LOS ANGELES - In his new book, "Hollywood Station," Joseph Wambaugh remembers the golden days of his beloved LAPD, when Jack Webb would intone on TV's "Dragnet": "This is the city, Los Angeles, California. I work here ... I'm a cop."
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"Today, all we can say is, 'This is the city, Los Angeles California. I work here ... I'm an auditor,"' says one of Wambaugh's characters, a veteran cop expressing the author's resentment of a federal consent decree that has put Los Angeles Police Department officers under constant scrutiny. Burdened with paperwork and looking over their shoulders, Wambaugh suggests they are barely able to focus on doing their jobs well.
In an interview in the Hollywood he writes about, Wambaugh says he was angry at what has become of the LAPD since the 1991 Rodney King beating and the Rampart scandal, in which a group of officers were found to have framed dozens of innocent people. He speaks of a "handful" of bad cops who brought down the wrath of government and spoiled things for the rest of the force.
"They're scared of everything now," he says, reflecting on how some cops try to take the easy way out and avoid confrontations. "The good cop is the one who's proactive, the one that could get complaints. But the good cop takes that risk."
One of his "Hollywood Station" cops says bitterly: "Today, we're just scared little mice stuck in a glue trap."
Wambaugh's book, his first novel in 10 years, is about the good officers, those who police 17.2 square miles of the nation's second largest city - the place he calls the "real," as opposed to "reel," Hollywood.
"If I were a cop now, I'd want to work Hollywood," he says. "More than any other part of L.A., there are a lot of shattered dreams here. People come from other places to remake themselves and don't."