Tag Archives: Police

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 11

Catch up on previous posts here.

Week 11 – Jennifer Thinks She is Annie Oakley Now

This week’s class was all about firearms. We learned a bit about the weapons that the Santa Monica Police Department uses and how the officers are trained. Wisely, we were not allowed to shoot actual guns but we did get to see the firing range and use the simulator.

  • The Range Master is responsible for issuing, keeping track of, maintaining, and testing all of the weapons, armor, etc.
  • Team of 20 instructors in all
  • The Range Master also serves as a taser instructor, 1 qualification per month.
  • Officers are required to have 8 hours of training in “perishable skills” every two years. Perishable skills are things that have to be practiced to be maintained.
  • Using a shorter barrel shotgun like SMPD has requires special training on top of everything else.
  • Officers are trained in low light and no light situations.
  • Rookies are put in stressful situations in the simulator and then asked afterwards why they did what they did. This is also good training if they ever have to testify in court.
  • FTO = field training officer
  • LAPD has different training procedures than SMPD, but lots of overlap.
  • Law enforcement agencies in So Cal often train together because there are so many so close together around here.
  • There are 79 domains officers will learn and be tested on.
  • Training/standards mandated by POST (Police Officer Standards & Training)
  • 9mm – can carry more bullets
  • Officers shoot to stop a threat, no “warning shots” or anything like that.
  • Officers are trained to aim for the upper respiratory region to stop oxygenated blood from getting to the brain. Shooting someone in the leg (for example) very often doesn’t stop the threat.
  • It is extremely difficult to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand, contrary to what TV & movies tell us.
  • An officer’s choice of weapon should be determined by the situation.
  • Most people shoot better with a rifle because of the longer barrel.
  • Some bigger, heavier bullet proof vests stop knives. The lighter ones do not.
  • Not all law enforcement agencies have their own range. Because SMPD does, they can do their own qualifications.
  • Any training farther than 25 yards and they schlep out to A Place To Shoot.
  • Simunition – training ammo, if you get hit it hurts and will leave a mark.

This is what happens when bullet proof glass is shot. Maybe “bullet resistant” would be a better name for it because with the right gun at the right distance and enough ammo you could easily break through.

It’s kind of beautiful in a strange way…

  • In any police shooting where someone is hit, the officer is required to see a mental health professional before they are cleared for duty. (They don’t have to talk if they choose not to, but they have to go.)
  • There are also officers who are confidential “peer support” so an officer always has someone to talk to. If they are more comfortable, they can go talk to peer support at other agencies.
  • There is a specific mental health professional who SMPD officers can go see for any reason, paid for by the city.

  • Officers are accountable for every shot they fire.
  • Weapons training isn’t just about marksmanship, they also talk about what to do in various scenarios so an officer never has to stop and think about what they are supposed to do.
  • “The first time you see something shouldn’t be out in the field.”

(Click for full size)

(Click for full size)

This week gave me one opportunity to ask my question about when entertainment media has gotten closest to the realities of law enforcement. The answer I was given is End of Watch, something I have heard as a response a lot.

Palm Tree pic!

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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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.’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

(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.) ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • 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 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. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

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?

Click for Photo Gallery

Photo Post

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 7

Catch up on previous weeks here

Week 7 – Tickets and Crashes and Drunk Driving, Oh My!

This week was all about cars, but not in the fun Oprah ‘here’s a free one’ way. Nope, this was about what not to do, or what to do when there’s a problem. Suzie got the class started, but then had to sneak away to do something else.

