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The Beat Goes On : After 17 Years, He's Still Amazed by Antics of 'Bad Guys'

September 20, 1987|LONN JOHNSTON | Times Staff Writer

'I did what every other officer would have done. There's just no thinking. Lots of officers do it daily and don't get more than a pat on the back.'

--Officer Mike Hamman

Cruising past a row of rundown apartments on the west side of Santa Ana, Mike Hamman spotted a shirtless man, covered with tattoos, ambling down the sidewalk.

"Uh-oh, that guy just stashed something in his pants," Hamman said, pulling his patrol car to the curb. Then he grinned: "Just like in a training film."

Hamman was right. From inside his jeans the man pulled out two plastic bags; in return, he received a misdemeanor citation for possession of marijuana.

'Enough for Five or Six Fishing Trips'

"Geez, $150 that'll cost him," Hamman said. "That would be enough for five or six fishing trips."

After 17 years as a Santa Ana police officer, the 47-year-old officer can still summon an almost naive sense of amazement over the antics of the people whose lives fill his days--the crooks and junkies he calls the "bad guys." Sometimes the job of a beat cop is fun, Hamman said, and sometimes it's dangerous. Occasionally it calls for a measure of heroism.

Hamman agreed recently to take a visitor along on the beat for a one-day glimpse of the routine of drugs, prostitution, purse snatching, petty theft and false alarms that he deals with week in and week out.

The day began early, with a call concerning a suspected drug overdose.

A 29-year-old man had been found unconscious, a broken syringe by his side, in a room in an apartment complex he had apparently broken into the night before.

"We found the guy here and couldn't wake him up," said the apartment manager, who was wearing surgical gloves when Hamman arrived.

"I'm afraid of AIDS," she said.

Rolling back his shirt-sleeves, the man showed Hamman hundreds of black needle marks, bunched tightly together in long lines. Tracks.

This time he was lucky. He was still alive, and the manager had decided not to press charges if he agreed never to return to the complex. Hamman shrugged and walked the young junkie out to his police cruiser for a ride home--to a nearby park.

"I be stopped using, man," the man insisted in the car. Earlier he had confessed to once having had a $300-a-day habit.

"No job, and he's supporting a $300-a-day habit," said Hamman, one eyebrow raised. "Where'd he get the money?"

A tall, lanky man, Hamman is not much heavier than he was as a swimmer and water polo player in his Long Beach high school days. He smiles easily and has never had to fire his revolver.

He and his wife, Nancy, a former Santa Ana police sergeant, were married by a police watch commander, ordained for the occasion by a mail-order church, and honeymooned in Las Vegas, where they tackled a burglar robbing a gift shop.

Hamman wears a blue-and-yellow enamel pin over his uniform shirt pocket. It's the badge presented to him by the city this summer for a daring rescue five years ago.

He remembered that night well. It was pitch dark and raining. As he backed the patrol car out of his driveway he heard a sickening sound, as if he had hit something.

"Oh, no. I ran over somebody," he recalled thinking.

But he hadn't. A neighbor was pounding on his trunk and yelling to him about a boy who was being swept downstream in a rain-swollen flood-control channel. Hamman scrambled from the car, jumped into the channel and grabbed the boy. He reached out and snagged someone's trouser cuff and held on tightly until he and the boy were fished from the channel.

"I did what every other officer would have done," Hamman said. "There's just no thinking. You do it. Lots of officers do it daily and don't get more than a pat on the back."

Turning his patrol car down McFadden Avenue to answer a purse-snatching call, Hamman said he had never considered becoming a cop until he lost his job with Burroughs Corp. in 1970 when its Mission Viejo computer plant closed.

He said he applied for a job on the Santa Ana force thinking, "This will fill the gap until something better turns up."

Seventeen years later, Hamman said, he feels the same as he did after the first month in a blue uniform: "This is really enjoyable."

After taking a report from two women who had lost a welfare check to two men with knives, Hamman pulled the cruiser away to check on a furniture store reporting a suspected embezzlement.

At 4:30 p.m., as his shift drew to an end, Hamman heard a pursuit call on the radio. He stomped on the gas pedal, and the cruiser roared into action, racing south on Bristol Street after a murder suspect fleeing in a yellow Datsun truck.

Four patrol cars and a motorcycle converged on the truck from three directions. It pulled over, and Hamman flipped the holster strap off his revolver as he ran for the cover of a tree.

Three startled teen-agers peered out at the police from inside the truck cab. It was the wrong truck.

The Datsun with the suspected murderer was stopped a mile away--by other officers.

Hamman looked dejected. "Everyone wants to be in on the action," he said, getting back into his car for the return ride to the station and a couple of hours of paper work.

"Most every officer is here for action. Maybe, it's like you don't want to go fishing and not catch anything."

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