Firestone Park Station was one of the many firsts initiated during the Los Angeles county Sheriff’s Departments long, proud history.
The Sheriff’s Department came into being in the 1850’s when the state of California joined the Union. During the Department’s early years, field services were directed from the Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles through the efforts of Constables. Those tough minded, hard-fisted individuals were based throughout the County and they were responsible for dealing with most of the police problems confronted in the formative years of the L.A.S.D.
In the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s the Nation was caught in the twin grip of a great drought and depression. Thousands of migrants from the Midwest and South surged westward to the Golden State and into Los Angeles County creating new demands for County services including Law Enforcement. Decentralization of services became a Departmental necessity as a methodology of meeting the needs and the demands of these new residents.
In the early 1920’s, a decision was made to open the first real Sheriff’s Station in the Florence/Firestone Park area and this flagship effort, Station #1, had its beginnings in a leased storefront facility in the 1600 block of Florence Avenue near Maie Avenue. The First Station had an authorized complement of 25 Deputies: they fielded two patrol cars and two motorcycles and provided a small detective unit to investigate crimes. This was actually the catalyst for the planning of additional stations throughout the County.
The first facility, housing Station #1, on Florence Avenue was soon outgrown and a second leased building at 2201 Firestone Blvd. was opened in 1938. It served the Departments needs until the third and last Firestone Station,
At 7901 S. Compton Avenue, was dedicated in 1955.
In its heyday, this station, with over 300 sworn and civilian personnel, served a racially diverse population approaching 250,000 in a patchwork area that covered over 40 square miles. Its jurisdiction was bounded on the north by Slauson Avenue, on the south by Lomita Blvd., on the west by Normandie Avenue and by the Los Angeles River on the east.
This diverse and constantly changing area created an environment that easily supported all the things required to train new patrol deputies and thousands of men and women new to policing got their initiations patrolling the streets surrounding Firestone Park Station #1.
As time progressed, a large portion of the station’s area became economically depressed and with this came an upsurge of crime of all kinds. The Station gained the unfortunate reputation of being#1 in Homicides and other violent crimes. Along with this economic adversity and violence came the seeds of social unrest and two devastating riots seethed through the streets of the area served by Firestone Park Station, leaving scores dead and injured and property damage rising into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
In spite of these tragedies, the Men and Women who served at Firestone Park Station never shrank from the challenges and opportunities that daily confronted them. They delivered babies, counseled troubled marriages and helped the sick and injured. They arrested the drunks, petty thieves, wife beaters and those who broke the fabric of neighborhood peace. These Deputies solved crimes and helped area kids find a safe place within the protective arms of the Station’s Youth Athletic League.
On other occasions, they fought gun-battles with robbers and killers and others who wished them harm and sometimes they gave their lives for those who had called Firestone Park Station for help.
Firestone Park Station officially closed in 1993 and it no longer exists on the rolls of the Sheriff’s Department. However, it will linger on in the hearts of those who served within its walls and as a benchmark for service and performance for those who come to today’s Sheriff’s Patrol Stations and learn of its memory. Firestone Park Station was indeed, a first in the long, proud history of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and it has helped to create a legacy and a standard of excellence.
Working at Firestone Station a few years after it opened and then seeing it close has been the experience of a lifetime. I was able to begin working there in the early 60’s when the early morning watch fielded 7 or 8 cars to handle an area that is now policed by dozens of units. It wasn’t unusual to hear calls dispatched like, “Firestone 15, come in for 5 calls and handle in order…” I was able to work the Northend, Willowbook as well as the Southend that bordered Long Beach, Wilmington, Harbor City, Torrance, Gardena and Compton. I saw first hand the violence and devastation of two major riots. I delivered 8 babies, walked a foot beat on Florence Ave. and rode 11 Mary, a kick start, three-wheeled Harley. As a sergeant I helped police the first two organized Watts Summer Festival operations. Carrying a lunch box sized radio with a whip antenna, I walked alone through crowds of thousands in Will Rogers Park as 10 Paul Sam helping our Deputies make over 1000 arrests each of those years without any major incidents. I was fortunate to become a Firestone watch commander and later the D/B Lt. and I enjoyed almost every minute of my assignments.
Each day brought a new experience some were hilarious and so laughable that it was difficult to maintain a professional demeanor. The first time I witnessed a common-law divorce using a penal code as the testament upon which to swear the truth made me bite my tongue. Hearing a seasoned Deputy Sheriff intone the words that, “This union is hereby dissolved by the power of the P.O.S.T. certificate granted me by the State of California, the two of you must now go your separate ways, may God bless your souls,” was priceless.
The killings, shootings, cuttings, beatings and especially the violent injuries of small children filled me with anger and often a sense of helplessness, The pathos caused by human suffering was endless and it was sometimes difficult not to cry at some of the tragedies I witnessed. Even now almost four decades later I can still visualize some of the horrors and it seems as though I’m destined to carry those memories forever.
There were moments of sheer terror. The feeling you get from walking down a darkened hallway where no one in the world wanted to be while looking for a crazed, drunken individual who had just slashed his wife and kids to death defies description. Hearing the buzz of small caliber projectiles close to your head quickly brings a realization of what mortality really means.
one of many people, thousands really, who had the experience of working in that
For me there wasn’t anything like it before or since and although times, techniques, policies and procedures change I’m certain that almost everyone who has worked at Firestone Station believes that during his or her time it was the most difficult and demanding patrol assignment within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. That is a belief about which I’d never argue.
I always thought that the best part were the people who were assigned there, they seemed to care more about each other than at any other place I’ve worked. Camaraderie, caring, trust and brotherhood were more than just words. They became a code to live by on those streets. As a Deputy, Sergeant and Lieutenant I was fortunate enough to experience and be buoyed up by those relationships. Later as a Region II Area Commander, Division Chief and finally as Assistant Sheriff I made it a point to get into the field and roll on calls through out the Department’s jurisdiction. The one place I always felt most at home was in the area where I began my career. It was a pleasure to backup and assist or watch those individuals who policed those familiar streets.
As the Station was preparing to close it’s doors I stopped by on my way home one evening and walked through the place that had accumulated so many fond memories for me. In the basement, scrawled on the blackboard were the words, “Firestone will never die.” From a historical perspective, as the Department’s first patrol station, these words are 100% accurate. From a personal perspective, while those of us who were fortunate to work at that very special place remain on this earth that station, Firestone Park, will live on in our hearts. For each of us it is a place of magic. There; humor, pathos, terror and all the human emotions that can be felt were mirrored for us in it’s streets on a daily basis. For me and I hope for you it was a place of wonder, raw realism as well as love and anger and sadness and agony and euphoria. Those words that I read on that blackboard resonate for those of us fortunate enough to experience that place and for each of us, Firestone Station will never die, it will live forever in our hearts and in our souls.
May God bless those of you who walked through those back doors in order to police those streets and to become a part of a very memorable legacy.
Assistant Sheriff, retired