Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 8

Catch up on previous weeks here

Week 8 – “It Doesn’t Always Mean Ninja Monkeys Are About to Jump Out At You” (You’ll understand that later)

This week’s class was all about traffic stops. To most of us that means getting pulled over for some minor traffic violation and probably evokes feelings of annoyance and frustration. I’ve been pulled over twice in my adult life, once for expired tags (they were paid on time but got lost in the mail) and once for speeding. (Which I totally was, my bad.) Both times the officers who stopped me were nice (ish) and the interaction was over quickly. Because of that I wasn’t really expecting this week’s class to be so eye-opening or so fun, but it was.

  • Officers will try to teach you why you were stopped.
  • Crooks will often break the light over the license plate or swap plates with a similar looking car to try to hide.
  • You can’t be pulled over based on ethnicity, there has to be some kind of violation or reason for them to pull you over. (I’m going to add “in Santa Monica” to the end of that sentence.)
  • Typically around 5 years into the job is when officers start to feel confident, start skipping steps or getting sloppy, and get injured or killed.
  • As soon as police lights come on behind you pull to the right. The officer has chosen to pull you over at that specific location for a reason. You might not understand why, but it’s not up to you so just do what you know you’re supposed to and pull over.
  • Ordinary stop vs. high risk / felony stop – whole different set of procedures.
  • It is illegal for a supervisor to to mandate a certain number of tickets per month (“quotas”) or compare officers to each other.
  • Crooks know the drill, will often try to control the interaction, distract the officer etc.
  • Officers are trained to never turn their back on the car they’ve pulled over.
  • Officers are trained to never stand between cars, it’s the most dangerous place to be. (Not just because the driver might reverse in to them, but also in case the patrol car was rear-ended.)
  • A suspect tracking the officer very intently in their mirrors is a red flag. (Isn’t that a red flag no matter who you are? I mean, if I noticed someone doing that to me I’d pretty much assume I was about to be kidnapped.)
  • Officers watch for anything unusual / any red flags. A nervous person is probably hiding something. (What about people who get nervous because they’re being pulled over? Or just around cops in general?)
  • Approaching the car they’ve pulled over for the second time is the most dangerous.
  • An officer might choose to approach from the passenger side the second time just because it’s unexpected.
  • In some countries the norm is for the people being stopped to walk over to the patrol car, it’s considered rude to make the officers come to you.
  • In America it is the other way around, and you will make the officer very nervous if you get out and approach them.
  • Very nervous in a is-this-a-threat-to-my-life kind of way.
  • Which can cause problems in tourist-heavy places like Santa Monica.
  • A lot of the job is about trusting your instincts. Most people are just what they appear to be. (Confused tourists, late-for-work speeders etc.) Pulling someone over “doesn’t always mean ninja monkeys are about to jump out at you.” (See? It makes sense now. And special thanks to the officer who provided that quote and therefore the title of this week’s post. πŸ˜‰ )

It doesn’t really come across from my bullet points above, but the one thing that was brought up again and again throughout class was some variation on “Crooks know police procedures/what cops are going to do” usually followed by some story about someone doing something shitty to police officers, and how officers have to always be ready for the worst. I can’t imagine what that must be like, operating at “DEFCON 1” all the time. It sounds like absolute hell to me, or maybe just the perfect recipe for a nervous breakdown.

After learning about traffic stops in a theoretical way, we were taken outside to practice traffic stops for ourselves. Actual police officers played the part of the people we were pulling over and aside from breaking the fourth wall here and there, they were surprisingly dedicated to their roles. Okay, that’s just a nice way of saying they seemed downright gleeful to turn the tables and be the ones giving the “cops” (us) grief. I took a gazillion pictures of this part of class so instead of trying to describe everything I’m just going to leave photos at the end of this post and you can go look for yourself. Once again Suzie and everyone at the Santa Monica Police Department taught us something very important/serious in a really fun way.