Collision Investigations

  • Community Service Officers are civilian employees who assist sworn personnel.
  • Community Service Officers take “stale” reports.
  • If your car is 2008 or later it has a “black box” which will tell them exactly how fast you were going.
  • Community Service Officers work the day shift but are on call at night.
  • Female Community Service Officers assist in the jail when there are no female jailers.
  • Police don’t take reports for a non-injury collision, it is a civil matter.
  • Totally okay to carry proof of insurance on your phone now.
  • Cars are engineered to crumple around you in a collision.
  • Europe has higher safety standards for automobiles, so we usually benefit from that.
  • Takata airbags will deploy with small pieces of metal which act like shrapnel and are very dangerous. Check here or here to see if your car is affected.
  • 13% of the population is over 65. Aging changes the way light enters your eye, so no matter what you say, your vision gets worse when you age.
  • Some older drivers tell officers that they don’t make left turns. (I take exception to this… Making left turns in certain places in LA is like playing Russian roulette. I frequently used to drive a longer route home before I moved to avoid left turns. If you avoid left turns because you can’t see or are a bad driver, that’s what makes it a ‘thing,’ not avoiding left turns just because they are left turns. I think that sometimes driving out of the way to approach a destination from a particular side is the safest thing to do.)
  • You can request the DMV Re-examine someone who has a valid driver’s license if you believe there is some reason they shouldn’t be driving. The form is here.
  • Airbags cocoon you, keep you in place.
  • When cars are engineered, way more goes into the safety designs than you or I think.
  • Taxi drivers are responsible for knowing the vehicle code, Uber and Lyft drivers don’t really know any more than the average driver.
  • Uber and Lyft drivers may not have insurance that covers you.
  • State requirements for reporting a collision: damage greater than $900 ~OR~ any injury, no matter how minor.
  • Look ahead when you are driving and think about the time and distance it takes to stop your car.
  • Wear your seat belt.
  • If at first something looks dangerous, it is.
  • You will not react as fast as you think you will.
  • Hands free cell phones are still a major distraction.
  • Unsecured pets in the car can be extremely dangerous.
  • “We can’t stop the public from being the public” <– best quote from this section of class.

If I had to summarize this part of class it would be this: distracted driving is BAD. This is kind of another ‘duh’ statement, but I’m not just talking about texting or drunk driving or the things that are illegal. Flipping through radio stations (or iPod playlists), trying to eat a burger, talking on speakerphone, even talking to passengers can be a distraction. If you’re not paying attention for whatever reason you are dangerous. It’s not worth the potential crash/injury/death. It’s not worth risking the harm you could do to others. It’s just not. Pull over, call back later, listen to the song you hate, whatever it takes, just be safe.

Traffic Services

  • Traffic Services Officers assist both the police department and the fire department.
  • Traffic Services Officers mostly do parking enforcement and citation (tickets.)
  • Also traffic control.
  • It’s more of a customer service job than anything.
  • Sometimes traffic services is the first on scene for an accident and they have to call dispatch for EMS, Fire, etc.
  • Don’t park with any part of your car in the red zone. It’s a $64 ticket and you know better than to do that. (I’m shaking my head at you in case you couldn’t tell)
  • Parking in a bus zone is dangerous for all of the passengers trying to get on/off the bus, and will earn you a $304 ticket.
  • In the above scenario it would be at an officer’s discretion to write the ticket as a red zone or a bus zone.
  • Not having current tags is a $25 ticket unless you have a TOP. (temporary operating permit)
  • If a car has tags that are 6 months expired, it can be towed.
  • If a plate number comes up as expired but has valid tags the car is impounded and referred for investigation. (So if you’re one of those people who steals tags off somebody else’s car instead of paying the DMV for your own, it’s going to backfire on you in a big way. Also you’re an asshole.)
  • In California you need two plates on your car or you’ll get a $25 “fix it” ticket.
  • LPR = License plate reader, they find so many stolen cars this way.
  • In Santa Monica it’s cool to park during street sweeping once the sweeper goes by. In LA you’ll still get a ticket.
  • They’ll usually give you a 5 minute grace period off what the sign says.
  • Parking during street sweeping is a $64 ticket. Broken cars are not exempt from this. Neither are cars with disabled plates/placards.
  • Parking in a disabled space is a $399 ticket. If the curb is blue and there’s a sign it counts as a handicapped space, even if it’s not painted on the ground.
  • In a green zone the time limit will be painted on the curb. (Disabled plates/placard have no time limit.)
  • They are switching away from marking tires to using computer photos.
  • White/loading zones are in effect 24 hours a day
  • If your car has a clean air sticker you don’t have to pay the meter, but you can only stay for the posted time limit. (Disabled plates/placard have no time limit.)
  • If a parking meter is broken you don’t have to pay, but the time limit is still enforced.
  • They want to explain the situation to you and turn it in to a “teachable moment.”
  • Be nice to them, they’re just doing their jobs.

