Sunday, August 21, 2016

Truant (Season 4, Episode 7)

Episode 85

If Malloy would have known that he was going to be quizzed at the start of his shift, he would have studied. But since he wasn't warned he was going to be tested on last night's baseball scores, he didn't commit the entire sports page to memory. The administrator of today's pop quiz, Reed, is asking Malloy the score of every MLB matchup from the previous night. Reed begins to suspect Malloy may be guessing at the answers when he replies that the Cardinals- Astros game was rained out.

"C'mon, Pete, it doesn't rain in the Astrodome."
(I was shocked to learn that the Astrodome is still
standing, but has been dormant since 1999.)
Malloy wants this exam that he's sure to fail to stop. He asks Reed why he doesn't just get the scores from the newspaper. Reed would except by the time he gets the paper, the sports page is missing. Jean's been using it to line the rabbit's cage. It's not too bad, though. The rabbit is becoming quite a sports fan. Malloy can't help but think this is hilarious.
"Get the scores from the rabbit!" is his advice to Reed.
Their discussion about rabbits and baseball is cut short when the link operator is heard over the radio with a call about a 459 taking place right now at 3656 Denker. 

1-A-12 and the backup unit pull up to the address at the same time. All four officers walk up to the house and hear quite a racket coming from the garage. Malloy and Reed check out what's going on inside through a window.

They see that all the noise is the result of two boys ransacking the place. One of the boys stops throwing dishes on the floor when he finds an old coffee can. He excitedly shares his discovery with his friend.
The boy is convinced that he's found a treasure. His friend, however, is not. He "don't see no rainbow". The boy then takes the lid off the can and shows his companion he was right. There's twenty-five dollars in there, he's found the homeowner's stash of mad money. After they split up the money, the boy who found the can gets fifteen and his buddy gets ten, they decide they're going to vandalize the place. They change their minds, though, when two men in midnight blue uniforms and badges show up at the door.

After the boys' playtime is interrupted, they're brought back to the station and their parents are called. Reed and Malloy then have the job of telling the parents about their sons' escapades.

Reed meets with Lyle and his father, Myron Bradley. Mr. Bradley wants to know what will happen to his son, besides the whipping he'll get at home. Reed doesn't know how the city will punish Lyle, that's up to the juvenile courts, but he does know Lyle will need to come back with his father tomorrow morning. Detectives will want to talk to the boy. 

Oh, look, it's screechy-voiced actress Barbara Nichols as Mrs. Stephens. Virgil is played by Vincent Van Patten. Son of another Adam-12 guest star, Dick Van Patten. He's also the star of one of my favorite movies, Rock 'n' Roll High School.
Malloy has the distinct displeasure of dealing with Virgil and his mother, Ginger Stephens. She is outraged that Malloy is asking her to bring Virgil back to the station tomorrow at the ungodly hour of nine a.m. She works late and does not get up that early. She's sure the kid can find his way to the station on his own without her holding his hand, he's a big boy. Malloy begs to differ.
"Mrs. Stephens, your son can't get to school by himself.
You don't seem to understand, he was involved in a burglary this morning."
Before Mr. Bradley takes Lyle home for that whipping, he asks Reed why the school doesn't call him when his son is not in school. Reed explains that the school simply doesn't have the time. When there are two hundred students absent on a given day, they don't have the staff to check up on every one.
If the school can't help, then Mr. Bradley will do it on his own. He'll find a way to make sure Lyle is in school. He vows that his son will grow up right if it kills him. On his way out the door, Bradley thanks Officer Reed for his time.

Meanwhile, Malloy is still having a time with Mrs. Stephens. He lays it on the line for the woman. If she is not at the station with her son tomorrow at nine a.m., detectives will file a petition and he will be picked up. They may even have her arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The brassy blonde doesn't like the sound of that. "Now wait just a minute," she protests. But, Pete's not waiting or holding back.
"No, you wait a minute. I'm telling you the way
things are, you do whatever you want."
When she sees that freckled digit pointing in her direction, Mrs. Stephens knows Malloy is not joking around. She finally agrees to bring Virgil back to the station in the morning. She doesn't see what good it is going to do, though.
"I don't either, Mrs. Stephens," retorts Pete.
She leaves in a huff after that.

[Good riddance.]

Later in the day they're back in the car and Jim is anxious about something. Pete tells him that he'll hear soon enough, but that doesn't seem to ease his partner's worries.

