An interview with Police Captain Donald Graham – LAPD North Hollywood
Police Captain Donald Graham oversees the North Hollywood area with an eagle eye. He’s a very proud Filipino-American who takes his job very seriously. I got to sit down with him in his office at the North Hollywood Police Station on Burbank Blvd., and much to my surprise, with a sense of great humor, he took the lead…
Our Police Captain is a ‘Trekkie Fan!’ And he’s happy to show you his collection of Star Trek memorabilia!
He greets me with a firm handshake and starts right in…
Captain Graham– … I have an L.A. story for you, Waide…
Waide– Great! I love L.A. stories.
Captain– … this is my L.A. story… everybody says that human life started between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Well, I think that’s wrong. I think everybody’s from Brooklyn. But, like everything else, so is my family. They moved to New Jersey in the early part of the twentieth century. My father was born in Bayonne. He grew up in Bayonne, an eastern New Jersey town, lots of Polish people, Irish people and Italian people. That’s about it… dad went to fight in Vietnam, kind of picked up a thing for Filipino chicks, that’s where he met my mom. That’s where I came from. So, I grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, of Filipino descent… not really a tolerant community, or a diverse community. So, it’s almost ironic how when you put on this uniform, how many people will instantly tag you as a racist. Or prejudice. Growing up the way I did, there were literally no other people of my ilk in the neighborhood or the adjoining neighborhoods. I think the only other Filipino I knew in Bayonne was my pediatrician who was way up on the North end of town. They had kids but we didn’t go to school with them because they went to a private Catholic school. So, there was a variety of racial epithets, I remember one time going home, I asked my mom, ‘Are you sure we’re Filipino?’ Because the kids are pretty convinced we’re Chinese… Then we moved to Los Angeles in 1985. In 1985, I went for a walk to the Panorama Mall. I was fourteen. And, I remember looking at everybody, there was one black kid in my school, and he knew Karate, and no one messed with him. Everyone thought I knew karate, because naturally I’m Asian, so it’s genetic… right?
(I love the Captain’s sense of humor. It just didn’t stop)
And, I remember walking through that mall by myself, and looking around at all of these different types of people. And, I was thinking to myself how everyone was so weird looking. But, I guess by default… I’m not. And I don’t know what I’d be doing if I had not moved to Los Angeles… I don’t know what life a half Filipino kid growing up in New Jersey with a white last name… but here, in Los Angeles, I’m a Senior Captain for the Los Angeles Police Department.
(The Captain pauses here. I wasn’t about to say a word)
… I had the most incredible experience… my group of friends reads like a bar joke. A black judge, the Jewish movie director, Filipino police captain and white computer programmer. We’re still best friends after thirty years. I married a Jewish woman from Long Island. I have little Jewish-Filipino children. Not to over grandize, but my story is an L.A. story. It’s the story of diversity. It’s a story of what happens when you have collisions of cultures… not in a negative way, but in a positive way. I never experienced the Jewish culture until I met my wife. I immersed myself into it. I decided to raise my children Jewish. How beautiful it is. The singing… if I just had pitch, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, I’d be on Broadway!.. So, that’s my L.A. story.
Waide– How long have you been here in North Hollywood as Police Captain?
Captain– Since Christmas Day 2016.
Waide– What is your protocol of outreach to the communities of NoHo? Whether it be LGBT, Latin, African-American, Asian…
Captain– My personal standard is… and I’m pretty much in line with the Chief, we’re the Los Angeles Police Department and we’re here to provide safety for the community. That is all encompassing. And that means if I stay true to the other part what I believe in, that the most powerful weapon I have to fight crime was not issued to me, it wasn’t put on my belt, I don’t carry it in the trunk of my car… it’s trust… ’cause at the end of the day, who calls the police? The community does. Who signs the crime report? Who comes to court to testify against the bad guy? Who’s the one that tells us where the dope is coming from? Where the bad guy has the weapon stashed, or who’s beating on his wife and she’s not telling us because she has a cultural issue. Trust is the most powerful and productive weapon we have to fight crime. So, protocol… my gates are open. When I come to work every day, my number one job is to provide a positive environment for them so they, in return, will translate that when they go out into the field. Because whether you’re a police officer on a traffic stop or you’re a Community Relations Officer, who’s specific job is to connect with a particular community, to start a dialogue, you have a profound effect just by the way you encounter that person. And so I want to make sure that the positivity starts in my police station. Because, if I have these police officers that believe that when they come home to North Hollywood, that they’re supported… that they matter… and their captain understands what they go through… The only thing that keeps me up, as a Captain, is the thought of the safety of my cops. Now, of course, the safety of the community is what their job is. But, they don’t get to do that job if they don’t feel safe. It’s not just physical, but it’s also psychological. That’s my job. I have a great leadership team in North Hollywood to work that through. When those officers go out on the street, the foundation of their work environment is positive. You treat someone negative in the field, that’s on you. And I’m going to hold you accountable for it. Because you didn’t learn that in my police station. Not working for Donald Graham. That’s my overriding management philosophy.
