Downtown Los Angeles header image
Los Angeles Police Department Badge


1987 Pope John Paul II Visit

Never before in the history of the Department has a single individual been afforded the level of security that was provided to the Pope during his September 1987 visit. Preparations were initiated long before his arrival at Los Angeles International Airport. His travels earlier in the year had been observed in person by LAPD Operations-Headquarters Bureau staff in Germany, Miami, San Antonio, and Phoenix.

In addition to leading a parade of seven miles, the Pope appeared at widely scattered locations in this City of almost 470 square miles, imposing an enormous responsibility on the police in controlling crowds and traffic. His presence drew millions of visitors eager to catch a glimpse of him during his arrivals and departures from such sites as the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana, the Coliseum, Immaculate Conception Catholic School, the Japanese Cultural Center, Dodger Stadium, Piper Technical Center, Universal Studios, and the San Fernando Mission.

In addition to patrol officers, specialists from Metropolitan Division, bomb experts, motor officers, detectives, the Mounted Patrol, Air Support helicopters and even volunteer ham radio operators, participated in the security operations. Thanks to their diligence, only minor incidents involving confiscated weapons and detained suspects occurred. Personnel representing other agencies exhibited exemplary cooperation with local law enforcement. The Pope’s concern for children and youth was amply revealed when, joined by then First Lady Nancy Reagan, he spoke to the youngsters at the diocesan school and to 6,000 teenagers at the Universal Amphitheater.

Interestingly enough, during the 47 hours the Pope was in Los Angeles there was a decline of almost 50 percent in bookings at local jails. One murder was recorded. This elicited the following comment from Police Chief Gates: "There was a sense of calm that came to the City. People had time to reflect on what life is all about and maybe some felt there was more to life than committing crime." The Vatican wrote: "The City of Los Angeles has the most professional officers in the world. The security and all other planning aspects were the finest and the Los Angeles event went off the smoothest of all the cities…"

Some Additional Interesting Facts about the Pope’s Visit

5,800 officers were used; 2,416 along the motorcade parade route, including 49 motor, 55 mounted and 104 Metropolitan Division personnel.

The parade was witnessed by 300,000 spectators. An additional 170,000 attended the outdoor masses.

4,000 55-gallon drums were stationed every 20 feet along the parade route, each filled with water, capped and sealed; 35 miles of rope was strung from drum to drum and 10,000 wooden barricades placed in between.

4,250 feet of five-foot chain link fence was installed at the Coliseum.

Air Support Division deployed 11 helicopters and one fixed wing airplane over the concerned territory for a total of 127 airborne hours.