Santa Monica Police Department – Ride Along & Survey Results

As a participant in the Santa Monica Community Police Academy I was allowed to schedule a “ride along” if I wanted one. I’ve never been on a ride along before so it wasn’t even a question, I wanted to go! Every ride along is different because everything you see/learn depends on the calls you get, it’s impossible to predict the future after all, but that might just be the most important lesson to take away from the experience.

There isn’t any photography allowed while on a ‘ride along,’ this was the only picture I was able to sneakily take. And then I got “artsy” with it.

Generally speaking you show up at the police station right before a shift starts, sit in on ‘roll call,’ meet your new cop buddy, and then hit the streets catching bad guys and/or helping people. After about 4 hours your new cop buddy takes you back to the station, swears up and down that you haven’t haven’t annoyed them with your non-stop silly questions, and you’re done!

Uh… Some of that may only apply to me, now that I think about it. 😉

My ride along was with C shift, so it was evening when I started. (You guys don’t even know how long I had “C is For Cookie” stuck in my head!) Roll call sort of seemed like homeroom in a strange kind of way. Attendance was taken and there were “school announcements” (department information etc.) No one was furiously copying their neighbor’s homework or trying to hide how sleepy they were,* so maybe it wasn’t that much like homeroom after all.

*(I mean that no one was sleepy, not that they were all yawning in the open or resting their heads on the table.)

Specific cases were discussed so everyone was working with the most current information, and I played a very quiet game of “guess the acronym” to myself. Some of them I knew from TV, some from class, and the rest I sort of guessed at. I would later learn that NFD stands for ‘no further description.’ Although I had two out of three words wrong, I’m giving myself credit for NFD because meaning wise my guess was 100% accurate. I was thinking ‘details’ instead of ‘description’ and I’ll let you figure out the rest on your own.

One of the walls in the roll call room has a very large depiction of the Santa Monica Police badges through the years. Now I have questions all about badges too. Why the change in 1915 from the star shape to the shield shape? I mean, both are cool, it’s just idle curiosity, but someone had to have wanted the change right? Things don’t just decide to change shape on their own, so what’s that all about? Same with the change in color from silvery to gold-ish in 1915 and back again in 1948. Is there a specific reason for the changes, or does it have more to do with who was mining what ores at the time? I think my biggest question is why the change in 1959 from “policeman” to “patrolman”? That makes no sense to me. I’m sure there’s a reason, but I don’t even know who would have that information or where to look for it.

After roll call was dismissed my partner for the night gave me a tour of that section of the station and we headed out to the patrol car. The most interesting part of the tour was actually watching people interact with “my” officer. Sometimes in an official manner, but usually not. Usually about work, but sometimes not. I’m not dumb, I know everyone knew there was an extra set of eyes on them and would have acted accordingly. Generally though, if I had to describe the ‘feeling’ or vibe I saw within the SMPD I’d have to say it was camaraderie and respect.

Actually, I should go back. The most interesting thing to me about roll call was sort of the same. Roll call is more formal than people passing each other in the hallway obviously, but it wasn’t just “here’s some info, now go to work” either. Officers were shown how to use a digital tool they have at their disposal and encouraged to play around with it until they were more comfortable. Officers were encouraged to think about strategy and operations they could develop and bring those ideas back to their supervisors. It was about making the community safer, but it was also about supporting/nurturing co-workers and employees to challenge themselves and grow. It was really nice to see.

On our way to the patrol car we passed the most gorgeous old police car but there was no time to stop and admire it. A little research online tells me that the car is an 1964 Plymouth Savoy. I’m not really a “car person” (unless we are talking about things like the Nethercutt collection) but this car is so adorably bad ass that I’m a little in love with it. (I tend to anthropomorphize everything around me.) I want to take pictures of it. I want to ride around town in it. I want to pull people over with that car. Mostly I want to watch people’s reactions to that car. Would they even take it seriously or would they be looking for hidden cameras?

We were finally ready to go, or so I thought. Nope, it’s not like jumping in the car to run an errand, there’s a whole list of things to do to make sure the patrol car and various equipment is ready for use. My ‘partner’ also showed me the computer system they use inside the car. Everything I was shown made sense, but collectively the amount of coded information on the screen is overwhelming. I’m sure it’s like anything else and becomes second nature after a while, but wow it was a lot!

We left the police station and headed out. We answered a number of different calls throughout the night, never getting the same kind of call twice. At one point there was a call to my home address about a neighbor, but that wasn’t answered by us. It just amused me to see from the opposite perspective.

Typically we’d get a call and look at the information on the car’s computer. My ‘partner’ would talk to me about what might potentially happen when we arrived and how we should arrive (depending on the type of call.) My ‘partner’ was always thinking ahead about the best/safest/most effective way to do their job. Sometimes the information the police were given was wrong, and officers had to sort out what they were actually dealing with and shift gears to respond to the situation.