DUI Investigations

Driving under the influence is such a big problem in our society* that there are officers who specialize in this. The officer who came in to teach us about this attended a specialized DUI school in Carlsbad.

*(Gee, who would have thought a society that glorifies both cool cars/fast driving and alcohol would have a problem with drunk driving? It’s a real head scratcher.) (Read that in the most sarcastic voice you can muster.)

A lot of abbreviations and acronyms were going to be thrown at us, so we started by going over what they meant.

  1. DUI = DWI = 502 = ‘Deuce’ = All mean ‘driving under the influence’
  2. Obs = Observation
  3. T-stop = Traffic stop
  4. SFST = Standardized Field Sobriety Test
  5. T/C = Traffic collision
  6. CVC (VC) = California Vehicle Code (vehicle code)
  7. BAC = Blood alcohol content
  8. PC = Probable cause
  9. “I’ve only had 2 beers officer” = “I’m totally hammered officer”

  • Teens are in twice as many collisions as adult drivers
  • Officers will ask you multi-tasking questions on purpose to observe how you respond
  • If the officer smells alcohol in the car, they will try to separate the driver from the passengers. The driver might be ‘designated’ and totally sober while the passengers are three sheets to the wind.
  • In the 70’s there were no standardized tests for when someone was pulled over, each department sort of made their own rules and guidelines.
  • Some mouth sprays have a high alcohol content and can actually register as legally drunk if you blow into a breathalyzer within 15 minutes of using them.
  • A breathalyzer will give results right away, and you’ll be arrested on 2 charges.
  • A blood test means going to the station, results will be available in a month, and you’ll be arrested on 1 charge.
  • Urine tests are no longer available.
  • A DUI report is 16 pages of paperwork (at least!) for the officer, they’re not arresting drunk drivers just for fun. (Duh)

There are alternate tests, but the three main field sobriety tests are:

  1. Horizontal gaze/Nystagmus
  2. Walk & turn
  3. One leg stand

For the record those are the same “tests” I get every time I see my neurologist, and I always flunk. When I was first diagnosed with MS I was given a lot of advice, but one of the things that really stayed with me was “expect to be stopped by the cops in public” and to “always carry medical records proving your diagnosis.” That was 8 years ago and I’ve never had to produce medical records to any law enforcement, but I have them on me at all times and as I get worse I expect it’ll happen eventually. I have a friend with MS this happened to, but the officers were nice and offered her a ride home when they figured out she wasn’t drunk in public she was just having a particularly hard time walking that day.

At this point Suzie had returned to the room and was quietly hanging out in the corner.

Notice the bottle of wine that mysteriously appeared when Suzie did? Yeah, me too.

After discussing the field sobriety tests with us, the officer demonstrated…. using Suzie as our “suspected drunk driver.” (Can you tell where this is going yet?)

In that trying-too-hard, hesitant way that drunk people have used since the dawn of time mistakenly believing it makes them seem sober, Suzie went through the field sobriety test. It was ADORABLE!!!

“Do you have any physical defects?” <– actual question the officer asked Suzie

After flunking the tests (she did about as well as I would have) the officer had Suzie blow into the breathalyzer. You guessed it, legally drunk! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I know the lesson we were supposed to learn from this is a very serious one, how quickly you can go from sober to legally drunk, even just a couple of glasses of wine with dinner can get you drunk etc… but it was just such a fun set-up that all I could do was giggle. Let me be perfectly clear though, there is no excuse for driving under the influence. That means alcohol, weed, cold medicine, whatever. It’s always a choice to get behind the wheel. If you have enough money to go out to the bar and enjoy some alcoholic beverages but you don’t have enough money to pay for a taxi/uber/lyft home, than you don’t have enough money for a night out. Any excuse you think you have is just you being a selfish, entitled jerk because you are putting other people’s lives at risk. I’m so serious that I have ended friendships over this. (There were other issues, but when I found out about the drunk driving it told me all I needed to know about how that person viewed the world and their place in it.)

I just like this picture because it looks like she’s checking out the officer’s rear end, even though she really wasn’t. (I’m an idiot.)

THERE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE FOR DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE!!!

Okay yelling at you is a pretty lousy way to end this section so please take a moment to enjoy the most adorable story I’ve ever read about driving when you shouldn’t.

