Category Archives: Life

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 4

Week 4 – A Smörgåsbord of Information

This week’s session was actually divided into 3 mini-classes so this post might be a bit all over the place, apologies…

Santa Monica’s Homeless Liaison Unit was created in 1991 to partner with social services to provide outreach to Santa Monica’s transient population.

  • Homelessness is not a crime
  • The team consists of 6 officers, 1 supervisor, 1 department of mental health clinician
  • Not assigned radio calls, this is their full time assignment
  • Dedicated phone number (310) 458-8953 to report ongoing homeless related issues
  • West Coast Care (contracted outreach provider)
  • CA has 118,000 homeless, 22% of the homeless population in the country
  • To receive services you have to be homeless in the city for 5 years or more, or have previously lived or worked in the city
  • This unit takes a proactive rather than reactive approach
  • Project Homecoming sends people back to their families

Basically they identify the homeless people that cause a disproportionate number of radio calls and disturbances, and work to try to connect those people to help and resources.  It’s the ‘stopping problems before they start’ and ‘preventing future problems’ theory to law enforcement, and that is where my interest in all of this lies.  Not in homelessness specifically, but in that middle part of the venn diagram where enforcing laws and helping people overlap.

I keep trying to write a post about where that interest comes from and why I am doing this class, but every time I stop and delete it. I’ll just say that my early experiences with police taught me that they are not there to help, and calling the police will just make a bad situation worse. (I’m not going to post private details online but if you know me in real life and want to discuss this, just ask.) As an adult I know that’s not accurate, but lessons learned as a kid under traumatic circumstances are not the kind you can just shrug off, ya know?… Anyway, this was the topic I was most looking forward to this week.

A lot of the discussion centered around issues of addiction and mental illness (how could it not?!) but the question I asked was about the homeless who are not addicts or mentally ill, people who might get up and go to work every day but sleep in a tent under a bridge. There’s a housing crisis in LA and I personally know a few people in those situations, so I’d imagine it happens in Santa Monica too… It wasn’t a really specific question I guess, just sort of a ‘is this on your radar?’ and the answer was no, it’s not. I don’t even know what could be done in those situations, but I imagine even a “normal” (I hate that word) person who finds themselves on the street could easily fall into hopelessness and despair which are the exact conditions that can lead to addiction and let mental illnesses flourish uncontrolled. sigh… I don’t know the answer, I don’t even know the right questions to ask, but I know it’s a problem.

Next up we heard from two very articulate and poised young women about the Explorer program and the Cadet program. I’m going to leave you with those two links to read because my notes are basically a very poor restatement of the info that is on those pages, but you really should click and check them out. (The only thing I wrote in my notebook that isn’t at one of those two links is “Suzie = mom”)

There was also a specific typo in one of the presentation ‘slides’ which just so happens to be my biggest pet peeve, so now I’m considering becoming a criminal mastermind. Or maybe I’m a melodramatic smart ass. Definitely one of the two.

Our last topic of the night was “Life of an Officer” where two officers spoke with us about exactly that. Both of them impressed me very much with their willingness to talk openly and honestly, but I’m kind of hesitant to share exactly what was discussed because of those exact same reasons… I know they knew they were speaking to an audience (what terrible grammar, sorry) but putting someone else’s thoughts online is a whole different thing than talking to group of people in a room so I’m going to leave it there. They were so approachable that I asked them privately why so many cops hate being called cops. It’s something that no one has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction, and it’s looking like there is no real answer. What started as one of the most adorable ways to refer to police (“constable on patrol”) has been said in snotty tones by so many for so long that it’s just kind of perceived as an insult. Which is sad.

Now the information all of you have been waiting for!

Tonight I asked 4 different officers “what is the closest entertainment media has gotten to accurately portraying the reality of law enforcement.” One officer chose Lethal Weapon, but then changed their answer to End of Watch. The next Officer had no answer. Another Officer chose Southland. The final Officer initially chose CHiPs, but immediately changed their answer to End of Watch. I’ve never seen End of Watch, but I think I should change that soon.

The same trees, but in the daytime. I know this running gag is only funny to me, but I find it HYSTERICAL!!!

Dallas Clayton Coloring Party

Yep, you read that correctly, a coloring party. If you don’t know who Dallas Clayton is why don’t you go familiarize yourself with some of his work, because he’s awesome and it will give you a better idea of what the heck this is all about.


My favorite photo of the day. That’s the coloring party inside the window, Dallas Clayton front and center. Downtown Santa Monica is reflected in the window.

(sorry about the shaky video, my hands and arms were not cooperating today)


Me & Dallas Clayton!

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?

Santa Monica Community Police Academy

I have the opportunity to do this cool thing that I’m really excited about. It’s called the Santa Monica Community Police Academy and (so far at least) it is both fascinating and fun. I was going to wait until it was over to do a write up about the class in its entirety, but now I think week by week is better. (The early information will probably have fallen out of my head by the end of the course!)