Calls are prioritized so sometimes we’d arrive just after something happened and deal with it, but sometimes we’d go to calls that were hours and hours old and find nothing. That doesn’t have anything to do with laziness or whatever reason you’re thinking, it’s entirely about too many calls and not enough resources. Just like sick people in an emergency room, the lowest priorities are going to the bottom of the list.

There were a few procedural things I learned here and there, but mostly I found value in being able to fade into the background and watch. In nearly every civilian interaction I witnessed officers were treated as “the enemy” upon arrival, but always the dynamic would shift at some point as the civilian would try to put the officer into the role of “mommy/daddy” and expect the officer to “fix it,” whatever ‘it’ was. It was only a few hours worth of patrolling, and not every call resulted in a civilian interaction, but even in very different circumstances I saw that same shift. I also watched a civilian speaking very differently to a female officer than a male one. The civilian never crossed the line into being outright disrespectful, but the difference was noticeable. I just wanted to smack the jerk upside the head and say “dude, they’re both police officers, knock it off!”

I asked the female officer about what I’d seen and she didn’t really have anything to say about it. I mean, of course she only knows how people talk to her, it’s not like she does her job in someone else’s body occasionally, but it just aggravated me that it happened at all and makes me sad that it’ll probably happen her whole career. I also asked what it was like being a female officer in the Santa Monica Police Department and she didn’t really have an answer. She wasn’t blowing me off, she genuinely tried to satisfy my question, but there really wasn’t anything specific she could point to. The lack of an answer is actually its own type of answer, and I’m taking that to mean it is a non-issue in the SMPD. So really, it was the perfect answer.

I can’t really talk about the specifics of any of the calls we went to, but there was one that was so potentially dangerous that I was told to stay back and let the officers approach without me. I tried to surreptitiously watch from the shadows. It was too dark for me to get a ‘selfie,’ but it probably looked exactly like this:

I have no explanation that doesn’t involve brain damage.

Survey results!

Every week I’ve found at least one opportunity to ask an officer “When has TV or film come the closest to accurately showing what law enforcement is like?” (Or some variation of the same question.) I’m also including in the final tally a few responses from police officers I asked outside of normal class interaction. Two different law enforcement agencies other than SMPD are represented. I asked my ‘favorite cop of all time’ (hi Brad, miss you!) what his thoughts were on the subject. I also had to invent a reason to talk to a sheriff on a Metro platform in downtown LA because he was one of the most attractive men I have ever seen (shut up, I’m allowed to be shallow sometimes) so into the survey he went. It’s not like this was a super scientific survey or anything, but now you can’t accuse me of misrepresenting the data.

Final tallies:
End of Watch – 6
Southland – 5
Cops (and other “reality” TV) – 5
The Wire – 4
Reno 911 – 3
Law & Order – 2
Lethal Weapon – 1
CHiPs – 1

If there was a “winner” it would be End of Watch. I haven’t seen it and don’t know much about it, but it is going on my “To Watch” list after this. Based on the title I’m guessing it doesn’t end happily, so I’m going to keep some tissues nearby when I watch it.

I checked the IMDB credits and here’s what I saw:

Chief Seabrooks was involved and it’s the best Hollywood has done. Yeah, that makes sense. I get it now. Winner.

Southland and Cops/”reality” TV are the other two responses that I heard the most. (Southland is the show one officer found so realistic he couldn’t watch it!) As for Cops and other “reality” television, I’m still skeptical. Maybe this reveals the most interesting thing about the results though. I think, looking over the variety of the answers, it’s pretty obvious that whatever question I thought I was asking the person at the other end was hearing something different. I think some officers heard the question with law enforcement overall in mind and other officers were hearing me ask about their specific job. There’s no right or wrong answer, although I’m guessing “Lethal Weapon” was a joke answer and not an attempt to start a conversation about mental health and the particular challenges police officers face. But maybe I’m wrong. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

No one answered Brooklyn Nine Nine which surprised me a little. Not because I thought it’s accurate or anything, its humor is ridiculous, but because it is a current show and when the B99 writers want to make a serious point they do it incredibly well. (Did anyone watch the episode where Terry is detained for being black in public?)

I’m also a little bummed that no one answered Scott & Bailey. I didn’t expect to hear that as an answer, but it means I need to continue my search for someone who works in law enforcement and has seen the show. Unlike American crime shows where the “bad guy” is a 4th act reveal, a lot of Scott & Bailey’s drama comes from building the case so the criminal can be charged. The audience and the police both know who the “bad guy” is early in the episode. I have no idea if Scott & Bailey is accurate or if they are just telling a story in a different way than I’m used to, but it would be fascinating to talk to someone in law enforcement and get their take on it.

