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Still a homicide detective, only this time on TV

Newly retired Ray Peavy has long been troubled by how Hollywood portrays investigators. He wants to give viewers a better look at the job.

June 07, 2007|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Although Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Ray Peavy retired Friday after nearly 40 years with the department, he didn't plan to stay away for long.

Peavy is working with Hollywood producers and is pitching a reality television show that would highlight detectives assigned to the sheriff's homicide bureau, at which he spent much of his career.

"L.A. Homicide" will document Peavy and other retired detectives as they examine old unsolved homicides and current detectives working unsolved cases. Peavy hopes to provide a more genuine look at homicide investigations than he sees on network dramas.

During his homicide bureau career, Peavy has overseen many successful investigations, including the arrest and conviction in 2003 of a suspect in the 1957 slayings of two El Segundo police officers.

There were disappointments: cases that were never solved and the acquittal in 2002 of a man accused of pushing a colleague to her death from a hotel balcony. It was a case Peavy had spent years lobbying prosecutors to pursue.

Peavy sat down with The Times recently to discuss his career and his plans for the future.

What do you think of the way law enforcement is portrayed on television and the movies?

"A lot of it is unwatchable for me. 'CSI:' The first time the show came on the air, I was excited to see it. Halfway through the first episode, I said, 'That's it. I can't watch this.' It kind of insulted me, I have to be honest. All the work I know my detectives put into solving cases, you watch that show and the homicide detectives are there but all the case-solving is done by the crime-scene investigators, which couldn't be further from the truth.

Obviously, the crime-scene investigators play an important role, but they work under the direction of the homicide investigator. They've got it all turned around. Maybe I'm just too thin-skinned. But it troubles me. I know how hard my guys work. Then you watch a show like this and, yeah, we're there, but almost like a decoration on the set."

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How did those feelings affect your decision to pursue a reality television show about the homicide unit?

"That's one of the reasons, quite frankly, that I think the show is a good idea. I want to be able to show the public what a real homicide cop is. He's nothing more than they are, just an average guy who has a tough job to do.

Our job is pretty simple, just get the facts, like old Jack Webb used to say."

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Will detectives act differently with reality cameras following them on the job?

"Are the detectives going to be conscious of the cameras? Absolutely. But once they get comfortable with the cameras being around, it becomes second nature. It really does."

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You said you were proud of the arrest your detectives made in the 45-year-old slayings of two El Segundo police officers. What was it like to crack that case after so long?

"We went to his house at 7 in the morning. He opened the door in his robe and slippers. One of my guys said to him, 'We're here about the 1957 double murders of the police officers in El Segundo.' He said, 'You're here about that?' He had the look of total disbelief. He ended up pleading guilty and apologizing in court to the relatives of the victims. He realized he'd gotten away with murder for 45 years. That to me is as good as it gets."

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Any regrets?

"I was a terrible father because I was spending too much time working and having fun. The biggest regret I have is the limited time I spent with my kids. I was working the Sunset Strip, thinking I was important."

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Among your instructors at the sheriff's academy was Lee Baca, who is now serving his third term as the elected sheriff. How was he in the academy?

"He was a piece of cake. He was nothing compared to the other guys."

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You've been involved in the promotions of dozens of detectives to the homicide unit. What makes a good detective?

"I want somebody that genuinely is excited about this job because I know how tough it is. If you don't have the interest to get out there, day in, day out, it will wear you down. I've seen this job wear some good guys down. I've seen other guys, their eyes light up when they get that call at 3 in the morning and they know they're going to roll out.

I want listeners, people who are patient. You've got to know when to shut up and let people talk and when to be aggressive verbally. Communication is better than anything. And compassion. You have to be compassionate. You have to know how important it is to the family members of the victims.'

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How do you cope with unsolved cases or acquittals in court?

"You don't always get justice: Look at O.J. or Robert Blake. Justice doesn't always come, at least not in this lifetime. At some point that person will have to answer for the murder he did on this planet. I know that's not good enough. But that's the best we've got."

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You spent 13 years working vice, a lot of it undercover on the Sunset Strip. What was that like?

"It was a lot of fun. One night I was talking to a prostitute in a bar -- she was about to proposition me -- and Ed McMahon came in, took the microphone and started singing about the people in the bar. Well, someone must have told him who I was. Because when he came to me, he sang, 'There's a lady in red. The guy she's with isn't what he said.' She left. I ended up getting burned by Ed McMahon in a song."

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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