Author Archives: Jennifer Kaplan

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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?

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