The Watch Commander

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The Watch Commander
Episode # 311
Air Date November 17, 1979
Briefing Crooks stealing trailers from loading bays. Fuel conservation/Identikit of thief.
Title screen

Brief Plot

A new watch commander, Lieutenant Bates, tries to make sure everything runs to the rule book, but eventually sees the need for flexibility. A pair of thieves are renting tractor units and stealing packed trailers from loading bays.


Ponch is back on restricted duty after his accident. Getraer gives Ponch a "choice" of working the front desk, due to the arrival of the new watch commander, or out in the back, cleaning weapons. Ponch "chooses" the front desk. Out on the street, Jon pulls over after hearing a rattling coming from his tail light bracket. A truck passes by, and pulls up into a loading dock across the street. The driver, Mel, decides to steal a trailer from the dock. Baricza arrives to help Jon, while at the dock, Mel and his partner, Tyrone, leave with the trailer. Since a truck picking up a trailer seems normal, they drive right past Jon and Baricza, and they notice nothing. Back at Central, the new watch commander, Lieutenant Harold Bates, arrives. He immediately notices how the motors are parked; Grossie's is even parked facing the building. Getraer introduces Bates to the A-shift during the briefing. Bates immediately comes off as a dictator when he begins preaching about appearance, orderliness and fuel conservation, instead of being a leader. He pegs Ponch for wearing a non-regulation shirt.

Bates tries to display his first effort of friendliness while in private with Getraer, insisting he call him Harold instead of Lieutenant. Back in the briefing room, Ponch is trying to sell Jon on skydiving, in an effort to convince him to buy the lessons that he can't take due to his casted wrist. Although he won't admit it, Ponch needs the money to buy new shirts to appease the Lieutenant. He wants Jon to at least meet the skydiving instructor; Jon expresses his disinterest. Out on the street, the Lieutenant is out patrolling, when he passes Jon, Baricza, Grossie, and Bonnie having lunch. He reprimands Jon and Grossie for violating a regulation regarding large groups of officers taking breaks together. Being senior officers, Bates feels that they should've told Bonnie and Baricza to find another place to have lunch. This upsets Getraer back at Central, but his efforts to get through to the Lieutenant get him nowhere.

Just outside, Grossie is tampering with Bates' gas tank, adding more fuel. Harlan sees this, but chooses to stay out of it. Out on the freeway, Jon and Grossie see two unmarked rigs, driven by Mel and Tyrone (a.k.a. the "Rent-a-Crooks"), and decide to follow them. As Jon calls it in, they both pull their trucks over. Grossie tries to call in with further information, but at Mel's suggestion, Tyrone backs his rig into Grossie's motor. Mel rolls over Jon's motor with his rig as well. They stand their frustrated. Back at Central, Bates reprimands them again, citing regulations and codes outlining the proper way to have conducted the stop. Bates fails to recognize the natural borne instincts that cops develop, and puts Jon and Grossie in a catch-22 situation in regards to their punishment. If not for their "poor" tactics in stopping the Rent-a-Crooks, they violated civil rights by not having probable cause for the stop. What Bates doesn't realize is that the crooks stopped on their own, they weren't pulled over. Ponch stands in the doorway, trying to stick up for them, until Getraer tells him to butt out.

Out at the front desk, Getraer tries to explain to Jon that Bates is just trying too hard to make a good impression, but that doesn't make him feel better about the black mark he's going to receive on his record. Getraer promises to change Bates' mind. A woman stands on the other side of the desk as they talk. It turns out that it's the sky diving instructor that Ponch was telling Jon about earlier. She just bought his sky diving lessons. Seeing how attractive she is, Jon suddenly becomes interested in seeing a demonstration. Out at a sky diving center, Jon watches as Baricza and two women sky dive. They land safely onto the open field. At this point, it seems as if Jon is going to take up a lesson. Back at Central, Getraer reveals who the top contributors are to Bates' fuel conservation program. Grossie leads in motors. Thanks to Grossie's tampering with Bates' fuel, Bates is the leader in cruisers. Bates then follows it up with a sketch of one of the Rent-a-Crooks, thanks to Jon and Grossie's description. He whispers something to Getraer on his way out, which turns out to be an inquiry on when Ponch is going to get his regulation shirts.

