What it was like to be a Los Angeles police officer during the 1980s crack epidemic

Photographer William Karl Valentine grew up visiting the Pasadena Police Department, where his father was a reserve police officer. When Valentine enrolled at Arizona State University to study photography, he decided that his first project would be a documentation of the police department.

Over the course of four years at ASU, Valentine logged over 1,000 hours shadowing officers in the department, photographing every major operation and event that he was there to witness. What has resulted is a fantastic time capsule of what it was like to be police officer in an LA suburb when the Drug War was on full blast.

Valentine shared a number of photos with us here, but you can check out the rest at his website.

At the time Valentine began his photo project in 1984, Pasadena was extremely dangerous. Valentine was given the chance to document officers like Officer Bill Walton, seen here, because he was well-known around the department due to his father.

Growing up, Valentine would visit the station while his father did paperwork. This is a view of the 'report writing room,' where much of that paperwork was done.

Valentine continued the project any time he went home for holiday breaks. During the summers, he worked as a reserve officer in the department's photo lab. This helped him gain trust with the officers, who gave him 'almost unlimited access' to the department, he says.

The access allowed Valentine to tag along in almost any situation. Here, Officer Banuelos and Agent Olquin control a DUI suspect resisting arrest.

Agent DuWayne Moe gives field-sobriety tests to another driver suspected of a DUI, while Officer Bob Lomeli translates.

Detective Lt. Whitaker holds the photo of a homicide victim in her apartment. Valentine was allowed into crime scenes with ease.

Agent Calvin Pratt dusts for fingerprints in a recovered stolen vehicle.

Drugs were rampant in the streets of LA at the time. Here, Agent Lee Baroni subdues a 'duster,' a person under the influence of PCP, after he attacked a police car.

The crack-cocaine epidemic was especially bad during Valentine's time on the beat. As such, officers were often trying to bust people suspected of selling the drug. Below, Officers Taylor and Blanchard arrest a man suspected of selling cocaine after chasing him on foot.

Pasadena was also at the center of a turf war between the notorious Bloods and Crips gangs. Here, Agent Lionel Salgado looks for crack cocaine in a Crip's mouth.

Gang violence ruled the streets. It would not be until 1996 that the tide would begin to turn, when police Chief Bernard Melekian declared 'No More Dead Kids' as the department's motto. Here, Officer Tom Delgado searches a Raymond Avenue Crip.

More than a few operations turned out to be dangerous situations, like this scene of a traffic collision brought on by a drunk driver.

Another such situation occurred during a 'Buy Bust' operation, where an undercover police officer attempts to buy drugs at a suspected drug dealer's house. After the deal is done, the officer walks away and backup hits the house. Here, Officers Riddle and Ware search for someone suspected of selling cocaine.

During this operation, the drug dealer ran back into the house. As the suspect tried to climb out a window, an officer swung his baton. The officers on Valentine's side heard a high-pitched pop, which sounded like a gunshot. It turned out to be the baton hitting the window, but it could have been someone firing on the officers. 'I'm still surprised that the officers didn't shoot the suspect,' says Valentine.

It didn't take much for a routine operation to turn dangerous. During this narcotics search warrant, Officer Compton found a gun.

'When you are that age, you don't realise how dangerous some situations are. You don't worry at the time, but when you look back, you realise how bad things could have been,' says Valentine. Here, officers check on a suspect who crashed his motorcycle during a pursuit.

There was plenty of boring police work to document, like this patrol during the Pasadena Centennial Parade in 1986.

Officer Randy Taylor issuing a citation on Lincoln Avenue.

Officer Kevin Hall monitors the Doo Dah Parade, a flamboyant parade held in Pasadena every year.

Valentine says that his goal with the project was to accurately document the officers' side of the job, which rarely got talked about at the time. Here, you can see officers Hal Edwards, Matt Harrell, Mark Rangel, and Don Osterholt.

Often, Valentine was trying to show the personality of each officer, like he did with this portrait of Officer Gary Capuano, who he calls a 'happy-go-lucky guy' and a 'great street cop.'

Valentine's experience following the Pasadena police department inspired him to become a police officer. He joined the Chino, Calif. police department after graduation, working there until his retirement in 2008.

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