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A fixture at LAPD headquarters, though his office was alcove

March 21, 2009|Bob Pool
  • David Briggs would talk knowledgeably on a wide range of topics.
David Briggs would talk knowledgeably on a wide range of topics. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

David Briggs could always be counted on to help Los Angeles cops start their day on the right foot.

For 21 years, Briggs was the man at the downtown police headquarters who put the spit-polish gleam on the shoes and boots of officers reporting for duty at Parker Center, from the greenest recruit to the chief.

His tiny shoeshine stand was in an alcove off the headquarters' main hallway.

He wasn't a police officer, or even a civilian employee of the department. But the 56-year-old Briggs rarely missed a day of work.

"Dave would come in at 3 or 4 in the morning on days he knew we were having divisional inspections to make sure everyone was ready. He took pride in making sure we looked good," Sgt. Michael Lockett said.

So Lockett and others were surprised when the man they all called "Dr. Dave, the Minister of Shine" failed to show up at his hallway post a few weeks ago. When the two-seat stand stood empty for more than a week, police went looking for him.

Former Police Lt. Fred Booker -- now a special assistant to Chief William J. Bratton -- traveled to Briggs' home near 74th Street and Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles. He knew immediately something was wrong.

"The mail had piled up and the door to his apartment had been pried open," and Booker found a note inside advising where Briggs' belongings had been taken and could be claimed. A workman at the apartment complex explained that the shoeshine man had been found dead Feb. 24.

Booker learned that Briggs' body remained unclaimed at the county morgue. Investigators there told him that the shoeshine man died of natural causes, although an autopsy had not yet been done.

Those at Parker Center knew Briggs had a son -- the Minister of Shine spoke often and lovingly of him to customers while their shoes were being worked on.

So Booker set out to track down David Briggs Jr. He found him in Charleston, S.C., where he works as a struggling musician.

The 23-year-old apologized that he did not have the means to travel to Los Angeles to give his father a proper burial. He begged Booker to make sure that he was laid to rest with dignity.

Back at Parker Center, Booker spread word of the shoeshine man's death. It turned out that most of the cops considered the man who had so cheerfully labored at their feet a friend.

"Everybody liked him. The chief would send eight pairs of shoes at a time for him to shine," said Lockett, who works in the headquarters' community relations office.

Bratton was first to chip in to a $652 collection to pay young Briggs' way to Los Angeles for a memorial service officers will conduct for their shoeshine man. It is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at the Police Academy's Rock Garden, 1880 N. Academy Drive.

The chief will speak at the service and present Briggs Jr. with a flag on behalf of the department.

On Friday, Bratton stopped on his way from City Hall to Parker Center to talk about the irony of the shoeshine man's death.

"Just as we're getting ready to close this place down and move to the new place, he's gone," Bratton said, gesturing toward the headquarters building nearing completion a block away.

"He was a character. He was really part of this place. He was very attentive to the idea we're moving. He wanted to make sure he was there. We didn't realize until his death that this department was his family," Bratton said.

Police had assured the shoeshine man that he would move with them to the new building.

Back in the old headquarters, a wreath, a vase of flowers and a large photo of Briggs stood Friday in front of the shoeshine stand. The two seats were dusty. A smaller picture of a smiling Briggs posing next to Bratton was attached to an easel holding the wreath.

"He worked his tail off. You'd always see shoes and boots and Sam Browne belts stacked here for him to work on," said Det. Robert McCarthy.

Capt. Jeffrey Greer, commander of the Metro Division, recalled how Briggs could talk knowledgeably about any current event or sport. His $6 shine ($7 for boots) was good for shoes scuffed in a foot pursuit or nicked climbing out of a squad car, Greer said.

Briggs always had copies of the morning paper for cops to peruse while they sat and had their boots spit-shined, said Eric Rose, a reserve officer who first met the shoeshine man in 1989.

"You never got to read the whole article. He'd look to see what you were reading and then start talking about it. He was very engaged," Rose said.

But when it came to discretion, the shoeshine man shone.

"To this day I don't know what his opinion of the Rodney King case was," Rose said.


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