When detective Sal LaBarbera retires on Jan. 31 after 33 years, Michael Krikorian writes at the LA Weekly, "he'll leave a legacy as one of the best homicide cops in the history of LAPD, meaning one of the best anywhere — built on a foundation of loyalty to his peers but, even more, to the victims and their families." Chief Charlie Beck has worked with LaBarbera his entire career, Krikorian writes. "The level of compassion and the commitment he has are unsurpassed by any detective," said Beck. "We're really going to miss him. Not just because he's a great detective but because he's a great friend."
LaBarbera is the rare homicide detective who tweets about his work — more than 10,000 Twitter entries — and his profile says he writes and produces and calls himself an animal activist. He seems to have friends throughout the Los Angeles media corps and, in the Krikorian piece, is called "Hollywood Jack" by a supervisor for his frequent press conferences and "oft-stated desire to 'go Hollywood' after he retires." But after years working on the worst crimes in South LA, and putting as he says it "a half-dozen assholes on Death Row," he has respect on the streets as well. From the Weekly story:
LaBarbera's boss, Lt. Jeff Nolte, said the detective is "going to be impossible to replace."
"There's more art to homicide than science," Nolte said. "It's a feeling. It's about tension. It's about having relationships. There is no one like Sal when it comes to naturally building a relationship. When a witness senses that feeling, they become comfortable, and that's when they come forward. Sal is unwavering in his oath to make things right."
Thirty-one years ago, at Manchester Avenue and St. Andrews Place, LaBarbera was on patrol when a man got shot, his femoral artery taking a potentially fatal hit. But the detective reached his fingers into the victim's leg and pinched off the artery, saving him....
Donny Joubert, a respected Nickerson Gardens peacemaker who convinced the project's Bounty Hunter Bloods not to retaliate against a rival gang — and to instead let LaBarbera do his job — remembered, "Sal sat down with me, and I could feel his determination, his concern for my family."
"Sal got the killer," Joubert said. "We have nothing but respect for Sal in Watts."
Working homicide comes with a ton of anguish and pressure, as La Barbera talks about in the story. And also some satisfactions. One of the best things? "Driving Code 3 in reverse around LAX chasing somebody."
One of his latest tweets:
At the scene of another senseless murder. Thank you @KTLA for reporting in South Los Angeles— Sal LaBarbera✌️ (@Sal_LaBarbera) December 30, 2014
Last December: KCET video piece on LaBarbera
Photo of La Barbera: LA Weekly/Nanette Gonzales Castro