According to statistics, Los Angeles County is the most dangerous place in the U.S. to be a police officer. There, almost every day of the year, a police officer is shot on duty.
"It's a violent world, especially in Los Angeles County, for peace officers," says Deputy District Attorney Darren Levine, who is also the chief instructor of an Israeli Army hand-to-hand combat system that is used by approximately 300 police departments.
Levine is part of the "Crimes Against Police Officers" unit, set up to prosecute anyone who wounds or kills a law enforcement officer. "We have to have a unit like this because in any given week, we could have five, six, seven, eight, 10 police officers shot at," says Levine. "Back then, it wasn't like that."
Los Angeles County used to be a much safer place. But as Bill Lagattuta reports, a cold-blooded cop killing in 1957 would haunt the police force in El Segundo for nearly half a century
Bob Dewar was just 17 in 1957. Dewar was one of four teenagers coming home from a summer party one night, when he and his friends decided to make a stop at Lover's Lane.
"I rolled the window down. ... And that's when the gun came through the window," recalls Dewar. "'This is a robbery.' I said, gotta be somebody pulling a prank. But the gun was real."
Officer Levine said the gunman came prepared with surgical tape and a flashlight. The gunman covered the teenagers' eyes with tape and ordered them to take their clothes off. Naked, bound and blind, Dewar, his buddy, and their 15-year-old dates had no choice but to do what they were told.
"He came around from the driver's side to the passenger side, opened the car and raped the girl," says Dewar.
What had started as a night of innocent fun had now become a horrible dream from which Dewar thought he and his friends might never escape.
"He asked us to get out of the car. He said, 'I think I'm gonna kill you. I want you to march out into the field,'" says Dewar. "The girls were crying, and I didn't know what to think. I mean, I couldn't believe this was gonna happen."
"I figured that it just takes four bullets and we're all gone," Dewar continues. "And then we heard the car door close and he drove away."
One girl was raped, and three other teenagers, including Dewar, were robbed and terrorized. But the gunman's night wasn't over yet. While making his getaway in the stolen '49 Ford, he made one simple mistake that would add murder to his list of crimes.
"At the corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and Rosecrantz, the suspect stopped for the red light. And then, for an unknown reason, proceeded through the red light," recalls Lt. Craig Cleary, who was just 18 months old at the time of the crime.
Formerly an investigator for the El Segundo Police Department, Cleary knows as much about what happened that night as if he had been there. "There was a marked black-and-white unit parked off the side of the road that obviously the suspect didn't see," says Cleary.
In that patrol car were two young El Segundo policemen, Officer Richard Phillips and rookie Officer Milton Curtis, who decided to pull over the '49 Ford. Soon after, a second police car with Officers James Gilbert and Charlie Porter drove by.
Not knowing what had taken place minutes earlier at Lover's Lane, these officers assumed that it was just another routine traffic stop. "Officer Philips appeared to be getting ready to start a citation, and as we stopped and looked the situation over," recalls Gilbert, "he waved a paper at us, like everything was all right. So, we went ahead."
Officers Porter and Gilbert would be the last people to ever see their fellow officers alive. Just seconds later, there was a call on the radio. "Officer Philips said on the radio that they'd been shot, and needed an ambulance," recalls Porter, who raced back to the scene.
It was too late. Phillips had been fatally wounded, shot three times in the back. Curtis was already dead. He was shot three times as well, while still sitting in his patrol car.
"To have them killed like that, right in cold blood," says Gilbert. "It was pretty hard to take."
The call for help came over the radio at 1:28 a.m., and in the short time it took for Gilbert and Porter to respond, the killer had simply disappeared.
Hundreds of police officers from El Segundo and the neighboring communities scoured the area all night. They found the stolen '49 Ford, but there was no sign of the suspect.
"We never gave up," says Porter. "We've always kept looking and looking and looking. The case was never closed."