Week One: Introductions and Free Food

I was so paranoid about getting lost and being late that I ended up being entirely too early (typical) so I wandered around taking photos (also typical.)

The class was introduced to each other by way of a memory game that got progressively harder as each person took their turn. (I picked the ‘correct’ side of the table without knowing it so I got off easy, whew!) We went over the typical ‘first day of school stuff’ like the program’s goals and the syllabus for the course. Then we got a chance to meet with the heads of the three ‘branches’ the Santa Monica PD is organized into. (There’s an organizational chart here if you want to read more about this.)

Captain Shirley heads up the Criminal Investigations Division. Captain Muir handles the “Strategic Services” Division. (Does this make it sound like he’s in charge of a group of WWII spies to anyone else?) Last but not least, Captain Lowe oversees Operations. They all report to Chief of Police Seabrooks.

We were told the Chief would be coming down to introduce herself but I don’t think anyone expected her to give us as much time as she did. I’m trying to think of a single thing she said that stands out but they all just kind of faded into each other because they all stood out. Chief Seabrooks talked to us like a real person, listened to and answered our questions, and didn’t give a single answer that felt like she’d gotten it out of a manual on ‘things to say when you’re chief of police.’ What did become clear throughout her various answers was that her interest is honestly in making the community safer, not just “enforcing laws.” If it sounds like I was really impressed with Chief Seabrooks, you’re right, I was.

The syllabus for the rest of the course is really exciting, so provided I don’t get arrested for being obnoxious (being “mouthy” still legal right?) I should have some fun stories to tell in the weeks ahead…

Palm trees outside of the station.


Week Two: Jennifer Thinks She’s Rambo Now

Gorgeous shadows and lines in front of the police station

The first order of business was an anonymous questionnaire about the previous week’s class. …where we played a game, ate free food, and had our questions answered by the qualified people with answers. I’m sure there’s a way to give some constructive feedback, but I’m not sure how. (Feedback on the game? Too much pressure. Or the food? It’s free food, I never complain about that. Or the introductions? What kind of feedback could a person even give? Please introduce harder next time?) Everything sounded awesome the week prior, and I was excited to get started.

I’m such a smart ass.

Now to the topic of the evening, active shooter/workplace violence. What a horrible topic. (I mean horrible that it’s so common we need to be trained in it, not that it’s a horrible topic for a class. It was actually quite fascinating.) There’s an entire presentation that has been put together by the Santa Monica Police Department to help people know what to do if they ever find themselves involved in an “active shooter scenario.” Instead of inundating you with complex terminology and police tactics, everything is presented in a common sense way that makes you think “I totally knew that already” even if you didn’t.

Some things I learned during class:

  • It’s a “shooting spree” not a “school shooting”
  • Combat breathing (inhale four seconds, hold four seconds, exhale four seconds, hold four seconds)
  • Survival mindset (dwell on something you love/look forward to)
  • If you run have something you’re running to, but don’t run in a straight line
  • If you hide barricade the door otherwise you’re just playing hide-and-seek with the shooter
  • Fight as a last resort, but fight dirty, work together (best chance for success is in numbers not strength)
  • Police academy training is to always watch the hands, hands will kill you
  • When describing a suspect try to describe something that doesn’t change very often (hair, tattoos, shoes) instead of things that are easily changed like a hat or jacket
  • Cover vs. concealment (a tree stump is cover, tree branches are concealment)
  • First responders are there to asses the threat not help victims
  • When the police arrive calmly put everything down, show your hands, tell them where the shooter is, leave in the direction the police entered from
  • If in a locked room etc., ask police for IDs before you open the door, they expect it
  • “Attack the crack” is a legit law enforcement term/tactic
  • I am not yet mature enough where that won’t make me giggle
  • “Funnel of death” is another one
  • It has nothing to do with funnel cake
  • Or an incident on the “tunnel of love” ride at the fair
  • Or anything to do with the fair at all

During class the only question I asked was about TV and Movies. (But only after all of the “real” questions had already been answered.) I know, I know, my interests are predictable, what can I say, it was my career for years… It was a fairly silly question in the grand scheme of things but I really want to ask it of every officer we interact with just to see how varied the answers are. (I’m not sure I’m that brave though…)

My not-at-all-unscientific survey of “officers teaching me active shooter response” (survey size of one) is that the closest entertainment media has gotten to accurately portraying the reality of law enforcement is something like this:

mixed with this:

Make of that what you will.

I’m going to try not to take the exact same picture every week, but I know me so no guarantees.

Exactly 20 Years Ago

Exactly twenty years ago today I spent a good chunk of time sitting on the couch next to my mom. People were in and out of the room and the house, having one last visit and saying goodbye. I don’t remember everyone who stopped by and everything that was said, I don’t know if it’s a trick of time or grief or both, but my memory of that day is patchy. I remember sitting as close to her as I could. I remember telling her I loved her so often I became annoying. (“I know Jenny, I know.”) I remember being terrified, and totally alone in a house full of people.

As the day went on and mom’s condition deteriorated she was moved into her bedroom for the last time. The house was still full of people but all of a sudden I was in demand as people started needing things.

