terrain, design and organization unquestionably justify the use of police helicopters. The Los Angeles we commonly refer to is not a city as those of us familiar with Boston or New York or San Francisco or Philadelphia might define the term. Rather it is a county – a huge amalgamation of small and mid-size towns each with its own distinct character, from tiny Bradbury (pop. appr. 1,000) to sprawling Pasadena (pop. roughly 150,000) – with the huge namesake city in their midst.
Within the confines of this second-largest Metropolitan Statistical Area in the United States are hundreds – if not thousands – of square miles of heavily wooded, seriously mountainous parks and forests (many people, including until recently myself, don’t realize that L.A. at its highest elevation is a mere 700 feet “shorter” than Denver), and many of its towns, to a large degree, are comprised of residential blocks lined with small, single family homes and huge trees. Most apartment buildings I know of in L.A. are tiny in comparison to their east coast counterparts, and many of them have open air, underground garages. There are some huge apartment buildings in L.A., notably along Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, but to my knowledge they are the exception that prove the rule.
Unlike New York City, in which identified criminal suspects or fugitives are almost always apprehended within 24 hours (where are they going to hide? Typically the Pine Barrens in the Great Swamp in central New Jersey, or the Schunnemunk Mountain range in New York’s Hudson Valley, both of which are puny by L.A. standards…..), L.A. is designed perfectly for anyone who does not want to be found. Mountains, thick residential foliage, literally hundreds of thousands of small homes offer excellent hiding places and escape routes, and, of course, the year-round warm weather eliminates the need for traditional shelter in order to survive. A reasonably resourceful person who wants to disappear can likely do so more easily in Los Angeles than any other major city in the United States, hence the obvious need for a police presence in the otherwise friendly skies.
I woke at a little before 4 a.m. this morning, rousted from a typically light sleep by what sounded like a military invasion (of course, a military invasion at 4 a.m., which, granted, sounds different than a military invasion in the midst of urban hustle and bustle at, say, 2 p.m.) Within a few moments of consciousness I realized that our way of life was not under threat from a foreign body (as it never, in our entire history, has been….but that’s a whole ‘nother post), but rather that a police helicopter was circling – constantly circling, circling – the small airspace between Laurel and Coldwater Canyons, “the hill” that separates Studio City and West Hollywood and some area just north of the 101 (“the Hollywood Freeway”.) Now, a little after 8 a.m., the helicopter seems only recently to have left the area. It will undoubtedly return today, as it has for most of the last week….oh! it’s back!
The volume and presence of a police helicopter is completely distinct from those, say, of a helicopter used by a local TV news station to cover traffic. If your only familiarity with police helicopters is – as until recently it was for me – through watching movies in which the chopper hovers near a high rise apartment building observing an unsuspecting bad guy in a luxury duplex, let me tell you, you are NOT familiar with police helicopters! You know they are there – that, in fact, is the whole point. Or half the point anyway -- 50% devoted to finding and catching fugitives, 50% devoted to keeping the population at bay and just intimidated enough to behave properly. I daresay the latter half of the intent driving the use of police helicopters is the far more effective, or so it strikes me anyway. I would not think of doing anything even borderline illegal knowing this Blackhawk clone was patrolling my neighborhood; Christ, I didn’t even want to walk my dog before the sun rose this morning.
I’m not sure why the police helicopters have been ubiquitous in the skies over the Valley these last four or five days. I assume it might have to do with law enforcement’s efforts to find and capture Christopher Dorner, the ex-cop currently wanted in the murder of three people, who has been at large for most of the last two weeks.
What I do know is that the feeling of being observed, and the thunderous sound of being observed in this manner, is unlike anything I’ve ever known. Perhaps it is something my neighbors and other Angelenos don’t notice as much as I do. Perhaps most others are not as sensitive to it as I. It’s not so much fear that I feel as a sense of in some way being, for lack of a better way of putting it, justifiably intruded upon for my own good.
But I have to say I don’t like it. I really, really don’t like it. It conjures up harrowing visions of what it must have been like to have grown up as a child of a war torn culture, to have lived in Beirut or the Mekong Delta, and in my three months living here, I have to say I have finally, against all my expectations, found one thing I really don’t like about living in Los Angeles. It is still my favorite place on earth, and even in the short time I have been here I have fallen deeply, passionately and I believe permanently in love with this incredible city.
But, man! I hate these police helicopters, much as I understand the need for them.