This has nothing to do with the community academy, I just like the photo. And the officer was really nice to me when I asked if I could take it.

So now the information you’ve all been waiting for… (Nope. Exactly no one has been waiting for this information, but I amuse myself and that’s what counts.) The closest entertainment media has gotten to accurately portraying the reality of law enforcement is (drum roll please) Reno 911. Well, no. That was the officer’s answer for about a second before it was changed to Southland. I’ve heard Southland as an answer before, but this time I was told that the show was so realistic that the officer actually couldn’t watch it. Wow, that’s heavy.

Did you think I was going to forget?

Click for Photo Gallery

Photo Post

9/11 Memorial

Since I’ve been taking the Santa Monica Community Police Academy I’ve been over to the Police Station a lot. I don’t just mean for class, I mean on my own to take pictures. (The building is really gorgeous if you’re an ‘architecture nerd.’) The most important thing I wanted to photograph was the 9/11 memorial that sits outside the Fire Department’s suite of offices.

As you can see, the base is beautiful. Sitting on top of the base is an actual piece of the World Trade Center.

I didn’t know anyone who died on 9/11/2001. It didn’t affect me in the way that people who lost a loved one/ones were (and still are) affected. I woke up that morning to instructions to turn on the TV, and watched the news with a mixture of disbelief and horror. (What? No. This can’t be happening. It looks like a movie. What are they talking about? This has to be a trick, but I don’t get it. Someone please make this make sense, I’m begging you.) And then the second tower fell. Like so many others I watched the murder of I don’t even know how many people live on television. I’m not sure when in all of that I started crying, but I know it took me a long time to stop. After that there weren’t very many tears, just a sort of numb fog, some mild form of shock maybe, as reality shifted in a way that can never shift back. I personally didn’t lose anyone, but as Americans we all lost something that day.

No one told me there was a 9/11 memorial in Santa Monica, it was something I saw out of the corner of my eye when class took me to a different part of the building than usual. I probably could have snapped a few quick pictures right then, but I wanted to come back and take the time to do it properly. I don’t mean take pictures ‘properly,’ I’m talking about the whole experience. To stand there and take a moment. To think about what I was looking at and what it means. To think about those people I saw die, and all the rest we lost that day. You know, the things you are supposed to do at a memorial. It’s what memorials are for. (Isn’t it?)

Walking home I just kept thinking about how some person (or group of people probably) had to decide which pieces of rubble were “salvageable” and which weren’t. What kind of base to attach. What to put on that base, and what it should say. And who should get it. (I’m assuming there were more places under consideration than available memorials to be shared.) And how much that job must suck. Not because of the work itself, which I consider terribly important. Because… well, because of what that work isn’t. It isn’t an archeological excavation with all of the emotional distance that history provides. It isn’t like deciding which museum gets the right to display historical artifacts, these memorials are going to places where people who lost loved ones might be. Places where people who helped in the aftermath might be. How much that must weigh on you each and every day. How your mind might replay that footage from the news on a loop while you were at work. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s something you get used to eventually, but I doubt it. If it was me I think I’d be so sad all of the time, even though I knew what I was doing really mattered.

I went back to the station to take my pictures. I know this piece of metal is just that, a piece of metal. It can’t give us answers or closure or bear witness in any way. This memorial is not a grave, and to treat it as such would be ridiculous. But it’s also not just a piece of metal anymore either, it is something else now, something bigger. I’m not explaining this well but I’m going to trust that other people feel the same way, because someone had left a red rose.

I actually had to go back to the station a second time to take pictures of the memorial because I noticed something in my first batch of pictures. I’d mostly convinced myself it was a trick of the light, but nope…

Do you see it yet? Ignore the grammatical nightmare that is the rest of the sentence. (Is it one sentence or is it really two? Between the capitalization and the unreliable punctuation I honestly can’t tell.) I’m drawing your attention to one particular area. “It’s” with an apostrophe is the contraction of “it is.” If you’re using “its” in the possessive you omit the apostrophe.

