Copyright 2014, Jules A. Staats; Library of Congress, USA.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This work may be previewed only.


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          Sometimes, the so-called laws of chance apparently fail to work.  We all know, that if a coin, having a face side, and the obverse side, can be flipped to settle a bet, determine which team is to start the game, and settle many other decisions.  It appears that the flip of the coin, is a fifty-fifty chance, one way or the other.  Cops, and many others have argued, that chances become better if either heads or tails come up when a coin is tossed or spun.  Get one hundred heads up in a row, and the chances are tails is coming up next, right?  Nope, the experts say it is still 50-50.



          The laws of chance are not just a favorite subject with cops but many people also feel that chance rules.  It was an afternoon in the mild California winter of the year 1980.  The coffee room at the Sheriff's Station basement seemed to be more populated than usual, actually somewhat crowded.  There were five men and three women at one of the tables.  A lull in the activities, crime, accidents, and other problems allowed many of the inside station personnel to take a few minutes out to have a cup of coffee, and to chat.  The subject of the coin toss and the statistics of pure chance were becoming a little heated.  The Lieutenant, who was the Watch Commander tonight, had extensively researched this sort of thing using the search engine of the times: books and written opinion.  He recited several sources of reference to his point.  He did not believe in the fifty-fifty rule.  He was outnumbered as many at the table wanted to loudly express their opposing opinion.


          While the friendly argument was going on in the basement coffee room, one deputy sheriff was spinning a coin a nickel, without paying much attention to the results.  Suddenly, the deputy's coin was the prime object about what chance is as a case in point. 


          "Spin the coin" the Lieutenant ordered.  He was going to try to make his point, using the coin as a prop.  The coin was spun, a nickel.


          The five cent piece spun for quite a while, since all eyes were on it.  It slowed down.  It started to wobble for a second and then it stopped.  It was balanced on edge.


          There was silence for five seconds.  Then everybody roared with laughter.  The coin fell down on heads from the table being shaken from the laughing deputies.


          Someone burst out, "So much for fifty-fifty, or whatever.  What is the chance that it will stand on edge?  So much for anybody's opinion on luck and chance.”


          Outside, while the conversation and laughter continued, the day was coming to a close.  The sun set quickly, and the night began.  The winter season in California is short, that is, if winter happens at all.  The nights become longer, though, like everywhere else.  It had been another fine, slightly smoggy, but warm sunny day in the adjacent area known as Pomona California.  Bad guys took advantage of the mild weather.  A team of thieves found it a great day to plan and carry out a string of home burglaries.


          The comfortable, December day confirmed exactly why these crooks had moved from New York, four years ago.  Once again, this proved to be a perfect opportunity and environment for a trio of habitual burglars, who had driven a full twenty-six miles from their present temporary residences in the bowels of Central Los Angeles.  This was just another fine day to do a little stealing.  The so-called team had bonded together in a loose organization of three.  The plan, of sorts, was to do a breaking-in of a home or two, remove some valuables from the houses, and eventually, retreat back to their digs with a comfortable supply of drugs, bought with the spoils of what they will have stolen today.


          After cruising several blocks of a quiet residential neighborhood, they noticed that one house bore signs that people seldom were home.  Examples are for instance; a nice home with poor lawn maintenance, throwaway newspapers by the front door, things like that.  A knock on the front door provided no response and revealed an opinion that nobody was probably home.  By looking around, they also quickly determined that there was not a single person watching over this neighborhood.  Bad guys love it, when nobody cares, and there is no Neighborhood Watch program in effect.


          A quick pry on the rear door, and they were inside.  They knew that locks are only meant for honest crooks.  Within the unwritten law, that a crook is only supposed to spend only ten minutes or less in a victim's home, they had to move quickly.  The first room visited was a secondary bedroom.  A pillow sack was quickly secured, and a few items of jewelry taken.  The other bedrooms were not checked out, as a prize was found in the dining room.  After that, it was to the kitchen freezer to see if any jewelry or cash was hidden there.  They stopped their search after this as they had found a handgun prize.


          Now, they had some cash, jewelry, a few credit cards, a portable stereo, and best of all a fully loaded new stainless steel Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum revolver, 4 inch barrel, Model 66. [1] This gun would assure the monetary success of their labor.  The suspects gleefully took these things and ran back to their car.


          They were unaware, and probably could not care less if they did know, that the home belonged to a Los Angeles Police Officer who was sleeping in the upstairs master bedroom and was completely unaware of the break in and subsequent thefts.  He had returned from the LAPD shooting range after firing almost a full box of 50 rounds successfully without a single misfire.  As he worked the early morning shift and the wife and children were out of town, there was a welcome opportunity to grab a few hours of shut-eye.  Before going upstairs, he reloaded the firearm with six of the remaining seven rounds in the box of new bullets.