It’s not quite a “palm tree pic” but this wasn’t a normal class post so I’ve decided it counts.

Photo post

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 11

Catch up on previous posts here.

Week 11 – Jennifer Thinks She is Annie Oakley Now

This week’s class was all about firearms. We learned a bit about the weapons that the Santa Monica Police Department uses and how the officers are trained. Wisely, we were not allowed to shoot actual guns but we did get to see the firing range and use the simulator.

  • The Range Master is responsible for issuing, keeping track of, maintaining, and testing all of the weapons, armor, etc.
  • Team of 20 instructors in all
  • The Range Master also serves as a taser instructor, 1 qualification per month.
  • Officers are required to have 8 hours of training in “perishable skills” every two years. Perishable skills are things that have to be practiced to be maintained.
  • Using a shorter barrel shotgun like SMPD has requires special training on top of everything else.
  • Officers are trained in low light and no light situations.
  • Rookies are put in stressful situations in the simulator and then asked afterwards why they did what they did. This is also good training if they ever have to testify in court.
  • FTO = field training officer
  • LAPD has different training procedures than SMPD, but lots of overlap.
  • Law enforcement agencies in So Cal often train together because there are so many so close together around here.
  • There are 79 domains officers will learn and be tested on.
  • Training/standards mandated by POST (Police Officer Standards & Training)
  • 9mm – can carry more bullets
  • Officers shoot to stop a threat, no “warning shots” or anything like that.
  • Officers are trained to aim for the upper respiratory region to stop oxygenated blood from getting to the brain. Shooting someone in the leg (for example) very often doesn’t stop the threat.
  • It is extremely difficult to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand, contrary to what TV & movies tell us.
  • An officer’s choice of weapon should be determined by the situation.
  • Most people shoot better with a rifle because of the longer barrel.
  • Some bigger, heavier bullet proof vests stop knives. The lighter ones do not.
  • Not all law enforcement agencies have their own range. Because SMPD does, they can do their own qualifications.
  • Any training farther than 25 yards and they schlep out to A Place To Shoot.
  • Simunition – training ammo, if you get hit it hurts and will leave a mark.

This is what happens when bullet proof glass is shot. Maybe “bullet resistant” would be a better name for it because with the right gun at the right distance and enough ammo you could easily break through.

It’s kind of beautiful in a strange way…

  • In any police shooting where someone is hit, the officer is required to see a mental health professional before they are cleared for duty. (They don’t have to talk if they choose not to, but they have to go.)
  • There are also officers who are confidential “peer support” so an officer always has someone to talk to. If they are more comfortable, they can go talk to peer support at other agencies.
  • There is a specific mental health professional who SMPD officers can go see for any reason, paid for by the city.

  • Officers are accountable for every shot they fire.
  • Weapons training isn’t just about marksmanship, they also talk about what to do in various scenarios so an officer never has to stop and think about what they are supposed to do.
  • “The first time you see something shouldn’t be out in the field.”

(Click for full size)

(Click for full size)

This week gave me one opportunity to ask my question about when entertainment media has gotten closest to the realities of law enforcement. The answer I was given is End of Watch, something I have heard as a response a lot.

Palm Tree pic!

Plants Are Aliens (in my head)

Maybe I watched too much sci-fi as a kid, (no such thing tbh) but most plants look like aliens to me.

(Most of the aforementioned sci-fi was Star Trek with its lessons in tolerance so I’m cool with aliens…)

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 10

Catch up on previous weeks here

Week 10 – “Why did you become a cop?” “Well… I think I look good in a uniform”
– Captain Lowe

If the name Captain Lowe sounds familiar that’s because I introduced you to him back in Week 1 and again in Week 5 when I was learning about “rules of arrest.” Captain Lowe is the instructor I quoted as saying, “treat everyone with dignity and respect, but always have a way to kill them” which may have made him sound a little bit scary. I’ve only met the man three times, so weigh what I say accordingly, but he has never been ‘scary’ or anything less than delightful in my presence. Imagine a really cuddly teddy bear… with a gun. (I’m not really helping here am I?)

Look at that grin! That’s a dude you want to split your nachos with, not someone to be scared of.

This week ‘class’ was one long discussion with Chief of Police Seabrooks and Captain Lowe. (They sort of handed off the baton to each other, but the conversation all flowed.) Captain Lowe let me bombard him with questions I had about his background (“zombie apocalypse management”) and what that actually meant. Oh, and Chief Seabrooks is my new BFF. (You will totally believe that by the end of this post.)

Deputy Chief of Police Venegas was also in the room, but appeared perfectly content to watch from the sidelines. The role of the deputy chief is to oversee day to day operations, freeing up the chief for policy and ‘big picture’ stuff. I do want to mention that Deputy Chief Venegas is a bona fide hero who has been awarded both the Medal of Valor and the Medal of Courage among others. He talked about it in class like it was NBD, but it is a BFD so I wanted to mention it and ‘lovingly embarrass’ him a little.