Jim's presented an idea to Mac about curbing the truancy problem. The sergeant didn't seem too thrilled with the idea, but he promised he'd run it by the captain. Jim wonders how good of a job Mac'll do selling it to the skipper when he himself didn't buy into it. It's been almost two weeks now and he hasn't heard anything. Jim figures his idea must be dead in the water.

Pete, who's probably been through this kind of thing himself, tells his partner to have patience. He's asking the brass to do something they've never done before and they'll need a chance to evaluate it before they decide to try it out. 

Jim has to put his anxieties away for the time being when they come upon a stalled car in the middle of the street. Before he and Pete get out of the black and white to see what's going on, he puts them code 6 at the 300 block of Lucerne.

Malloy and Reed approach the car and find two well-dressed men inside. The driver is trying to start the thing, but it won't turn over. Malloy starts out with a basic question.
"Checked your gas gauge?"
There's plenty of gas in the car and it's only two weeks old. The driver can't imagine what's wrong with it. Malloy doesn't know either, but he does know they should get it out of the road. Reed can help the men push it over to the curb while he calls for a tow truck.
[Ya know, Pete, I could call for a tow while you push the car.
I do know how to work the radio.]
After the black sedan is out of the way of traffic, the driver thanks the officers and tells them they can be on their way. He and his friend can wait for the tow truck. In fact, he insists that Malloy and Reed continue their patrol. For some reason, Malloy doesn't take him up on his offer.
"No, I insist. Turn around and put your hands behind your head!"
Malloy then tells Reed to pat them down, they've got a couple of hot ones. 

Malloy watches as his partner finds guns on both men.

After both of them are in cuffs Reed asks Malloy if intuition told him these two were packin' heat. 
The idea did come to Malloy out of thin air. But it wasn't intuition, it was the radio. Air-1 had the link tell Malloy the two men were armed. 

Malloy gets back on the radio to see if the air patrol has any other information on these two. The eye in the sky doesn't know anything else about the two men. But the detectives who've just pulled up behind 1-A-12 probably know something. When Malloy sees Sgt. McCall get out of the car, he has a pretty good idea of what is going on. The two men are probably involved in the narcotics trade.

Oh, hey, it's Lew Brown in his final Adam-12 appearance.
Detectives have been trailing these two for five days and now they've stalled two blocks from their cutting pad. McCall thinks it was Harvey's (the driver) bad planning that caused their car to die. McCall walks over to the black car to show Malloy and Reed what he means. As soon as his hand touches the car the heretofore pleasant Harvey suddenly turns surly.
"You got a search warrant, cop?"
Indeed McCall does have a warrant. He takes it out of his pocket and quickly flashes the "signed, sealed, and delivered" document at Harvey. He then proceeds to open the gas cap and pull out a chain of heroin bindles.

Just as McCall suspected one of bindles busted, sending the powdered substance into the fuel system and killing the vehicle. Malloy can't believe his ears.
"You telling me the car died of a heroin overdose?"
When they get back to the station Reed has been summoned to see the captain. After two weeks the time has finally come for Reed to hear how the top brass likes his idea. Reed is nervous, though, and he's stalling outside of the skipper's office door. Malloy doesn't have the patience for his partner's anxiety.
"Reed, for two weeks you've been beefing about how
long it takes them to make a decision.
Now why don't we just go in there and listen to it?"

Reed knows Malloy speaks the truth so he opens the door and goes in. Captain Grant greets the two officers then asks Reed about his proposal.  He's heard about the plan from Mac, but now he wants to hear it from Reed himself. Reed starts by telling Grant about the genesis of his idea.

While researching burglaries in the division he noticed that most of them take place between 0800 and 1300 on weekdays, school days. The MO was usually amateurish and the method entry of sloppy. The items taken were mostly worthless, except for some cash. In most cases the houses were ransacked. All of this evidence points to kids being the perpetrators of the 459's. 

Capt. Grant wants to know if hypes could be responsible for these haphazard burglaries. Reed doesn't think so. He's plotted the crimes on a pin map and found that they have all taken place in a fifteen-block radius from the school that has the highest absentee rate in the city. Given that all of the evidence points to children committing the burglaries, Reed thinks they can be prevented if officers pick up truant kids and return them to school. 

After Reed is finished telling the captain his idea, Grant reminds him that his CO doesn't think much of the plan. Mac says they're "police officers, not hooky cops". Now that Grant has heard about the proposal from Mac and Reed, he wants to hear Malloy's opinion. Malloy supports his partner and tells the captain that it's a good idea. The meeting ends on a high note when Grant tells Reed they'll try it out.

