Well, I did it. I graduated from the Santa Monica Community Police Academy. (I say that as though it was a difficult thing to do, it’s not. You literally just show up and have fun.) I am not actually a cop now despite what the graphic above says, but I’m sure you knew that already since 1) becoming a police officer is a really hard thing that can’t actually be done in such a short amount of time and 2) I’ve claimed to be both Annie Oakley and Rambo on this blog so I pretty much assume you guys know when I’m making ridiculous statements for comedy’s sake.
The Santa Monica Police Department threw us a formal graduation ceremony at Casa Del Mar which is a gorgeous hotel right on the beach. There was food and drinks and mingling, and I got a chance to chat with a few people that I’d been hoping to see.
Suzie started us off and, as she always does, kept everything on track and running smoothly. The Chief (she’s my new my BFF, remember?) got up and said many wonderful things. There were two class participants who spoke after the Chief and guess what?? I was one of them! (Spoiler alert: I was dorky)
Certificates were handed out and photos were taken. It was a wonderful ceremony.
— Jacqueline Seabrooks (@SantaMonicaCoP) May 18, 2017
Here’s a video I made of some of the ceremony. (It’s the first video I’ve ever made so set your expectations accordingly.) You can hear the Chief speak, see me get my certificate, and hear my speech.
In my speech I talked about different things, a few of which I want to mention here. One of them was about the employees of the Santa Monica Police Department, both officers and civilians. In my speech I said that there wasn’t anyone I met that I wouldn’t at minimum want to go out with for nachos and margaritas. (I was craving nachos at the time but feel free to substitute any snack or beverage you want.) Some people because they were so awesome, others because I still have so many questions about what they taught me and want to know more, and one or two because I’d really like to have a respectful, civilized discussion about why something they said was just plain wrong. I’m not bringing it up to dunk on anyone, quite the opposite actually. Even the people I disagreed with seemed like people I wouldn’t mind spending more minutes of my life with. Even if we just argued. 😉
There were so many things I learned over the course of this program, some a total surprise and others not so much. What I mean by that is, I already knew being a police officer was hard. But know I feel like I understand that statement a lot more. (I’ll never fully ‘get’ it, not being an actual officer.) Again and again in class we heard how officers are constantly expecting the worst at all times. I understand that and of course I fully support anything like that if it means officers going home to their families at night. I’m not in any way trying to dispute that mind set. I’m just trying to say that it sounds absolutely miserable to me and I don’t understand why any sane person would put themselves in that situation. Add that to what is already a ‘thankless job’ in a society where actions by some police officers reflect on all who wear the badge, whether they support those actions or not. I have to conclude that police officers as a group are either masochists, or they are men and women who are extremely devoted to their jobs and believe very much in what they are doing and its critical role in our society. If I had to choose which category the officers I interacted with fall into, it would definitely be the later.
If somebody was dumb enough to let me be a cop it would go something like this:
COP: u were swerving a lot so i have to conduct a sobriety test
COP: lets get taco bell
COP: text ur ex
COP: ok ur good
— Bob Vulfov (@bobvulfov) January 8, 2016
Because I am sort of obnoxious I bothered a certain police officer both in person and via email with questions about the police horses. (C’mon, can you blame me? Police Horsies!!!) He was lovely and answered my questions and told me stories so I would understand a bit more of what it was like to be assigned to the Mounted Unit and work with the horses.
- Santa Monica has 5 horses in total. Burt, Barney, Iron Man, Sammy, and a new horse whose name I don’t know.
- Burt is the “alpha” horse of the herd.
- Iron Man has the best name of the group. (Duh!)
- Spider just retired from the force and is off to Hollywood to become the next Mr. Ed. (He’s going to shoot a commercial or something like that.)
- The horses are used during the Twilight Concert Series and other special events in Santa Monica.
- When they’re not working the horses are out on a ranch out in Moorpark.
- Like police dogs, the horses get top quality care and training
- It takes 1-2 years of training before a horse is ready for police duty.
- It takes about a year of training before a police officer is ready for horse duty.
- Mounted officers train with the horses once a month.
- Lots of law enforcement agencies around here have horses, so like weapons or SWAT training, they’ll often train together.
- I asked if being assigned to the mounted unit was more like the K-9s where there is a special connection with the animal or if the horses were just another mode of transportation to the officer, kind of like a motorcycle that poops. In response I was shown a photo of one of the horses with a silly hat on his head so I am interpreting that to mean it’s closer to the former than the later.
Please enjoy these photos I took at/around the police station and didn’t get a chance to use in any of my other posts…
There were other random things I learned throughout this experience that didn’t really fit in any post.