Look… I get it. I make more typos than probably anyone you or I have ever known, it’s not about the typo. Truly. It’s about a typo there. In stone. On a memorial to the people who died on 9/11. This isn’t a participation trophy from a bowling league we’re talking about here. And it isn’t just a piece of metal on top of a pretty stone. It means something more.

I posted pictures of the typo on social media along with something overly melodramatic no doubt. First someone in the police department reached out to me to let me know that the fire department was going to reach out to me. Then the fire department reached out to me on twitter to let me know they were looking at cost effective ways to correct it. I’m pretty sure I know a way they can get it fixed for free or very little cost, so I sent them my idea and offered to help. That was the last I heard so I don’t know what may have happened since then, but I hope whoever read my message knew I was serious. I try to live by the ‘golden rule’ of complaining and only complain about things I’m prepared to help try to fix, and I will take up a collection, throw a bake sale, whatever it takes to get that stupid apostrophe filled in. I can’t do anything about the grammar, but the apostrophe is fixable. I know it is, it has to be. (For the record I fail at that ‘golden rule’ stuff a lot. Like, a lot. But I do try.)

I know this might seem like a dumb thing to have strong feelings over. I don’t quite know how to articulate why it is so important to me. Maybe because generally we pay attention to the things that are important to us and this typo had to have been seen by any number of people who didn’t look closely enough to see it, or saw it and didn’t care enough to correct it. (Right? I mean, the same person who picked out the quote for the side of the memorial couldn’t have been the same person who did the etching or packed it for shipping or… sigh.) Maybe it’s because if I had lost someone on 9/11 and I saw this for the first time I’d feel insulted that so little care went into creating it.

I know that a memorial is not a grave and the base is not headstone, but it’s not just a piece of metal on display either. Maybe these memorials, collectively, are the grave of that intangible thing we lost as a country that day.

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 7

Catch up on previous weeks here

Week 7 – Tickets and Crashes and Drunk Driving, Oh My!

This week was all about cars, but not in the fun Oprah ‘here’s a free one’ way. Nope, this was about what not to do, or what to do when there’s a problem. Suzie got the class started, but then had to sneak away to do something else.

Collision Investigations

  • Community Service Officers are civilian employees who assist sworn personnel.
  • Community Service Officers take “stale” reports.
  • If your car is 2008 or later it has a “black box” which will tell them exactly how fast you were going.
  • Community Service Officers work the day shift but are on call at night.
  • Female Community Service Officers assist in the jail when there are no female jailers.
  • Police don’t take reports for a non-injury collision, it is a civil matter.
  • Totally okay to carry proof of insurance on your phone now.
  • Cars are engineered to crumple around you in a collision.
  • Europe has higher safety standards for automobiles, so we usually benefit from that.
  • Takata airbags will deploy with small pieces of metal which act like shrapnel and are very dangerous. Check here or here to see if your car is affected.
  • 13% of the population is over 65. Aging changes the way light enters your eye, so no matter what you say, your vision gets worse when you age.
  • Some older drivers tell officers that they don’t make left turns. (I take exception to this… Making left turns in certain places in LA is like playing Russian roulette. I frequently used to drive a longer route home before I moved to avoid left turns. If you avoid left turns because you can’t see or are a bad driver, that’s what makes it a ‘thing,’ not avoiding left turns just because they are left turns. I think that sometimes driving out of the way to approach a destination from a particular side is the safest thing to do.)
  • You can request the DMV Re-examine someone who has a valid driver’s license if you believe there is some reason they shouldn’t be driving. The form is here.
  • Airbags cocoon you, keep you in place.
  • When cars are engineered, way more goes into the safety designs than you or I think.
  • Taxi drivers are responsible for knowing the vehicle code, Uber and Lyft drivers don’t really know any more than the average driver.
  • Uber and Lyft drivers may not have insurance that covers you.
  • State requirements for reporting a collision: damage greater than $900 ~OR~ any injury, no matter how minor.
  • Look ahead when you are driving and think about the time and distance it takes to stop your car.
  • Wear your seat belt.
  • If at first something looks dangerous, it is.
  • You will not react as fast as you think you will.
  • Hands free cell phones are still a major distraction.
  • Unsecured pets in the car can be extremely dangerous.
  • “We can’t stop the public from being the public” <– best quote from this section of class.

