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. šŸ˜‰

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. ĀÆ\_(惄)_/ĀÆ

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.

2 thoughts on “Santa Monica Police Department – Ride Along & Survey Results

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