Like a lot of people, I imagine, Ralph Edward Brown isn’t exactly sure why or how he landed in his profession. He just knew he wanted to help people.
“It’s just helping out people and giving back to the community,” the Los Angeles police officer said Tuesday. Though he always knew he wanted to be an officer, it was just a matter of where.
Before heading off to Los Angeles with a friend in 1997, kind of on a whim, Mr. Brown had been born and bred in Riverhead. The son of Ralph and Mary Brown, he grew up on the corner of Northville Turnpike and Doctors Path with five siblings. His dad, now 86, worked at Brookhaven National Lab for 31 years and his mother, 76, worked a teacher’s aide in the Riverhead Central School District after her youngest child started kindergarten. His grandfather had purchased the property, which the family still owns, back in the 1940s, when land was $80 an acre.
“Now, it’s closer to $80,000,” the elder Ralph Brown said with a laugh.
The younger Ralph was named Riverhead Fire Department’s firefighter of the year in 1996, his father said. Last year, he brought home another prestigious award: Los Angeles Police Department Police Officer of the Year in his division, the Van Nuys precinct — one of 21 in the department, which employs just under 10,000 officers overall.
Sometimes, though. it doesn’t take running into a burning building — which the younger Ralph, 48, has done, but is too humble to elaborate on — or delivering a baby on the side of the road to earn such an accolade.
Often, it’s more the day-in, day-out consistency that’s appreciated the most. And that’s what it was in Ralph’s case.
“He’s got a can-do attitude,” said one of his supervisors, Sgt. Steve Gottschalk. “He’ll take anything on. If somebody’s having issues, he’ll go and talk to them. He has the ability to identify problems, he speaks up and he works well with others. And I’m not just trying to throw words out there.”
Now in his 18th year with the LAPD, Ralph currently works as a field training officer. He hesitates to use the word “mentor,” but he works with younger officers straight out of the police academy, typically for eight months at a time, before they move on. He’s the guy who shows the rookies the ropes — and does it well. He had worked in the LAPD’s gang unit, testifying throughout his work there over 50 times at trial, “usually in murder trials.”
Two of Ralph’s best friends growing up — Rich Freeborn and Bill Hulse — ended up going into the same line of work.
“I would take 10 Ralph Browns if I could,” said Capt. Hulse, who works out of the Riverside State Police barracks.
“Why, though?” I asked.
“Everybody likes him,” the captain said. “He can win over a room in seconds. He has an amazing technique and ability to win friends anywhere … And when you go to a scene, there’s no doubt that Ralph would be able to go to the most hostile situation, calm it and take an effective law enforcement action.
“Having the ability to make people like you — to make people just want to like you — is a great asset,” he added.
Ralph isn’t sure exactly where he’ll end up after he retires from the LAPD. He’s become too used to the warm weather to come back to Riverhead, not to mention that it isn’t exactly the cheapest place to retire.
For now, though, he still makes it back at least once a year — for the Country Fair. In between those trips, he’ll continue training tomorrow’s officers in Los Angeles. And running into the occasional burning building. Not that he’d tell anyone about it.
Caption: Officer Ralph Brown (second from left) with his captain, Lillian Carranza, the head of the LAPD Police Commission, Matt Johnson and Mr. Johnson’s daughter. (Courtesy photo)
Joseph Pinciaro is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-298-3200, ext. 238. Follow @cjpinch