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Last shift teams son and father

Dinse passes baton in L.A., heads for S.L. job

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LOS ANGELES — Behind a door a kid lay dying. And standing vigil at his emergency-room bed were Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Rick Dinse and his son, officer Sean Dinse.

It wasn't supposed to end this way.

Not for Rudy Castillo, 19, victim of a car crash apparently involving street racers early Saturday morning.

Not for the deputy chief — a retiring veteran of 34 years whose last duty Saturday was to pass his baton to Sean when the sun rose on the Foothill police station at the end of the 7 a.m. watch.

And not for the father and son given rare permission by the LAPD to ride together on graveyard patrol before dad assumed his role as chief of police in Salt Lake City.

Only tragedy intervened.

"This is a typical day for an officer," said the elder Dinse, his father-and-son ride cut short by their visit to Pacoima Hospital of the Valley. "This is what we do."

The night before, family and friends had gathered at roll call to send off the cop's cop praised in the department for his sharp planning, generous ear and fairness with his men.

"Chief Dinse started his career at Foothill, and he left at Foothill," Capt. Kenneth Garner told a roomful of officers.

He called him a good cop.

The father: 58, a silver-haired, blue-eyed West Bureau operations commander in charge of five police divisions. The son: 24, shaved head, identical brown eyes, with two years on street patrol and a lifetime desire to be a cop.

Both began their careers in the same navy blue uniforms, in the same room, same station, same streets. Only the doughnut shops, coffee stops and bars have changed.

"I was nervous, anxious," recalled the elder Dinse of his first day. "My belt squeaked, my shoes squeaked . . . sitting in the front row, with a short haircut like my son has now and basically keeping eyes open."

It was 1966. Nerves were worn thin. Watts riots had just torched the city. Demonstrations loomed like summer monsoons. Foothill teemed with activity as officers packing six-shooter Colts cruised in patrol cars topped with "coffee can" lights.

Three decades later, Sean was also on edge his first day. Only the station was quiet. Instead of a revolver calibrated in inches, his Barretta measured in millimeters. Instead of paper files, the department had turned digital.

Friday, the younger Dinse unlocked a Crown Victoria patrol car and loaded his equipment — the two 12-gauge shotguns; the Tazer electronic stun gun; the bean-bag gun; gas masks; map cases and logs — into the car.

"I tell you, this is hard," said Yvonne Dinse, longtime LAPD secretary and mother of Rick Dinse's three boys, including Sean. "Thirty-four years, one starting, one ending."

The chief took the wheel. But it is Sean who, pecking with his left hand, directed the car from the laptop computer, central to today's police units.

The one thing father and son share is empathy and a loathing of corruption. "A good cop," said Sean, "is someone who cares — who came on the job not for the paycheck . . . but to help people. This job is a sacrifice."

Said his father, who once purged the department of rogue cops stealing from Hollywood businesses: Corruption "tarnishes the badge."

While the deputy chief secured Los Angeles for large-scale events such as the Democratic National Convention last week, it was Sean— somber and intense — who each night gazed into the shadows in search of crime.

"I know what's hip and what's not," said the self-assured patrol officer.

Early Saturday, there were calls of shoplifting and investigations of false burglar alarms and gun reports.

But it is street racers who were the night's prime suspects. As they moved across the north San Fernando Valley in packs of up to 100 cars in search of the perfect drag strip, officers were called to intervene.

At each site, spectators lined the road ready to flee police. When the Dinses pulled up, all scrambled in whirring clouds of dust and smoke.

"See what happens," Sean said before ticketing a racer for an illegal U-turn. "They all peel out, and then they get in accidents."

They soon would.

Within the hour, the Dinses were called to a crash in Sun Valley. Castillo was a passenger in a car that careened into a light pole, apparently to avoid racers, police said.

Sean escorted Castillo to the hospital. Rick Dinse would emerge from the emergency room with the terrible verdict.

"The guy expired, 19 years old," Dinse said, shaking his head. "I've got kids not much older than he is. It's a sad, sad thing."

But Dinse left the force knowing that, after protecting the DNC and observing Sean in action, he left a strong legacy with the LAPD.

"I'm so proud of my son," he said, "not just because he's my son, but because he's a good police officer. He's fair, he cares about people, he cares about doing the job the right way.

"Tonight, I saw a mature man."