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No Doughnuts, No Humble Pie at LAPD

Image: What? A chief from New York? Police officers in Los Angeles feel fitter and generally superior to their colleagues in the NYPD.

September 28, 2002|JILL LEOVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

From the lowest patrol officer to the highest brass, mere mention of the fact that Los Angeles may soon have a New Yorker as chief tends to provoke one response: We are better.

The Los Angeles Police Department's notion of its superiority goes back decades, as far as the popular television series "Adam 12."

In the minds of many LAPD officers, the series' hero, trim, fresh-faced LAPD Officer Kent McCord, puts to shame Andy Sipowicz, the troubled and portly archetype of "NYPD Blues."

"Adam 12," which ran from 1968-75, and the LAPD classic "Dragnet," are often mentioned by LAPD officers old enough to remember and still be inspired by them.

Such shows portrayed the department favorably on purpose, of course. But there was more to it than choir-boy haircuts and do-goodism. LAPD officers love "Adam 12" and "Dragnet" because the cops they portrayed captured the image they like to project of cool professionalism.

"They separated things from emotion, and they always did the right thing," LAPD Lt. Mike Albanese said.

The ideal endures in his unit, where officers goad one another to do chin-ups and charity work, Albanese said.

LAPD officers will tell you they work differently from New York's, walk differently. Theirs say "job." Ours say "mission." Theirs say "perp." Ours say "suspect."

And finally, "LAPD officers always had higher appearance and physical fitness standards," said Tom Elfmont, a former LAPD captain. To this day, "you gotta look squared away. You gotta look sharp."

The public here accepts nothing less, he said. "It's a Southern California thing. We all go to the gym and talk about what we eat. And our cops have to look great."

The department maintains strict, Disney-esque guidelines on appearance.

But the lengths that LAPD officers go to in order to look good frequently go beyond the manual. Despite the fact that it is not required for most officers, a cult of fitness prevails.

Station houses have gyms, and thousands of officers participate in organized police sports leagues. Weightlifting is so big, and the LAPD beefcake phenomenon so pronounced, that some commanders worry that it's gotten out of hand.

Without question, many LAPD officers do not live up to the image. Still, the doughnut shop jokes about cops here don't go over so well.

"If officers stop at doughnut shops, it's just to get coffee to keep them awake," boasts former Chief Daryl Gates.

As proof, the department notes that many LAPD teams have winning records. The Baker-to-Vegas law enforcement relay race was won this year by the LAPD Metro runners team, who passed their NYPD competitors.

Football is a different story. The proud Los Angeles P.D. Centurions lost, 7-6, to the mightier NYPD team the last time the two met on the field. Contrite Det. Donald Payne, captain of the LAPD's team, earnestly promises to do better next time.

But then, showing the LAPD's flare for battling negative publicity, Payne tried to put a better spin on it.

The LAPD lacked a kicker this year, he said. "We had the better team," Payne said. "But due to circumstances beyond our control, we lost.... Had our kicker been there, it would have been different."

Payne is 39, 5 feet 7, 170 pounds, and can bench-press more than 300 pounds. He too believes that New Yorkers have "a different mentality, a different way of policing." But with classic LAPD wariness, he declined to say what he really meant.

Asked to comment, NYPD officers were somewhat blunter, faster-talking and feistier.

On the issue of the kicker, Officer Mike Immitt, a 23-year veteran of the NYPD and head of its sports committee, snapped: "The only thing they have that we don't is a tan!"

He offered himself as an example. At 45, he said he runs sub 6-minute miles despite being an unrepentant smoker.

But the star of the NYPD football team is Officer Joe "The Gut" Giustino, a patrolman in the department's 72nd Precinct in Brooklyn. Giustino, slot receiver and tight end, also smokes but does not work out much. He said the nickname is "because of a part of me that is larger than it should be." He pronounces it "law-jer."

Six-foot-3 and 300-some pounds, Giustino promised future wins, questioned the LAPD's grace in defeat, and offered this assessment: "They seem to be a very cocky bunch."

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