- The cop/donut jokes are old, knock it off. It was never about sugary desserts anyway, it’s about access to hot coffee 24 hours a day. It came up more than once during class, different officers every time, so I think it’s something they really want people to know. 😉
- There are rare circumstances where it’s not only acceptable, but actually commendable to get drunk at work! (Probably not the lesson I was supposed to take away from that class but I already knew drunk driving was bad… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
- It is next to impossible to surreptitiously take pictures of police officers. No really, I could have a gallery exhibit called “Cops Side-Eyeing My Camera” after this class!
- Like a real life episode of Santa Clarita Diet, LA Sheriffs are super quick to bad-mouth the SMPD. HAHAHA, from what I could tell it was all jealousy over nicer equipment and not any type of character judgement.
You should really follow the Santa Monica Police Department on social media because sometimes they post pictures like this one:
…which is one of the cutest things I have ever seen! I have no idea who took the photo, but it wasn’t me. And I’m not telling you which account I stole it from because I want you to click and explore:
There was one thing that was said in class that I thought was extremely powerful. The photo below is pretty bad (blame the photographer, oh wait…) but I love it because, to me at least, it is the visual representation of what was said.
“The most important piece of equipment police carry with them is a pen.”
Wow. That’s profound, and not something I expected to hear. I love it.
The Santa Monica Community Police Academy was such an amazing experience, I can’t recommend it enough. If you live, work, or go to school in Santa Monica you should sign up. If you live elsewhere you should contact your local Police Department and see what kind of community programs they offer. There were so many great things I learned in this program, but my one big complaint is that there wasn’t enough of it. The classes we had on various subjects weren’t long enough, and some things weren’t part of the curriculum at all. (Is there an ‘advanced’ community academy? Can I play with the doggies again? Can I meet the horsies? Will I finally get to realize my life-long dream of playing with a police siren?)
I want to formally thank the Santa Monica Police Department for letting me participate in the program, and for having a program like this in the first place. I’ve never lived in a place where I could be walking down the street and have a police officer wave hello at me as he drove by. (Actual thing that happened to me today.) It’s a nice feeling. I should also formally thank the SMPD for not tossing me in jail at any point, and yes, I’d have totally deserved it. You see, at the beginning of all of this I signed a waiver that said “I agree that I will not engage in any photographing, video recording, or other reproduction of any activity conducted by the Community Police Academy Program.”
Nope, can’t pull off ignorance, not even gonna try. I broke every one of those rules and I did so with full knowledge and enthusiasm. But unless someone is waiting for me to hit “publish” on this post before I get tossed in the slammer, (send Officer Cutie-Pie* if you’re going to arrest me?) I think I’m in the clear.
*(Not his real name.) (Duh.)
By the end of class I’d gained a few new friends, a ton of knowledge, and a lot of cool swag.
The final class of the Santa Monica Community Police Academy was held in the most beautiful classroom I have ever seen. No, there’s not a “luxury room” hidden away at the police station somewhere, we were learning about the Harbor Patrol Unit while on the ocean!
- The Harbor Patrol Unit is a non-sworn, civilian unit made up of both full time and part time employees. Yes, the Harbor Patrol technically works for the police department, but a lot of what they do isn’t like “cop stuff” at all.
- The Harbor Patrol’s main job is to respond to water emergencies. That can include recreational boats, commercial boats, kayaks, long distance swimmers, etc.
- They also are responsible for maintaining buoys.
- SMPD Harbor Patrol is part of the LAX Air/Sea Disaster Preparedness Plan.
- To be part of the Harbor Patrol unit you need to be both an EMT and a scuba/rescue diver with at least 1 year life guarding experience in open water.
- The EMT part is due to the amount of time it takes to get someone off a boat and on to dry land if there is a medical emergency.
- Traffic being what it is, they are often the first responders to medical emergencies on the Santa Monica pier.
- Harbor Patrol responds to deck fires on boats “quite often,” mostly from people smoking cigarettes.
- The other call they respond to a lot is people who have fallen/jumped off the pier.
- Harbor Patrol operates mostly at the Santa Monica pier & surrounding area, but will respond outside of Santa Monica city limits if a distress call is sent and they could get there before any other responders would.
- SMPD’s main boat is a Seaway and is almost identical to lifeguard boats. (5 ft shorter, but with a bigger gate.)
This is the part where I just admit I have entirely too few ‘bullet points’ to justify what is entirely too many photos for one post.
I guess I think of the Harbor Patrol officers as one part diver and one part EMT, blended thoroughly and served up in a police crust.
I made a dumb video.
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.
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:
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.
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.
— Jacqueline Seabrooks (@SantaMonicaCoP) May 17, 2017
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.
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.”
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.