Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 10

Catch up on previous weeks here

Week 10 – “Why did you become a cop?” “Well… I think I look good in a uniform”
– Captain Lowe

If the name Captain Lowe sounds familiar that’s because I introduced you to him back in Week 1 and again in Week 5 when I was learning about “rules of arrest.” Captain Lowe is the instructor I quoted as saying, “treat everyone with dignity and respect, but always have a way to kill them” which may have made him sound a little bit scary. I’ve only met the man three times, so weigh what I say accordingly, but he has never been ‘scary’ or anything less than delightful in my presence. Imagine a really cuddly teddy bear… with a gun. (I’m not really helping here am I?)

Look at that grin! That’s a dude you want to split your nachos with, not someone to be scared of.

This week ‘class’ was one long discussion with Chief of Police Seabrooks and Captain Lowe. (They sort of handed off the baton to each other, but the conversation all flowed.) Captain Lowe let me bombard him with questions I had about his background (“zombie apocalypse management”) and what that actually meant. Oh, and Chief Seabrooks is my new BFF. (You will totally believe that by the end of this post.)

Deputy Chief of Police Venegas was also in the room, but appeared perfectly content to watch from the sidelines. The role of the deputy chief is to oversee day to day operations, freeing up the chief for policy and ‘big picture’ stuff. I do want to mention that Deputy Chief Venegas is a bona fide hero who has been awarded both the Medal of Valor and the Medal of Courage among others. He talked about it in class like it was NBD, but it is a BFD so I wanted to mention it and ‘lovingly embarrass’ him a little.

This is proving to be the hardest ‘write up’ of the Santa Monica Community Police Academy so far… There were so many things we touched on during class, but no one thing that was really discussed in depth. (Not enough time!) I have bullet points in my notes, but most of them are reminders of things that I wanted to look up online later or things that were said in the context of a much larger discussion. I can post my notes here, but without the context I run the risk of misrepresenting something the Chief said. Or making Captain Lowe sound scary. (Did no one read the ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ parts of that quote?!?!) I’ll do my best, but if something sounds “off” just assume it’s due to my poor note taking and not a reflection of anything the Chief or Captain Lowe said…

  • The closest we got to a ‘formal presentation’ was a discussion on “implicit bias.”
  • The entire Santa Monica Police Department, both officers and civilians, has had training in this.
  • Bias and prejudice are not the same thing.
  • “Policing cannot be driven by biases.”
  • “If you want to change something, do it from the inside.” (I love this!)
  • Inkwell Beach – historically non-white beach in Santa Monica.
  • 21st Century Report on Policing
  • A “bad police event” (what a phrase!) is typically investigated by the District Attorney’s office. Sometimes the U.S. Department of Justice is involved. These DoJ investigations are politically motivated; it all depends who is the President at the time. (HORRIFYING!)
  • Rioting – It’s not just current events, you have to look at the long history and the context.
  • The lack of proper response to the LA Riots made it so much worse.
  • IAPC = International Association of Police Chiefs. Meet & talk with other chief, training in things that pertain to managing police departments.
  • Most police agencies are 50 employees or under.
  • Consent Decree re police abuses.
  • CA Attorney General has the authority to investigate police departments in CA.
  • Maywood PD shut down –> Sheriff’s department contracted to patrol.
  • Civilian Oversight can take many forms. Individuals calling to complain about police behavior, there can be a civilian oversight board, that board might have the power to issue subpoenas and have special training in these matters.
  • Chief Seabrooks answers to the city manager. They have done team-building exercises together. (Until proven wrong, I am going to believe that the city manager is Chris Traeger and these ‘team-building exercises’ were slightly goofy until something went hilariously awry and became a real life episode of Parks and Recreation.)
  • A police department isn’t going to be 50/50 male/female until society changes the way it teaches/enforces gender roles. A more realistic goal would be 80/20.
  • The Sheriff’s department has a higher number of women because women are needed to police their jails.
  • The Santa Monica Police Department has included Hispanic officers since it was created.
  • The first black officers joined the Santa Monica PD in the 1930s. They weren’t allowed to enter white homes or arrest white suspects.
  • The Santa Monica Police Department is far more diverse than the community it serves.
  • “The police department works in the best interests of the community”
  • Corrosive nature of politics in policing.
  • “Unintended consequences” <– another thing I wrote down with no context. I don't think it needs any specific context though, I think the fact that it was said by an officer of the law in any context is huge. Intent is not at all similar to outcome. In my opinion a lot of problems, both in law enforcement and society in general, would be better served if more people understood this. I could talk about this A LOT, with examples and numbers even, but this post is already long and late. Ask me in person if you want to hear my rant-o-gram on the topic.
  • SMPD’s biggest need at the moment is more people.
  • “Like toothpaste, squeeze the tube and out pops the chief.” <– best quote from the night

“The profession was taking a beating over things caught on social media” is something the Chief said in class that caught my attention not for what she meant, but her word choice. The profession was taking a beating over things caught on social media? What’s that, a beating you say?? Okay, I don’t actually know the Chief well enough to know her sense of humor (despite our new status as ‘besties’) or how she feels about puns so I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. If you’re someone who thinks it was an incredibly clever way to very subtly throw shade, then yes, our Chief is awesome like that. If you think anything else, it was something that made me giggle for its unintended meaning.

During the discussion we watched the video above and talked about it a little. More context was given to us, followed by more discussion. There was not enough class time and too much ‘class’ to get to, so we didn’t get to talk about this enough.

Told ya.

Feel free to press ‘play’ and go to lunch. Your co-workers won’t mind.

This week I was able to ask both Chief Seabrooks and Deputy Chief Venegas my question about the closest entertainment media has come to accurately reflecting the realities of law enforcement. (Captain Lowe already answered back in Week 5.) Chief Seabrooks agrees with everyone who’s answered The Wire. Deputy Chief Venegas answered (as you may have guessed from the video above) Law & Order. (Dun-dun)

As always, we end with a palm tree pic!

Wait! Don’t go yet! We have late breaking news…
Only days after cementing our ‘besties for life’ status, Chief Seabrooks announced her retirement.

That totally means I can sleep over whenever I want. I’m pretty sure. 😉

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?