If I had to summarize this part of class it would be this: distracted driving is BAD. This is kind of another ‘duh’ statement, but I’m not just talking about texting or drunk driving or the things that are illegal. Flipping through radio stations (or iPod playlists), trying to eat a burger, talking on speakerphone, even talking to passengers can be a distraction. If you’re not paying attention for whatever reason you are dangerous. It’s not worth the potential crash/injury/death. It’s not worth risking the harm you could do to others. It’s just not. Pull over, call back later, listen to the song you hate, whatever it takes, just be safe.

Traffic Services

  • Traffic Services Officers assist both the police department and the fire department.
  • Traffic Services Officers mostly do parking enforcement and citation (tickets.)
  • Also traffic control.
  • It’s more of a customer service job than anything.
  • Sometimes traffic services is the first on scene for an accident and they have to call dispatch for EMS, Fire, etc.
  • Don’t park with any part of your car in the red zone. It’s a $64 ticket and you know better than to do that. (I’m shaking my head at you in case you couldn’t tell)
  • Parking in a bus zone is dangerous for all of the passengers trying to get on/off the bus, and will earn you a $304 ticket.
  • In the above scenario it would be at an officer’s discretion to write the ticket as a red zone or a bus zone.
  • Not having current tags is a $25 ticket unless you have a TOP. (temporary operating permit)
  • If a car has tags that are 6 months expired, it can be towed.
  • If a plate number comes up as expired but has valid tags the car is impounded and referred for investigation. (So if you’re one of those people who steals tags off somebody else’s car instead of paying the DMV for your own, it’s going to backfire on you in a big way. Also you’re an asshole.)
  • In California you need two plates on your car or you’ll get a $25 “fix it” ticket.
  • LPR = License plate reader, they find so many stolen cars this way.
  • In Santa Monica it’s cool to park during street sweeping once the sweeper goes by. In LA you’ll still get a ticket.
  • They’ll usually give you a 5 minute grace period off what the sign says.
  • Parking during street sweeping is a $64 ticket. Broken cars are not exempt from this. Neither are cars with disabled plates/placards.
  • Parking in a disabled space is a $399 ticket. If the curb is blue and there’s a sign it counts as a handicapped space, even if it’s not painted on the ground.
  • In a green zone the time limit will be painted on the curb. (Disabled plates/placard have no time limit.)
  • They are switching away from marking tires to using computer photos.
  • White/loading zones are in effect 24 hours a day
  • If your car has a clean air sticker you don’t have to pay the meter, but you can only stay for the posted time limit. (Disabled plates/placard have no time limit.)
  • If a parking meter is broken you don’t have to pay, but the time limit is still enforced.
  • They want to explain the situation to you and turn it in to a “teachable moment.”
  • Be nice to them, they’re just doing their jobs.

DUI Investigations

Driving under the influence is such a big problem in our society* that there are officers who specialize in this. The officer who came in to teach us about this attended a specialized DUI school in Carlsbad.

*(Gee, who would have thought a society that glorifies both cool cars/fast driving and alcohol would have a problem with drunk driving? It’s a real head scratcher.) (Read that in the most sarcastic voice you can muster.)

A lot of abbreviations and acronyms were going to be thrown at us, so we started by going over what they meant.

