Detective Sergeant Lou Laurenti, Los Angeles (CA) PD, Retired
Lou Laurenti spent 23 years serving the residents of New York City and Los Angeles. Starting his career in 1986, Lou came into the profession when New York City saw a rise in crime. Before significant changes in New York would lower the crime rate and revitalize the city, Lou left for Los Angeles California. He joined the LAPD in 1989 and spent twenty years with the department. Lou’s tenure witnessed some of the most notable events in American Law Enforcement, and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund had the opportunity to hear his accounts.
Lou’s pride in his profession and department fueled his passion for police history. While at the LAPD, Lou witnessed the enhancement of existing programs, while new units and training initiatives were created. The Aviation Unit achieved new heights, SWAT grew and influenced the creation of similar units throughout the nation, DARE became part of the American law enforcement lexicon, and an in-depth study on the use of force resulted in the first arrest and control curriculum. Additional programs like the formation of the Drug Recognition Expert Program (DRE) and the implementation of D.A.R.E., Drug Abuse Resistance Education In 1956, the LAPD’s airborne law enforcement program began with one helicopter, a Hiller 12J. The helicopter was attached to the Traffic Enforcement Division, and responsible for traffic patrol of the city’s freeways. After a full year in operation, the helicopter had amassed 775 flying hours.
In 1963, a second helicopter was added to the fleet. Two years later, a third had joined. By 1968, the “Helicopter Unit” began responding to unusual occurrences and police emergencies where response time was critical — an advantage in the heavily populated city of Los Angeles. In 1974 the “Helicopter Unit”, underwent a major expansion, and became officially designated as the Air Support Division (ASD). The Division comprised 77 sworn personnel, 15 helicopters, and a Cessna 210. Today at full capacity, the fleet consists of 18 aircraft to aid in various situations.
Today, almost every police department has its version of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT). Everyone has an image that comes to mind when they hear the acronym SWAT. However, many do not know the origins of this specialized unit within law enforcement. The Special Weapons and Tactics concept originated in the late 1960s, because of several sniping incidents against civilians and police officers around the country. Many of these incidents occurred during and after the Watts Riot in LA. Chief Daryl Gates is co-credited with the creation of SWAT in 1965, along with LAPD’s John Nelson. Chief Gates established the specialized unit known as SWAT to respond to hostage rescues and extreme situations involving armed and dangerous suspects. Ordinary street officers, with light armament, limited weapons training, and little instruction on group fighting techniques, had been ineffective when dealing with snipers, bank robberies carried out by heavily armed persons, and other high-intensity situations.
On February 7, 2008, LAPD SWAT suffered its first Line-of-Duty Death. Officer Randal David Simmons (Memorial Panel: 62-E: 26), a twenty-year member of SWAT, entered the residence of a barricaded murder suspect, who claimed to have killed three members of his family. Officer Simmons was shot and killed as he entered the residence, becoming the first LAPD SWAT Officer killed in the line-of-duty. Officer Simmons’ funeral was attended by over 25,000 mourners, making it one of the largest police funerals in American History. In 1989, the LAPD initiated the review of all use-of-force incidents from the previous year. The research found that it was not uncommon for officers to be physically attacked, or for suspects to refuse commands when being searched. Based on these findings, a decision was made to revamp departmental arrest and control techniques. A civilian martial arts advisory panel (C-MAAP) was formed. This research led to the development of the first scientifically and fully documented use-of-force arrest and control curriculum.
In 1983, as a joint initiative between Chief Daryl Gates and the Los Angeles Unified School District, an education program was created to prevent involvement in gangs, violent behavior, and drug usage. D.A.R.E., Drug Abuse Resistance Education sought to reach young school-aged children worldwide.
In the 1980s, Los Angeles Police Department officers developed the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program and created procedures to name and apprehend drug-impaired drivers. The DRE program merged traffic and narcotics enforcement procedures and enabled the DRE-trained officer to identify impairment by drugs. Trained officers could determine the specific substances causing the impairment. DRE officers currently serve in all 50 states plus Canada. They are the “gold standard” in apprehending drug-impaired drivers. All DREs can trace their training back to the initial small core of LAPD officers.
Laurenti tells us, “there are many reasons I wanted to become an Ambassador. I have been involved and donated to The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund for many years. I started attending police week in 1986. I also wanted to give back to the law enforcement community. I chose to write this article because I wanted to share some LAPD history, a department I was proud to be a part of for twenty years. I believe that police officers should know law enforcement history. This is more about highlighting the innovations by the LAPD, Chief Daryl Gates, and others. These innovations have helped departments nationwide.”
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund Ambassador Program promotes the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, National Law Enforcement Museum, and the Officer Safety and Wellness programming through outreach, resources, and education.
All active and retired law enforcement officers are encouraged to apply. Start your application process.