Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 3

Week 3: Go to jail, get cookies and ice cream

I’m going to deviate from my usual smart-assery for a little bit here, this week’s topic is too important to make jokes about. (And I can make jokes about anything!) We learned about “use of force” in law enforcement. It wasn’t about police abuse of force specifically, although of course that came up. (How could it not?!) The presentation wasn’t about the laws and rules that govern use of force, although we touched on that. It definitely wasn’t just a bunch of pro-police propaganda, blind to what numbers and data tell us. (And what the numbers tell us is that there’s a problem in this country, a very serious one.) The presentation and discussion on ‘use of force’ was about 2 hours long, but way too short. It’s an extremely complicated subject so we really only briefly talked about some of the many complex issues involved. My notes are a mess, mostly hastily written half sentences about things I wanted to look up online later. I’ll try to turn my notes into something coherent.

  • Narcan is nasal spray that stops the effects of an opioid overdose very quickly.
  • When a major drug dealer is arrested police typically see an increase in overdoses because a new dealer takes over the ‘turf’ and the new product may be more potent or different somehow than drug users are used to.  Narcan is literally a life-saver for many people
  • Clips of police beating on somebody online are out of context (Duh, I feel like everyone knew this already but the point was made very effectively with clips of real police activity, discussion about what we thought we saw, information about what happened before the recording started, repeated viewings and more discussion. Seriously, we could have done nothing but this for two hours and the session would have been A+.)
  • A police officer killing you is considered “search and seizure” under the 4th Amendment
  • “Chippies” = California Highway Patrol
  • Police tactics can really vary from department to department (example: SMPD pulls people out of a vehicle one at a time, LAPD has everyone exit the vehicle all together in the middle of the street)
  • Police “swarm maneuver” is just a big ‘ole dogpile
  • Breaking bones of a resisting suspect is permissible
  • An adrenaline dump can knock an uninjured, ‘tough-guy’ officer off his/her feet
  • If you’re not submissively following an officer’s orders, you are resisting! (example: if you’re told to lay down by police and you sit down, you are resisting. It doesn’t have to be trying to get away or an aggressive action to be resisting.)
  • Officers are taught to “control the head” so, like keeping your hands visible at all times, it’s a good idea to keep your head on the ground when you’re told to lay down
  • Graham v. Connor is the Supreme Court ruling on police use of force

Ultimately, the general rule for use of force is that it should be reasonable and necessary. (Ignoring of course that “reasonable” and “necessary” can mean just about anything you want them to mean.) I feel like I left class with a better understanding of how complex the issue is, and even less of an idea of how to fix it. I also felt a bit comforted by some of the things that the officer teaching all of this to us said. He said that when he’s training new cadets he tells them that ‘every officer is responsible for the amount of force he or she uses.’ In one respect, it’s another ‘duh’ statement because of course everyone is responsible for their actions. In a different respect I think it’s a HUGE thing to say because we are seeing instances again and again in our society where loyalty to the badge is more important than loyalty to the law. An officer with a sense of personal responsibility would, ugh, I’m going off on a tangent that I’m not really qualified to speak about, so we’ll move on…

This week’s answer to the big question of “what is the closest entertainment media has gotten to accurately portraying the reality of law enforcement” is… Cops. I’m not going to say that the officer I asked wasn’t giving my question the full attention it deserves but it’s just so… I mean, it can’t possibly be… really, COPS??!! So you’re saying that ‘reality’ television, a format known for its “creative” editing and for being unrealistic, got this one right?? I’m skeptical…

Next was the “field trip” portion of the evening. We were taken to the jail in the basement of the Santa Monica Police Station. We were told that other jail facilities are very different. I’ve never toured any other jails (not even ‘touristy’ Alcatraz!) so I don’t know as far as comparing anything, but I can tell you that the Santa Monica jail is nice. Everything is bright and clean, except for all of the locks it doesn’t seem like a bad place to spend time. We were shown men’s cells, women’s cells, the “padded” cell, etc. (All of the cells sort of look the same, it’s definitely not the Madonna Inn or anything.)

Because it’s an active jail there was no photography allowed, which I think we all know by now is how I experience the world. (By photographing it, I mean.) So as much as I wanted to climb in a cell, slam the door behind me, and make sad faces through the window while someone took my picture, you’ll just have to imagine it.

Please enjoy this old photo of me “locked” (holding the door closed) in a “jail” (film set) looking “sad” (I’m an idiot) for the camera.

We were shown many cool things about the jail and how it operates, but the one thing that stuck out in my mind was the kitchen. It looks pretty much exactly like you expect it to look, so let me explain what I mean. While our jail guide talked about how the nutritional needs of those who find themselves spending the night are taken care of, my eyes went to the most important thing in the room. The cookies sitting out on the counter. The employees who work in the jail have their own break room/kitchen so I asked about the cookies and the ice cream in the front of the freezer and learned that yes, dessert is part of the nutritionally balanced meal plan.

You don’t have to tour a jail to know that you don’t want to be in one, but after class I went back to my only-slightly-bigger-than-a-jail-cell apartment, noted the lack of either cookies or ice cream, and started contemplating a life of crime. (I need more info before I commit to anything though… check back next week)

This has absolutely nothing to do with the Santa Monica Police Department, but I’m going to link here for my comments to and about the Sheriffs who patrol the Metro station. I think it really illustrates the differences in attitude and approach between different law enforcement agencies. (For the record this is the nicest and most respectful interaction I have ever had with the LA Sheriff’s Department. That is not a compliment.)

It’s not the exact same picture if I take it at a different angle, right?

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