The first day of Operation Truant seems to be a success, if success can be judged by the number of kids that have been picked up. When Reed and Malloy come into the roll call room to drop off two more truants, they find an unhappy Wells watching over the kids. Reed asks how many kids have been picked up and Well replies "too many". Reed asks what that means and Wells isn't shy about elaborating.
"Means your brainstorm has made a babysitter out of me."

Reed continues to press Wells for an exact count of truants that have been brought in. He finally gives Reed the information he's looking for and a little something extra.
"One hundred twenty-seven, your lordship."
Out in the hallway Malloy tells Reed that he hopes this thing works, right now it's not making him any friends. Reed isn't worried, he's confident that the program will be a success.
"It'll go," he tells Malloy.

When they're on the streets later in the day Reed asks Malloy to cruise down Maple, some of the kids use it to get to the pool hall. Malloy uses Reed's new nickname when he answers him.
"Coming up...your lordship."
Reed spots a couple of boys who look like they should be in school. Malloy stops the patrol unit behind a red Volkswagen. Reed is ready to go talk to the boys, but Malloy has noticed something that may be more pressing. 
"There's a pool of oil a foot wide underneath that car."
Reed calls in the plate and they find out that ZKI-417 is a West L.A. stolen. They get out of the squad car to take a closer look and find that the interior of the VW has been stripped clean. Reed pops the trunk (or is that the hood on a Beetle since the engine is under there?) and finds that the engine is also missing. They follow a trail of oil to a nearby garage.

Standing outside of the garage Reed and Malloy hear a car engine revving up. Just then the garage door opens to reveal two men and their homemade dune buggy. The man who opened the door shouts, "Cops!" and his friend puts the buggy into gear. It speeds out of the garage and comes barreling straight for Malloy.

Malloy rolls out of the way and the dune buggy crashes into the fence. The other guy tries to make a break for it by jumping over the fence. But, he is easily grabbed by Reed.

While Reed is rolling around on the ground with his suspect, the other guy backs the buggy out of the fence and tries to turn onto the street. By now backup has arrived and blocks the buggy's escape.

But this guy still isn't ready to give up. He backs the buggy up again and speeds backward up the driveway. He narrowly misses Malloy, who has to flatten himself against the fence to avoid being hit. The pursuit ends when the buggy crashes into the very garage it came out of only seconds before. Malloy, aided by backup officer Wells, captures the driver.

After it's all said and done, Wells congratulates Reed on his pinch. Reed is glad he approves. Wells, who can't just give a simple compliment, then adds that he doesn't understand why they are busting car thieves with all of the dangerous truants roaming the streets. Wells leaves them with a final dig at Operation Truant.
"I'll see you back at the classroom."
A few days later Malloy notices there are far fewer truant kids on the street. Reed agrees and he has done the research to back up this claim. On Monday one hundred forty-two were picked up, on Tuesday it was one hundred twenty, then eighty on Wednesday, and only twenty-three yesterday. The principal at Freeman has also noticed, he's let the department know that his attendance is up eighty percent. All that's great, but if analytics don't prove that burglaries have also been reduced then Operation Truant is down the tubes. Reed knows that doesn't bode well for him.
"Yeah, and me along with it."
Malloy gives his worried partner some advice.
"A wise man once said, 'Great hazards accompany innovation'."
Reed asks who made this profound statement. 
"Me," answers Malloy.
Although they've made a big dent in truancy, the LAPD has not completely eliminated it. Which is why these two boys are out roaming the streets when they should be in school.

Pete stops the car and Jim gets out to talk to the youngsters. The boy in the red plaid shirt claims he and his friend in yellow don't need to be in school because they have already graduated. He adds that he is eighteen and his friend is nineteen. Reed is willing to believe their story, if they can prove it.
"OK, I'll buy that. Let's have a look at your draft cards."
Of course these two conveniently forgot them at home. That's alright, though, Malloy comes up with another way they can prove their age. 
"OK, real fast, what year were you born?"
Proving that he and his friend need to spend more time in math class, the boy in plaid answers that he was born in 1938. That would make him thirty-three in 1971. Knowing that they've lost this round of "Prove Your Age", the boys admit that they go to Freeman. 
They may have lost the game, but as a consolation
prize they do get a free ride in a police car.
Once they have the boys in the car the link operator comes over the radio with a dispatch of a 459 that just occurred at 1216 Northgate. Although the call isn't for them, it's close enough that Malloy and Reed can roll by.

