Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 9

Catch up on previous weeks here

Week 9 – Shit Just Got Real

Before we start talking about this week’s class I want to talk about something that happened a few days after last week’s class. I witnessed a violent and bloody assault. If you want details ask me in person, but I mention it here because the lessons I’ve learned in the Santa Monica Community Police Academy changed the way I reacted to what happened and I hope helped the officers who were dealing with it. I wasn’t the closest witness so I wasn’t the first one they spoke to, but I could hear the other witness being interviewed. He was telling the officers what he saw, but it was a lot of ‘he looked like he was going to…’ and ‘and then he yelled such and such…’ statements. Important information, sure, but not the priority at that moment. I interrupted and said “the suspect left on train car number so-and-so.” One of the officers was immediately on his radio while he and another officer jumped into their patrol car and took off. I don’t know what eventually happened, but I hope that they were able to nab the attacker before he got off the train and disappeared. So thank you SMPD for teaching me how to ‘speak cop.’ 😉

(I have been waiting to post this since I started the Community Academy)

As you may have guessed from the tweet above, we started this week’s class with some SWAT team members who were happy to answer our questions and let us play with their cool gear.

  • SWAT officers have regular duty and patrol with SWAT training on top of it. If they’re needed it doesn’t matter if they’re ‘bright eyed and bushy tailed,’ at the end of a long shift, or asleep in bed, they go.
  • SWAT officers have to be prepared for anything. A chase, a gunfight, waiting out a suspect, anything.
  • SWAT members carry so much gear on them for the above reason. As a situation develops it often changes.
  • The bullet proof vests are about 20 pounds. There is a ceramic insert in the front to stop rifle rounds.
  • I needed a nap after listening to them describe their training routine, it’s intense.
  • My notes on this part of class are really bad, I’m sorry.

We were outside, gathered around the equipment while we listened to members of the SWAT team. There was plenty of room, I could have gone anywhere, but I sat right in front of the big gun. Like staring down the barrel of it. (No really, I had to move to the side to take the above photo.) With the kind of glee that can only be experienced by the extremely young or the profoundly stupid I thought about every gun safety meeting I’ve been to and gun safety memo I’ve distributed in my career and giggled. In my defense, if you’re ever going to disregard basic gun safety doing it around a couple of guys from the SWAT team during a show-and-tell is probably the safest you’re ever gonna get. (Anyone who knows the difference between impossible and improbable know what a load of bologna the last sentence was.) Anyway, I’m an idiot is the point, but I amuse myself.

Even as we talked about guns (both were snipers) and other cool stuff, somehow the answers always came back around to diffusing a situation safely or minimizing the loss of life. It was really nice to see/hear that.

These SWAT officers have another whole level of dedication above and beyond the dedication you have to have just being a cop in the first place. I’m sure everyone on the SWAT team has their own personal reasons for wanting to be there but every one of them has to want it BAD.

I volunteer to be on the SWAT team on an ‘as needed’ basis. Call me when you need me, okay guys?

Sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if that worked.

The second part of class was devoted to Vice & Narcotics. Technically they are two different things but they are often closely intertwined so one presentation covered both of them.

  • Narcotics is the most rewarding job in the department because so much crime is driven by drugs. (According to them.)
  • Narcotics is the root of all evil. (Also according to them.)
  • Because vice/narco has to operate with a lot of autonomy and confidentiality everything is on a ‘need to know’ basis and they report directly to the Chief of Police.
  • Crimes of moral turpitude (I didn’t know this phrase was used outside of old movies!) include gambling, prostitution, alcohol crimes, illegal tobacco sales, and illegal marijuana sales.
  • Criminals don’t respect police jurisdictions so vice/narco can work anywhere from Bakersfield to San Diego, all the way to the AZ border.
  • ABC = Alcohol & Beverage Control. Grant to monitor all 374 alcohol permits in Santa Monica. (Targets over serving and underage drinking.)
  • SMAART training = Santa Monica Alcohol Awareness Retail Training. Training offered to bartenders, etc.
  • “Trap door operation” is when an officer poses as the doorperson at a bar/club to look for fake IDs. FLAG = Feel, look, ask, give back.
  • “Minor decoy operation” is when a minor is used to attempt to buy alcohol. The minor must look their real age and use their real ID.
  • “Shoulder tap operation” is when the minor stands outside and asks patrons to buy alcohol for them.
  • The new CA IDs for anyone under 21 are vertical not horizontal. (How long until someone gets busted making vertical fake IDs? I mean criminals at this level generally aren’t the smartest group, you know someone is going to assume this is an ‘across the board’ change and run with it.) 😉
  • When city permits issued to businesses are involved they generally can search where they want without a warrant.
  • A “conditional use permit” means you can’t turn a restaurant into a club after hours. (An attempt to keep the noise level down among other things.)
  • Typically they will try to educate business owners before resorting to enforcement. (Fake IDs, over serving etc.)
  • Underage drinkers don’t have the life experience to know what they’re doing. (Duh.)
  • “The presence of condoms is a good sign that some type of sexual activity is going on.” (This was spoken in the context of prostitution operating under all of our noses, massage parlors etc. so it’s not as ridiculous a sentence as it first seems. But it still amused me enough to write it in my notes.)
  • Prostitution cases often end up being human trafficking cases. Investigations are very sensitive and can take months.
  • Vice & Narco gets information in a variety of ways. (From other officers, from their own observations, citizen tips, criminals getting revenge on each other etc.)
  • The We Tip hotline allows you to report a tip anonymously.
  • Santa Monica has a criminal investigations tip line, a gang activity tip line, a narcotics tip line, etc. They are all listed on this page. Only one of them uses the word ‘anonymous’ but I’m guessing they probably all are because that’s how tip lines generally work.)
  • Informants can be ‘working off’ cases, getting paid, or (my favorite) doing it for revenge.
  • “Drug dealers are never on time.” (LOL)
  • Money the police seize from criminals doesn’t automatically go to them, it’s the city council that decides how it is spent.
  • Officers are trained in counter surveillance.
  • Officers change their appearance regularly. (Does this mean they get to expense new clothes all the time? What about visits to a hair salon?) (You can see where my priorities are!)
  • Columbia produces about 90% of cocaine in the U.S.
  • Black tar heroin smells like vinegar.
  • You don’t solve cases behind a desk –> “boots to the ground.”
  • The presentation included a photo from Miami Vice. There’s nothing specific to be learned from that, it’s just awesome.

I think I took more notes on this part of class than any other, but you probably don’t believe me based on the bullet points above. I’m not comfortable putting a lot of my notes online because they either read like a guide on how to fly under the police radar, (no pun intended) or an advertisement for how much you can make committing some of these crimes. (No really, at one point the presentation sounded a little like a Mary Kay rep trying to sign you up. “You can make this much on [drug name]. Even if [police activity] happens you still can make [amount].”) I really doubt anyone is reading this post while contemplating trading in a law abiding existence for a life of crime, but you never know.

There were many awesome quotes from class this week, but my favorite has to be this exchange:
Question from the class: “What if someone offers you drugs?”
Narcotics officer: “Well… obviously we wouldn’t use them.”
Maybe you had to be there, but it was just the funniest thing to me. The pause, the word choice, the underlying meaning, it’s all hysterical. (I’m an idiot.)

This week I asked my ‘entertainment media’ question twice. The first time there was no answer other than a consensus that TV & movies don’t get it right. The second time I asked the answer was The Wire, a response I’ve heard a lot. I really need to watch it!

Police Palm Trees!

Have I mentioned that I’m an idiot?

Santa Monica photo post

(Click for full size)