          Upon leaving the burglarized home with the fully loaded revolver in their possession, they decided that they could use some cash money and to continue to a nearby Pomona convenience store, so that they could rob it at gun point. 


          The frequency of robberies of such convenience stores has coined the term "stop and rob" stores. As a result silent robbery alarm buttons were placed in most of these establishments to notify police that they were being attacked by criminals.


          Back at the Sheriff’s station no mention was made of this burglary, as it had not even been reported by the LAPD off-duty officer.


          By now, night had completely fallen, and most of the rush hour traffic had found its way home.  The time was 9:10 P.M.  The same group who had argued about chance and the flip of a coin were hard at work, handling the evening police matters throughout the station. 


          The convenience store was devoid of customers, and was now appealing to the crooks to rob it.


While one of the thugs waited in the dark corner of the parking lot of the market, with the engine running, the other two suspects made their way into the store to check it out.  After confirming that there was only the night clerk and no other customers who could be witnesses, they pointed the stolen police officer's revolver in the clerk's face.  They told the now-frightened young man, that he would be shot to death unless he gave them all the money.  The clerk only had $43.00 in the cash drawer, however, since he was supposed to deposit any money over fifty dollars in the drop safe.  The clerk felt that he was about to lose his life, until one of the robbers finally believed him.  The clerk was also telling the truth, when he said he did not have the combination to the drop safe in the floor.


          Unknown to the robbers, the clerk had secretly pressed the secret silent alarm button immediately on first sight of the pistol.


          The rule on armed robbery is much less than ten minutes.  Because of the extended argument with the cashier over the floor safe access, the city police were well on the way to the location.  They had been dispatched by the silent robbery alarm.


          One of the suspects yelled, that it was "time to split!"  The both agreed, reacting by quickly turning and running back to the waiting getaway car.  The crew of thieves sped from the location at a high rate of acceleration and speed.


          Upon arriving at the scene of an armed robbery, a basic expectation of responding Police Officers is that the robbers will be trying to get away as fast as possible.  That is precisely what the cops are looking for, and suspects usually comply and assist law enforcement, by leaving the area of the crime like a scared rabbit, even burning rubber, yet.


          It should therefore be no surprise that the trio found themselves immediately being pursued by a police unit.  Then two, then a whole lot more police patrol cars.  The chase was on!


          The suspects tried some high speed turns on to other side streets, but only succeeded in allowing three additional police units to enter the pursuit.  Realizing that they were losing this game, they headed for the nearest on ramp of the westbound Pomona Freeway, hoping that with higher speeds possible, they could somehow outrun the cops.  Their borrowed car—which was stolen--was no sloth, and quickly accelerated on the freeway toward Los Angeles, at speeds slightly over 100 miles per hour.


          When the Pomona Freeway was completed in the mid 1960's, the California speed limit for that highway was 65 miles per hour.  In those days however, it was felt that even higher speeds would be legalized in the future, so the freeway was designed for cars traveling at 85 miles per hour.  Since the necessary curves in this highway are gentle and are designed for such a high speed, the chase continued without incident for nine miles or so.  By that time, there were about eleven police cars in the pursuit, and the trailing formation remained somewhat close behind the robbers’ vehicle.


          The California Highway Patrol got into the chase early, contributing four of their units.  The Highway Patrol or CHP had the fastest cars in the State of California, and were, as a result, at the head of the pack, right behind the robbers.  All police radio dispatchers had joined this pursuit and were passing on information from other pursuing agencies.


          At the westbound Hacienda Boulevard on ramp, Los Angeles County Sheriffs units also entered into the pursuit, with five sheriff’s units entering the freeway at the same time.  The sight of all these radio cars entering the freeway with their red lights on distracted the driver of the fleeing car.  He moved the steering wheel too much for the high speed of the vehicle causing a loss of control and a skidding drift to the left.  He almost struck the center divider, over-corrected, and went into a 110 M.P.H. spinout.  The car spun around to the right, almost a full turn, and came to rest in the middle of the West bound freeway without somehow striking anything.  The car remained in place, engine stalled, with heavy smoke from the melted tires filling the air.  The pursuing police units did not have much room to get stopped, and several of them experienced broadside skids, trying to get stopped before colliding with the suspect's car.  The various police officers exhibited their professional driving skills and subsequently none collided in the huge fog, friction created, overheated rubber.