This is proving to be the hardest ‘write up’ of the Santa Monica Community Police Academy so far… There were so many things we touched on during class, but no one thing that was really discussed in depth. (Not enough time!) I have bullet points in my notes, but most of them are reminders of things that I wanted to look up online later or things that were said in the context of a much larger discussion. I can post my notes here, but without the context I run the risk of misrepresenting something the Chief said. Or making Captain Lowe sound scary. (Did no one read the ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ parts of that quote?!?!) I’ll do my best, but if something sounds “off” just assume it’s due to my poor note taking and not a reflection of anything the Chief or Captain Lowe said…

  • The closest we got to a ‘formal presentation’ was a discussion on “implicit bias.”
  • The entire Santa Monica Police Department, both officers and civilians, has had training in this.
  • Bias and prejudice are not the same thing.
  • “Policing cannot be driven by biases.”
  • “If you want to change something, do it from the inside.” (I love this!)
  • Inkwell Beach – historically non-white beach in Santa Monica.
  • 21st Century Report on Policing
  • A “bad police event” (what a phrase!) is typically investigated by the District Attorney’s office. Sometimes the U.S. Department of Justice is involved. These DoJ investigations are politically motivated; it all depends who is the President at the time. (HORRIFYING!)
  • Rioting – It’s not just current events, you have to look at the long history and the context.
  • The lack of proper response to the LA Riots made it so much worse.
  • IAPC = International Association of Police Chiefs. Meet & talk with other chief, training in things that pertain to managing police departments.
  • Most police agencies are 50 employees or under.
  • Consent Decree re police abuses.
  • CA Attorney General has the authority to investigate police departments in CA.
  • Maywood PD shut down –> Sheriff’s department contracted to patrol.
  • Civilian Oversight can take many forms. Individuals calling to complain about police behavior, there can be a civilian oversight board, that board might have the power to issue subpoenas and have special training in these matters.
  • Chief Seabrooks answers to the city manager. They have done team-building exercises together. (Until proven wrong, I am going to believe that the city manager is Chris Traeger and these ‘team-building exercises’ were slightly goofy until something went hilariously awry and became a real life episode of Parks and Recreation.)
  • A police department isn’t going to be 50/50 male/female until society changes the way it teaches/enforces gender roles. A more realistic goal would be 80/20.
  • The Sheriff’s department has a higher number of women because women are needed to police their jails.
  • The Santa Monica Police Department has included Hispanic officers since it was created.
  • The first black officers joined the Santa Monica PD in the 1930s. They weren’t allowed to enter white homes or arrest white suspects.
  • The Santa Monica Police Department is far more diverse than the community it serves.
  • “The police department works in the best interests of the community”
  • Corrosive nature of politics in policing.
  • “Unintended consequences” <– another thing I wrote down with no context. I don't think it needs any specific context though, I think the fact that it was said by an officer of the law in any context is huge. Intent is not at all similar to outcome. In my opinion a lot of problems, both in law enforcement and society in general, would be better served if more people understood this. I could talk about this A LOT, with examples and numbers even, but this post is already long and late. Ask me in person if you want to hear my rant-o-gram on the topic.
  • SMPD’s biggest need at the moment is more people.
  • “Like toothpaste, squeeze the tube and out pops the chief.” <– best quote from the night

“The profession was taking a beating over things caught on social media” is something the Chief said in class that caught my attention not for what she meant, but her word choice. The profession was taking a beating over things caught on social media? What’s that, a beating you say?? Okay, I don’t actually know the Chief well enough to know her sense of humor (despite our new status as ‘besties’) or how she feels about puns so I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. If you’re someone who thinks it was an incredibly clever way to very subtly throw shade, then yes, our Chief is awesome like that. If you think anything else, it was something that made me giggle for its unintended meaning.

During the discussion we watched the video above and talked about it a little. More context was given to us, followed by more discussion. There was not enough class time and too much ‘class’ to get to, so we didn’t get to talk about this enough.

Told ya.

Feel free to press ‘play’ and go to lunch. Your co-workers won’t mind.

This week I was able to ask both Chief Seabrooks and Deputy Chief Venegas my question about the closest entertainment media has come to accurately reflecting the realities of law enforcement. (Captain Lowe already answered back in Week 5.) Chief Seabrooks agrees with everyone who’s answered The Wire. Deputy Chief Venegas answered (as you may have guessed from the video above) Law & Order. (Dun-dun)

As always, we end with a palm tree pic!

Wait! Don’t go yet! We have late breaking news…
Only days after cementing our ‘besties for life’ status, Chief Seabrooks announced her retirement.

That totally means I can sleep over whenever I want. I’m pretty sure. 😉