“People are getting hungry, do you have anything to feed them?”

“You’re out of clean glasses.”

“What are you going to do with [item]?”

If I knew then what I know now, I’d have told everyone to go to hell. Maybe I’d have phrased it differently… “If you’re hungry you’re welcome to go get food. I’m hungry too, should I tell you what I’d like to eat?” Or “Feel free to drink out of a coffee mug, or wash some glasses if you want to be helpful.” Or “I haven’t thought about what I’m doing with it, I’m focused on other things right now.” I didn’t say anything close to that though, it didn’t even occur to me. I took care of other people’s needs and sat with them, sometimes even comforting them when they were upset. I thought I was doing what mom would have wanted me to do, what she would have done had she been able. Twenty years later I’m not so sure.

My most vivid memory of that day isn’t the sound of my mom’s voice or the feel of her hand in mine. Nothing so expected. My most vivid memory is being taken into the backyard for a “private chat” and the taste of blood in my mouth from where I’d bitten through skin. The private chat wasn’t so much a chat as a lecture. I was told that I was on my own now, and no one was going to help me. The sliding glass door was gestured to indicating the visitors behind it and I was told these people were here for mom and not me. Once she was dead I would be on my own. I distinctly remember being told that I was going to end up living in the street and that I would be lucky to have a cardboard box to sleep in. The person telling me this offered a solution too… If I gave them access to “the money” and “learned how to do what I was told,” I could avoid the fate in store for me.

To this day I have no idea what “the money” refers to. (If anyone knows anything about hidden money please speak up, I could really use it.) In reality, our household was that of an uninsured single mother fighting cancer and I was just a teenager. There wasn’t always money for necessary things, including medical treatments. There was no retirement accounts, no trust funds, no sources of income other than the obvious, nothing that could even vaguely be referred to as “the money.”

As far as “learning to do what I was told,” I honestly can’t say I know what the speaker meant. What I heard though, was an offer to hand my free will and life choices over to someone who didn’t ask or care about what I wanted. I don’t remember if I declined the ‘offer’ or just sort of wandered back inside to get someone a refill. (At least two other people in the coming days would offer to open up their home to me, but there were strings attached to both offers and I declined them as well.)

I know there were people in that house who were trying to be supportive of me, and I don’t want it to seem like everyone was only thinking of themselves, but I think they didn’t know what I needed and I didn’t know how to ask. By night time the house cleared out, only a few people staying. I know I sat by mom’s bedside at one point, but I really don’t remember. I have never felt such exhaustion, physically and emotionally.

Someone was sitting with mom. She wasn’t alone. I went to sleep in my room. The next thing I knew it was early morning and someone was banging on my door. “Jenny it’s time to get up, your mom is dead.”

Oh.

I remember speaking with the Doctor. I remember following the mortuary van down the driveway and out into the street, even though there was no reason for it. She was gone and I was alone.

The two people in my life who I thought I could count on for help at this time disappeared entirely. I know I wasn’t the only one grieving, I know it’s not all about me, but I was left alone with people who thought I was there for them and not the other way around.

Twenty years minus one month ago someone I loved and trusted said to me “It’s been a month and you’re still sad. Something is wrong with you.” Hearing those words felt like a punch to the gut.

That was 20 years ago. Two decades. I know how numbers work and I understand the passage of time, but I don’t understand how she’s been gone for 20 years. I’ve been without her longer than I had her. I don’t understand.

It’s true that she’s here with me every moment, so much of who I am is directly from her and I love that. It brings me comfort. But it’s not the same as having her, not even close. I can try to hear her voice or imagine what life advice she’d give me. When I moved to Los Angeles someone very close to her told me she’d be horrified at what I was doing. (I had thought she’d want me to follow my dreams and pursue a happy life.) The same person told me that Mom would be embarrassed by me one time when I was really sick and not doing what this person thought I ought to be doing to get better. (Years later I would find out that my sickness was a Multiple Sclerosis attack but at the time I was treated like I was being lazy, whiny, and melodramatic.) The worst instance of this was a relative telling me that I’m a humiliation to the entire family and I should be glad she can’t see me. Another person who didn’t get along with Mom when she was alive and doesn’t get along with me at all likes to call me by my mom’s name if I don’t think the same way they do. I’ll be told “Okay, Stefanie.” It’s meant as an insult. I take it as a compliment.

My Mom wasn’t perfect, like everyone she had many flaws. But she was loving and funny and kind and loyal and caring and all of the good parts of human nature. She was the first and last person who ever loved me unconditionally. I still miss her everyday, but that’s okay, I know who she would want me to be and I think maybe I am. I think she’d be proud of me.

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Mary’s Kids…

Have you ever had that one teacher who changed your life and shaped you into the person you are today? I have.

Instead of a 20 year high school reunion for a specific graduating class, we had a 20-ish year reunion of some (far from a complete group!) of those of us who will always be Mary’s ‘kids’ no matter how old we are.

(click each photo for a full res downloadable version)

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