Out in the parking lot, Grossie is tampering with Bates' gas again, this time, siphoning a gallon out. Out on the street, Jon passes a gas station, where Mel, in disguise is filling up. Jon spots him, but acts like he doesn't see him and calls it in. Moments later, Mel takes off and Jon pursues. Bonnie, then Bates joins the chase. They go down an alley, where Bates crashes into several crates of apples to avoid a head-on collision with Mel. The rest of the crew show up for some reason, to arrest this one man. Back at Central, Grossie is siphoning more gas from Bates' cruiser, declaring the fall of a proud man. On the way inside, Bates notices that the motors are now neatly parked. While talking to Getraer, Bates is wondering about his reputation with the troops. He tells Bates that his nickname, previously Lt. Whiz-bang, is now Harold A. (for Apples) Bates. Upon entering his office, Bates sees an apple in his inbox. Jon comes in to drop off some paperwork and notices that Bates has a paratrooper's uniform hanging on his coat rack. He invites Bates to go skydiving on the upcoming weekend, and Bates questions Jon's motives for the invitation. Jon walks out upset. The following morning at Central, Bates arrives and sees that Ponch is finally wearing a regulation shirt. He's not impressed, since the shirt looks loose and sloppy on him. During briefing, Bates wants an update on the front-runners on his fuel conservation program. Grossie still leads in motors, and now Baricza leads in cruisers. Getraer is reluctant to reveal who the low man is in cruisers. Upon further insistence, Getraer reveals that it's Bates. Bates is not happy.

In Bates' office, he and Getraer begin to argue about Bates being so uptight. He doesn't let up. He insists that Ponch be confronted about his shirt, and wraps the apple he found earlier inside a note that he wrote in Latin and asks that it be given to Grossie. Bonnie translates it into an ominous proverb, "Beware, all the trouble in the world began with one apple." Out at a truck repair depot, the Rent-a-Crooks thieve another rig. In a conversation just a few feet away, a mechanic comments that the brakes are no good, thinking that it's the actual owner of the rig driving away. Getraer is out in a patrol car with Bates. A call comes in that the Rent-a-Crooks made off with another trailer. Jon and Grossie spot the rig from an overpass, and pursues. Bates does a U-turn to join the chase, and is admonished by Getraer for taking a regulation turn instead of braking into a 180. Bates yells at Getraer about a regulation pertaining to abuse of state property.

The Rent-a-Crooks slam on the brakes on the freeway and release the trailer, causing accidents with approaching cars. The chase continues on a winding country road, and Mel realizes the brakes are gone. Jon warns the cars ahead while Bates and Getraer lead them down a road with enough uphill grade to slow them down. It works and it seems like it's over, but they begin to roll backwards. The truck won't go into gear, so Bates uses the cruiser to stop it. Getraer reiterates what Bates yelled about earlier, regarding the abuse of state property. Jon chimes in as well. Finally, Bates is able to laugh at himself, saying that at least he didn't run into any apples.

Back at Central, Grossie flips out when he sees Harlan holding the siphon he used to tamper with the lieutenant's fuel. The episode ends as the crew laughs at a near lighthearted joke, as Bates takes back the fuel he is owed from Grossie's motor.

Guest Stars



Fun Facts

  • One of Michelle Pfeiffer's earliest TV roles.


  • Apparently, this episode should have aired before the Drive, Lady, Drive two parter. Ponch is still on light duty due to his wrist injury.
  • The lieutenant is not as much of a stickler for rules and regulations as he may think. His patrol unit is missing both driver's side hubcaps and his nameplate and badge are crooked through the entire episode.
  • You might think that the lieutenant would have a Safety Award pin...
  • When Jon and Grossman stop the two unmarked trucks, Jon tells dispatch that they are following two white Fords. One happens to be a blue International.
  • When getting chewed out buy the lieutenant about losing the thieves, he mentions that the bad guy Jon saw was black, yet the composite of him was a white guy.
  • When Bates whispers something to Getraer after the briefing, Getraer is not wearing his gunbelt. Seconds later, when Ponch approaches him, he has it back on.
  • When the two trucks pull over on the freeway, there are four stationary cars in the background of the shot where Jon dismounts from his bike. They only start moving when the trucks pull away.

Preceded by:
"Drive, Lady, Drive: Part 2"
The Watch Commander
Followed by:
"Destruction Derby"