At 1216 Northgate the woman of the house is very happy to see the police. She came home from grocery shopping and caught two burglars in her house. When the thieves saw her, they ran like two scared jackrabbits. Before they escaped, the two bandits did manage to swipe fifty bucks and two gold rings. So far, so good, the PR is cooperating and has lots of details to give about the crime. However, when Malloy asks her for a description of the suspects (or is it for the rings) the woman laughs. She thought they were here to return her property. Now Malloy is confused. 

The woman, though, is not; she knows exactly who has taken her money and rings.

It's the two boys in the police car. She storms over to the black and white, opens the back door and orders both of them out of the car. After telling the boys that she hopes their parents give them a good whipping, she demands her stuff back. The boys dig it out of their pockets and hand it over. Malloy and Reed, too stunned to speak, stand by and watch as this happens. 

Back at the station parking lot Malloy evaluates their latest bust. They may not have prevented the crime from happening, but they did solve it five minutes after it happened. Reed doesn't think they can take credit for this one.

Then Wells pulls up with two more truants in the back seat of his squad car. He's starting to 
come around to Operation Truant, he hasn't had a crime report in his area in two days. Malloy thinks this is something his partner should be happy about.
"Looks like his lordship is becoming popular."
Reed doesn't know he'll handle his newfound fame.
"I don't think I can live with it."
Back on the street, the truants are turning themselves in.
[Hey, Pete, I'm gonna go talk to this kid.]
[OK, your lordship.]
[Uh oh, it's the fuzz. They probably know
I'm up to no good 'cause I'm dressed like a criminal
from a Keystone Cops short.]
[Hey fellas, I'll just let myself in.]
[Works for me.]
After there has been sufficient time to analyze the date Pete and Jim meet with Capt. Grant again. He has some good news to share with them, the program is a success. Residential burglaries are down sixty-three percent, auto theft is down eighty-five percent, and car clouts are down seventy-six percent. It's a good program and the department is going to start running it two or three days a month, just to keep the kids off balance. To show Reed how popular the program is, Grant hands him a newspaper. Operation Truant is front page news!
[Thanks, Cap, my copy is lining the rabbit's cage.]

Reed keeps reading all the way to the report desk. When he's done, he's pleased with the article and has high hopes for the program. Who knows? If it keeps up, they might be able to wipe out juvenile crime.

Malloy has more realistic expectations, especially after he looks down the hall and sees a familiar face being walked to the jail.

Well, we know Virgil didn't steal himself a new shirt.
"No, I don't think it'll go that far. Some parents'll have to care first."

The End(s)

I like "Truant" if I don't think too much about it. If I just accept this as a story about a problem plaguing the division (a high number of daytime burglaries) and Reed's simple yet brilliant plan to rectify the problem, I have very few complaints. There are lots of interesting elements to round out the story, too. We have a fun in-car sequence at the beginning involving Reed, Malloy, baseball scores, and the Reeds recently acquired pet rabbit. We then get to witness a completely annoyed, and almost insulting, Malloy deal with a candidate for worst mother of the year. "Truant" also gives us a well-researched Reed who has the confidence to present a new idea to the brass. Although he has matured, his impatience and anxiety are a throwback to the wet-behind-the-ears Reed of season one. Mix in some excitement with the drug dealers and dune buggy builders and insults from Wells and you have a pretty episode.

Just don't think too much about it or you'll start to ask questions that will punch holes in Reed's idea and the story itself. For instance, if these burglaries have been such a problem why have we never heard about them before? Which is easy enough to answer: this is 1970's TV, story arcs didn't usually build over several episodes. OK, easy enough. But, what about Mac's comment about "hooky cops"? Were there no actual "hooky cops" or Truant Officers in Los Angeles at the time? If there were, shouldn't they have been addressing this problem? What happens to the kids once they are picked up? For a show built on reality, the details here are kind of vague. We know they are taken back to school, but how? Are these kids charged with a crime? According to it is unlawful for any minor who should be in school to be out on the streets during school hours. If they are caught, they can be fined up to two hundred fifty dollars. Was this law on the books in 1971? I could go on and on, but I'll end my barrage of queries with the most obvious question, the one I'm surprised didn't come up during the episode. What is going to happen during the summertime when packs of kids are roaming the streets and there are no schools open to take them to?

When I thought about rating this episode I had to suspend my disbelief and not worry about all those unanswered questions. I only focused on the story and how much I liked it. When I thought about, I gave "Truant" a rating of:

Do you agree? Let me know what you think of this one somewhere out there in cyberspace. Before I sign off, I just want to let everyone know that there will be no blog next weekend. I'll be my birthday party. See you in two weeks with "Ambush"!