          For a while the scene seemed to freeze, and the passing of time seemed to stand still.  The smoke from numerous hot and abraded tires slowly drifted off the roadway.  There was a strong smell of gasoline and also radiator antifreeze rushing out of overheated radiators.


          Most State highways in California have street lights at on ramps and off ramps.  It was from these lights, that several of the officers saw flashes, originating from the suspects' car. No shots were heard.  However one of the officers spotted the stainless steel pistol.  Several of the officers ducked for cover, thinking that the suspects were firing on the mob of police.  The law enforcement officers chose to not take chances with their lives as there could be a silencer on the weapon. 


          Some other officers did not see the flashes but noticed the shiny gun then fall to the concrete roadway.  Upon seeing the weapon fall, several officers ran up to the car, dragging the trio out of the vehicle on to the cold concrete face down.  The three suspects were quickly handcuffed, and the suspects were now arrested without any resistance.


          The fully loaded .357 Magnum revolver was recovered from the place it was dropped on the concrete.  The gun was checked to see if it had been fired.  The six bullets, high power, Plus P, jacketed hollow point, police type, were intact, and appeared unfired.[2]  The revolver was immediately unloaded for safety.  Many faces on the surrounding officers became very serious, when they saw that all six bullet primers--that is the place where the firing pin strikes the cartridge--were deeply dented, dead center!  The rounds were still intact and had not fired and the bullets were still in the shell cases.


          Somehow, the pistol had been triggered six times, six bullets had their primers punched dead center, but the gun failed to fire, six times as it was aimed and activated with the intention of killing the law enforcement officers.


          Three units were designated to book the three suspects at the Industry Station Jail.  That night Jay was the station jailer and he had heard the progress of the pursuit. As the prisoners file in, station detectives were ushering them to separate interrogation rooms immediately after being rechecked for weapons and their property bagged.


          It is not possible to be a Station Jailer, unless the person selected for the job is previously bestowed with a gift of philosophy and wisdom.  That is the way all station Jailers are and if you need an answer to any question, just ask the Jailer. 


          As the booking of the suspects progressed, Jay the deputy sheriff working as Jailer noticed that the youngest of the Highway Patrolmen was quite preoccupied with some unanswered questions.


          "What's bothering you, guy?" the Jailer quizzed.


          The young Highway Patrolman answered, glad to get it out: "Did you know that those guys shot at us, or at least tried to blast us with a .357 magnum?  The only thing, is that the gun misfired, get this-six times!  Look at it.  We just ran the California registration, and it's a cop's gun, too."


          The Jailer took the clear plastic evidence bag.  Although it was now sealed as evidence, he was able to see the loose cartridges in the bag.  Sure enough, all six primers were deeply punched dead center.  No question; the gun should have fired, but didn't.  The ammo was clean and new, and the hollow point bullets looked undamaged but deadly.


          "I saw a flash, maybe two, but I didn't see the gun fire.  It probably was just a reflection from the overhead street lights on the stainless steel revolver.  I can't believe it!  What a coincidence, all six bullets ended up being defective.  New ones too.  These creeps tried to shoot it out with a LAPD officer's gun, and it just wouldn't fire.”  He repeated; “Would you believe it misfired six times?”


          The Jailer appeared to be weighing the packaged gun in his hand, musing over the young officers statements.  The Jailer replied; “I am sorry officer, but I don't ever buy the concept of coincidence.  That idea of chance has never made any sense to me personally.  A good example is a case like this where a new firearm fails to do what it was designed to do.  Tell me officer; what are the odds that new ammunition will misfire six times in a row, when the gun is in new and perfect condition?"


          The CHP officer looked back at the Jailer, not replying.  He now knew the obvious answer.  The malfunction multiplied by six times was absolutely impossible.


          The Jailer looked the young officer straight in the eye, and said with a knowing voice and the trace of a smile; "I think the Good Lord takes care of vulnerable cops like you and me in a situation like this.”


          A wave of insight and understanding flowed over the young officer's face.


          "You know, Jailer?” the officer had just gained an Eternal and very important wisdom, that would then reflect on his entire future existence on this earth; “you just might be right."


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[1] About this gun:  The Los Angeles police officer had just fired the pistol at the LAPD Police Range, using new ammunition, only hours ago.  The firearm worked flawlessly.  The officer had walked upstairs and took a nap, leaving the pistol on the dining  room table along with what was left of the new box of ammunition.  He never thought that thieves would make him--a police officer--a victim.


     [2] Plus "P" ammunition is high velocity, hollow point cartridge, and the bullet expends in size traveling inside a body, causing massive trauma.