This week I was able to ask one officer my question about entertainment media. The answer was another police based reality show like Cops, so I think I’m going to make ‘reality programming’ its own category of answer. I dismissed reality TV as a non-answer when this started, so either it’s the go-to “I don’t care about your question” answer or I was wrong to dismiss it. (Probably the later.)

It’s palm tree time!

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 6

Catch up on previous weeks here

Week 6 – POLICE PUPPIES!!!!!!! (I like the alliteration)

Before we get into what I learned this week I want to introduce you to Suzie, who is in charge of our class and probably a lot of other things at the police department.

What I wrote under “additional comments” is a pretty typical smart-alec-y comment for me, but don’t let that make you think it’s not 100% true. (Suzie is the same Suzie I made a cryptic mention of in Week 4’s post as the “Mom” of the Explorers, which makes perfect sense if you’ve ever met her.) I’ve mentioned a few times how the unstructured parts of the curriculum are sometimes the most interesting and how just ‘chatting’ with some of the officers is my favorite part. Well that holds true for Suzie, except times a jillion. Suzie keeps the class on track, (even the officers) never tells me how annoying I am, (which is a perfectly valid response to spending time with me) and is always ready with some tidbit about law enforcement in general, the SMPD in particular, or just some random fascinating factoid. (About the windows in the dispatch center, training an officer, etc…) It’s the exact stuff that makes the class not just interesting, but fun.

Suzie really could teach the class all by herself. And it’s awfully nice of her to let the officers play. I stand by my comment.

The first part of class was devoted to learning about the department’s scruffiest officers. I don’t mean the kind who overslept and didn’t have time to shave before work, I’m talking about the K-9 variety. Santa Monica PD has 3 police dogs: Felix, Boris, and Rambo. (We’ll talk more about them later.) All three dogs come from the Czech Republic and “speak” Czeck. SMPD gets them from a vendor, Alderhorst Police K-9, who gets them over in Europe and provides dogs to most of the law enforcement agencies around here. Dog shows are different in Europe, instead of breeding for looks they are bred for skill, and dog shows are where they shine. All of SMPD’s K-9 officers are “titled.” (Which makes them sound like Dukes or Earls or something, and now I want an all dog version of Downton Abbey to exist.)

  • All 3 police dogs are Belgian Malinois. (Similar to German Sheperds.)
  • Dogs used for searching (a bad guy, drugs, bombs etc…)
  • The same dog can’t be trained on narcotics and explosives.
  • All police officers want to be (human) K-9 officers, it’s the best assignment. (According to the human K-9 officers at least.)
  • Narcotics dogs are trained to find Cocaine, Meth, Heroin, and Marijuana.
  • Detection training is all playtime, no discipline.
  • The dogs never “think” for themselves when they are working, the human officer indicates to the dog when it’s time to act.
  • Like with elite athletes, muscle sprains and other injuries are common.
  • “We’re all dog guys here, we’re a little nutty” <– I'm calling B.S. on this. Anyone who isn’t a ‘dog person’ is a little nutty.
  • A dog’s nose is still more accurate than anything technology can provide.
  • SMPD is getting a 4th dog sometime this summer.
  • Usually more tenured officers are selected to be a K-9 officer’s human partner.
  • Cadaver dog is its own specialty
  • Between 10-12 grand for a dog, around $30,000 after training.
  • Belgian Malinois have a longer lifespan than a German shepherd.
  • If you are a human K-9 officer the city will build you a kennel at your house. The police department will pay for dog food. Your K-9 partner is always with you, on duty and off.
  • A K-9 police car is the same in the front but the backseat is a kennel.
  • All 3 of SMPD’s dogs are male. Females cost twice as much.
  • Human K-9 officers carry their weapons differently than their co-workers, and have different gear on their belts.
  • Human K-9 officers carry something that looks like a pager. The display tells them what the temperature is in the car and alerts them if it gets too hot. If the button is pressed the car door will open and the dog will spring into action.
  • Can’t put dog in a situation they’ve never been in before.
  • Dogs are trained to bite and hold. If a suspect has multiple dog bites it means they were fighting the dog, pulling it off etc…
  • Aggressive alert vs passive alert (stare intently)
  • A special toy is used to tell them it is time to sniff

Now I would like to introduce you to my 3 favorite Santa Monica Police Officers (no disrespect to any of the other cops I’ve met, but c’mon, they’re police puppies!!! Other officers never stood a chance with me.)