  1. DUI = DWI = 502 = ‘Deuce’ = All mean ‘driving under the influence’
  2. Obs = Observation
  3. T-stop = Traffic stop
  4. SFST = Standardized Field Sobriety Test
  5. T/C = Traffic collision
  6. CVC (VC) = California Vehicle Code (vehicle code)
  7. BAC = Blood alcohol content
  8. PC = Probable cause
  9. “I’ve only had 2 beers officer” = “I’m totally hammered officer”

  • Teens are in twice as many collisions as adult drivers
  • Officers will ask you multi-tasking questions on purpose to observe how you respond
  • If the officer smells alcohol in the car, they will try to separate the driver from the passengers. The driver might be ‘designated’ and totally sober while the passengers are three sheets to the wind.
  • In the 70’s there were no standardized tests for when someone was pulled over, each department sort of made their own rules and guidelines.
  • Some mouth sprays have a high alcohol content and can actually register as legally drunk if you blow into a breathalyzer within 15 minutes of using them.
  • A breathalyzer will give results right away, and you’ll be arrested on 2 charges.
  • A blood test means going to the station, results will be available in a month, and you’ll be arrested on 1 charge.
  • Urine tests are no longer available.
  • A DUI report is 16 pages of paperwork (at least!) for the officer, they’re not arresting drunk drivers just for fun. (Duh)

There are alternate tests, but the three main field sobriety tests are:

  1. Horizontal gaze/Nystagmus
  2. Walk & turn
  3. One leg stand

For the record those are the same “tests” I get every time I see my neurologist, and I always flunk. When I was first diagnosed with MS I was given a lot of advice, but one of the things that really stayed with me was “expect to be stopped by the cops in public” and to “always carry medical records proving your diagnosis.” That was 8 years ago and I’ve never had to produce medical records to any law enforcement, but I have them on me at all times and as I get worse I expect it’ll happen eventually. I have a friend with MS this happened to, but the officers were nice and offered her a ride home when they figured out she wasn’t drunk in public she was just having a particularly hard time walking that day.

At this point Suzie had returned to the room and was quietly hanging out in the corner.

Notice the bottle of wine that mysteriously appeared when Suzie did? Yeah, me too.

After discussing the field sobriety tests with us, the officer demonstrated…. using Suzie as our “suspected drunk driver.” (Can you tell where this is going yet?)

In that trying-too-hard, hesitant way that drunk people have used since the dawn of time mistakenly believing it makes them seem sober, Suzie went through the field sobriety test. It was ADORABLE!!!

“Do you have any physical defects?” <– actual question the officer asked Suzie

After flunking the tests (she did about as well as I would have) the officer had Suzie blow into the breathalyzer. You guessed it, legally drunk! πŸ˜‰

I know the lesson we were supposed to learn from this is a very serious one, how quickly you can go from sober to legally drunk, even just a couple of glasses of wine with dinner can get you drunk etc… but it was just such a fun set-up that all I could do was giggle. Let me be perfectly clear though, there is no excuse for driving under the influence. That means alcohol, weed, cold medicine, whatever. It’s always a choice to get behind the wheel. If you have enough money to go out to the bar and enjoy some alcoholic beverages but you don’t have enough money to pay for a taxi/uber/lyft home, than you don’t have enough money for a night out. Any excuse you think you have is just you being a selfish, entitled jerk because you are putting other people’s lives at risk. I’m so serious that I have ended friendships over this. (There were other issues, but when I found out about the drunk driving it told me all I needed to know about how that person viewed the world and their place in it.)

I just like this picture because it looks like she’s checking out the officer’s rear end, even though she really wasn’t. (I’m an idiot.)


Okay yelling at you is a pretty lousy way to end this section so please take a moment to enjoy the most adorable story I’ve ever read about driving when you shouldn’t.

This week I was able to ask one officer my question about entertainment media. The answer was another police based reality show like Cops, so I think I’m going to make ‘reality programming’ its own category of answer. I dismissed reality TV as a non-answer when this started, so either it’s the go-to “I don’t care about your question” answer or I was wrong to dismiss it. (Probably the later.)

It’s palm tree time!