Waide– How would you describe NoHo in the next ten years?… What’s going to happen?…
Captain– There is certainly the move to increase density around areas of public transportation. The move to push ABC Licensing to four o’clock in the morning. There is a movement afoot to change the ABC laws to push back the limit to service to four o’clock in the morning… what they cite is everybody’s desire to have a Manhattan West in Los Angeles… Now, my issue with this is we don’t have the transportation infrastructure for it. In New York, at four in the morning, when you’re done at a bar, you can jump on the subway and make it home… the expansion of out public transportation capabilities is a huge portion of what will come into the future of North Hollywood. I love the nightlife, the feel, that’s going on right now that starts at Magnolia and Lankershim corridor and expands out. Very vibrant and very diverse. And what I’ve seen in cuisine choices, of population, I’d like to see a little more focus paid by development on traffic concerns… what we’ve seen in Downtown Los Angeles is that when we bring in the population we underestimate the traffic needs that go into supporting that kind of infrastructure, and what you have is a traffic madness. And everyone gets their level of frustration and angst up about it and it doesn’t help anyone out. One of the things we saw in Downtown L.A. and I haven’t seen in North Hollywood, yet, but it’s a potential, being responsible when it comes to being a hospitality venue. So, you’re going to serve alcohol, because you’re a restaurant or bar, it’s very important you understand why we have the laws that we have. Nobody makes laws to say, like “Footloose,” let’s clamp down on teenagers having fun… that’s not the way the rule works. But, in Downtown L.A., if you’re gonna have to commute to Downtown or even the North Hollywood Arts District, in order to have a night life, can you imagine this conversation, Hey, let’s go down to that place where Margie was raped last week! I love that spot! or let’s go to that place where that guy got so drunk he beat the crap out of Chris! I love that place! Can you see that conversation taking place?… ‘Cause I can’t. And that’s because it’s directly related to ‘over-service.’ And when we see people literally carried out of clubs… we’ve got a slight increase in sexual assault crimes in North Hollywood this year from last year, not because they’re getting drunk here, but they’re being transported from Hollywood, and so drunk in licensed establishments, which means those licensed establishments are not being responsible. The Ventura corridor, the Lankershim corridor… they are tremendous and I can see the economic growth, but with that economic growth comes the density piece… and when so many people are together in a community, it does several things… it creates several opportunities for cultural collisions and relationship collisions… we have to engage you to help us fight crime!
Waide– Pizza. Let’s talk about that.
Captain– There’s a place on Vanowen and Tampa called Brooklyn Pizza… it’s as close as I can remember that I can get to real New York pizza.
Waide– I love Reno’s Pizza at the corner of Tujunga and Ventura! Love their lunch specials!
Captain– Yes! That’s right.
Waide– … If you could personally update or revise the Second Amendment, what would you change?
Captain– I would make it very clear there is not a separation in clauses. I believe that responsible gun ownership is a right for all Americans because we do need to defend ourselves as a militia. We are not just a militia from foreign powers, we are a militia of public safety within ourselves. There is a line that I don’t think is crossable… I don’t think the framers of the Constitution understood that someday the government complex would so outdistance the private person and their ability to weld weapons… that now access to weapons of mass destruction was capable… there is contention that there is no definition of what an assault rifle is. Ugh! Yes, there is! High capacity. High caliber weapon… that’s made to repeat fire over and over again that was not designed to hunt bears or dear, it was designed to kill other human beings in a war setting, and it has its place, but not in the hands of a civilian population where they can literally walk into a room full of ‘Christmas revelers’ and unload a hundred and eighteen rounds in under two minutes. It’s a horrible horrible thought. So, how would I remake the Second Amendment? There is certainly a place in America for guns. The thought that ninety percent of this country believes that there should be background checks and we still can’t get that passed in Washington is ridiculous to me.
Waide– We can’t give background checks?
Captain– We can’t get a universal law for background checks to pass. It’s unbelievable to me that we can’t get that accomplished. It’s unbelievable to me that we can’t get a technology system that can connect all of these database together that in one state if you can’t have a gun, you can find that out in another state to make a responsible decision in another state to keep that gun out of someone’s hand.
Waide– The NRA, National Rifle Association pretty much has a lock on all things…
Captain– They are just an example on what’s wrong with the politics. The money in politics is just one of the problems. These propositions were sold to the general public, these plans were sold to the public and marketed like candy and soda… these are serious ground shattering changes in the fabric of our society and we play with them as if there were products competing for shelf space at Ralph’s. It’s absurd to me. It’s absurd that the money influence is over vote influence. People have become so fed up with what the messaging is that they’ve stopped the only force that can counter act money and politics which is the number of feet that actually show up at the polling place. The clear message there is there’s no accountability in government.
Waide– … wow… let’s get to some lighter questions, shall we?!
Captain– (laughs) Sure.
Waide– What’s your favorite book?
Captain– One that comes to mind immediately… “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein. I love “Lord of the Rings” by J.R. Tolkien… I like the idea of “Star Trek.”
Waide– What’s your favorite song or genre of music?
Captain– I grew-up as a ‘hair-metal’ guy! Guns ‘N Roses!
Waide– I love Guns ‘N Roses!
Captain– Who doesn’t love Guns ‘N Roses!? My son loves Guns ‘N Roses, and he’s fifteen! I’ve always loved that genre of music. To me, it represents my youth. Aerosmith… Boston… In my more quiet times, it’s instrumentals and movie themes.
Waide– What’s your favorite movie?
Captain– You’re killing me, Waide! Uhh… oh my goodness… Right now, I can’t get enough of “Rouge One”… I was a big “Star Wars” fan growing up… I thought Rough One was absolutely terrific! So, I can’t get enough of it. I like the reboot of “Star Trek” because of the way they handled it… the timeline… the way Leonard Nimoy handing the baton over… honoring the cast with such reverence…
Waide– … Thank you, Captain…
Captain– That’s it?!
Waide– Yeah! You ended it perfectly.
And there you have it, the Captain of the North Hollywood Police Station, Donald Graham, is human after all. And, a Trekkie!
North Hollywood Police Station
11640 Burbank Blvd.
North Hollywood, CA 91601