Boris, Rambo, and Felix are all total sweethearts. I know they mean business and I’m sure they are scary when they need to be, but they were all such love bugs that it’s hard to picture them being anything but affectionate. I fawned all over them (as did the whole class I think) but Boris stole my heart. Felix tried to bite my ring off my finger which made me laugh because, well, if I could get away with biting jewelry off people I would. Rambo seemed totally chill, just eating up the attention. Boris was my special buddy though, we formed a real connection. He likes leaning on things (I was told) and I like cuddles. He gave me kisses without slobbering all over me. Basically, he’s the perfect boyfriend.

Now it’s time for survey results… Of the officers I interacted with this week a sort of group answer was reached. The closest movies and tv have come to the reality of law enforcement is Southland and Cops. Both answers I have heard before. Hmm…

I gave myself a patrol car. Sorta.

Next up was Forensics. It’s exactly what you think it is, but maybe not in the way you think. I was told that CSI comes pretty close to reality, except one person doesn’t do everything, and things happen a lot slower than on TV.

  • Forensics is made up of all civilian employees
  • Main functions of forensics: crime scene investigations, evidence processing, fingerprint comparison, and courtroom testimony.
  • The average day varies, but it’s mostly fingerprint comparison and report writing.
  • Documentation takes the form of photos, sketches of the crime scene, and notes. Photos are overall, mid-range, and close up. The sketches are done in a computer program called Scene PD.
  • Tools in a forensics kit include a fingerprint kit, DNA swabs, an electrostatic duster, a print lifter, Luminol, blood/body fluid testing equipment, and other things I didn’t write down. (Sorry!)
  • They only need 12 skin cells to get DNA.
  • The minimum to get hired is a Bachelor’s in Bio or Chem but it’s a really competitive field so you really need your Master’s.
  • ACE-V = Analysis Comparison Evaluation + Verification.
  • If you are trying to identify a suspect through fingerprints you can only search in a criminal database. If you’re trying to identify a victim you can search every database. (In class it was brought up that the criminal database includes everyone who was ever arrested, so guilt or innocence doesn’t affect anything, just being arrested means you’re in the database. So much for ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ I don’t get why they can’t search every database for either thing, anyone know?)
  • Time at a crime scene can run 1-3 hours for a burglary and days for a murder, it just depends. The evidence that is collected can take months to process.
  • Luminol shows the location of blood diluted over a kazillion times, so even if you think you cleaned a crime scene really well they’re going to figure it out. (“A kazillion times” is literally what I wrote in my notebook.)
  • Fingerprints can be left through surgical gloves
  • If you’re trying to burn off your fingerprints, you need to burn off your whole palm to remove the pattern.
  • But that’s probably not going to help much because scars tend to be really distinctive.
  • And you need to seriously reevaluate your life choices because whoa…

We were taken to the forensics lab where there was no photography, but a whole lot of really cool stuff. We were shown examples of different things but here’s where things took a bit of a turn (dun dun dun!) It was already a bad pain day for me, but this is when my asshole of a right arm decided to stop cooperating. A working forensics lab is a very bad place for someone who cant control her arm so I just kind of loitered around outside the door and snooped in their closet. (Male and female mannequins and a box labelled ‘Halloween decorations.’ So a pretty typical work closet.)

Instead of a palm tree pic, we are going to end this week’s post a little differently. Go ahead and read the text in the photo below…

If you are anywhere near Santa Monica on Wednesday, April 12th between 10am and 2pm please consider stopping by to join the registry. They’ll give you free ice cream, and you could help save someone’s life. If you’re not free that day or if you live nowhere near Santa Monica, you can go here to look up times/places that work for you, or just register online. If medical stuff is “icky” or you just prefer to show your support with your wallet, that’s okay too. Click anywhere on the image above and you’ll be taken to Maria’s GoFundMe page. Please also consider posting on social media. This isn’t something overwhelming like ending world hunger, all it takes is one person, a match, seeing this information. I posted on Facebook here and Twitter here if you want to share/retweet my post. It’s so easy, and it could save someone’s life.

I promise more pictures of palm trees next week, because I just cant let go of a running joke…