Tag Archives: Santa Monica Community Police Academy

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Graduation!

Weeks 1 & 2 // Week 3 // Week 4 // Week 5 // Week 6 // Week 7 // Week 8 // Week 9 // Week 10 // Week 11 // Ride Along // Harbor Patrol

Well, I did it. I graduated from the Santa Monica Community Police Academy. (I say that as though it was a difficult thing to do, it’s not. You literally just show up and have fun.) I am not actually a cop now despite what the graphic above says, but I’m sure you knew that already since 1) becoming a police officer is a really hard thing that can’t actually be done in such a short amount of time and 2) I’ve claimed to be both Annie Oakley and Rambo on this blog so I pretty much assume you guys know when I’m making ridiculous statements for comedy’s sake.

The Santa Monica Police Department threw us a formal graduation ceremony at Casa Del Mar which is a gorgeous hotel right on the beach. There was food and drinks and mingling, and I got a chance to chat with a few people that I’d been hoping to see.

(Photo credit: Lauralee Asch / Santa Monica Police Department)

Suzie started us off and, as she always does, kept everything on track and running smoothly. The Chief (she’s my new my BFF, remember?) got up and said many wonderful things. There were two class participants who spoke after the Chief and guess what?? I was one of them! (Spoiler alert: I was dorky)

Certificates were handed out and photos were taken. It was a wonderful ceremony.

(Photo credit: Lauralee Asch / Santa Monica Police Department)

Here’s a video I made of some of the ceremony. (It’s the first video I’ve ever made so set your expectations accordingly.) You can hear the Chief speak, see me get my certificate, and hear my speech.

In my speech I talked about different things, a few of which I want to mention here. One of them was about the employees of the Santa Monica Police Department, both officers and civilians. In my speech I said that there wasn’t anyone I met that I wouldn’t at minimum want to go out with for nachos and margaritas. (I was craving nachos at the time but feel free to substitute any snack or beverage you want.) Some people because they were so awesome, others because I still have so many questions about what they taught me and want to know more, and one or two because I’d really like to have a respectful, civilized discussion about why something they said was just plain wrong. I’m not bringing it up to dunk on anyone, quite the opposite actually. Even the people I disagreed with seemed like people I wouldn’t mind spending more minutes of my life with. Even if we just argued. ๐Ÿ˜‰

There were so many things I learned over the course of this program, some a total surprise and others not so much. What I mean by that is, I already knew being a police officer was hard. But know I feel like I understand that statement a lot more. (I’ll never fully ‘get’ it, not being an actual officer.) Again and again in class we heard how officers are constantly expecting the worst at all times. I understand that and of course I fully support anything like that if it means officers going home to their families at night. I’m not in any way trying to dispute that mind set. I’m just trying to say that it sounds absolutely miserable to me and I don’t understand why any sane person would put themselves in that situation. Add that to what is already a ‘thankless job’ in a society where actions by some police officers reflect on all who wear the badge, whether they support those actions or not. I have to conclude that police officers as a group are either masochists, or they are men and women who are extremely devoted to their jobs and believe very much in what they are doing and its critical role in our society. If I had to choose which category the officers I interacted with fall into, it would definitely be the later.

If somebody was dumb enough to let me be a cop it would go something like this:

Because I am sort of obnoxious I bothered a certain police officer both in person and via email with questions about the police horses. (C’mon, can you blame me? Police Horsies!!!) He was lovely and answered my questions and told me stories so I would understand a bit more of what it was like to be assigned to the Mounted Unit and work with the horses.

  • Santa Monica has 5 horses in total. Burt, Barney, Iron Man, Sammy, and a new horse whose name I don’t know.
  • Burt is the “alpha” horse of the herd.
  • Iron Man has the best name of the group. (Duh!)
  • Spider just retired from the force and is off to Hollywood to become the next Mr. Ed. (He’s going to shoot a commercial or something like that.)
  • The horses are used during the Twilight Concert Series and other special events in Santa Monica.
  • When they’re not working the horses are out on a ranch out in Moorpark.
  • Like police dogs, the horses get top quality care and training
  • It takes 1-2 years of training before a horse is ready for police duty.
  • It takes about a year of training before a police officer is ready for horse duty.
  • Mounted officers train with the horses once a month.
  • Lots of law enforcement agencies around here have horses, so like weapons or SWAT training, they’ll often train together.
  • I asked if being assigned to the mounted unit was more like the K-9s where there is a special connection with the animal or if the horses were just another mode of transportation to the officer, kind of like a motorcycle that poops. In response I was shown a photo of one of the horses with a silly hat on his head so I am interpreting that to mean it’s closer to the former than the later.

Please enjoy these photos I took at/around the police station and didn’t get a chance to use in any of my other posts…

There were other random things I learned throughout this experience that didn’t really fit in any post.

  • The cop/donut jokes are old, knock it off. It was never about sugary desserts anyway, it’s about access to hot coffee 24 hours a day. It came up more than once during class, different officers every time, so I think it’s something they really want people to know. ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • There are rare circumstances where it’s not only acceptable, but actually commendable to get drunk at work! (Probably not the lesson I was supposed to take away from that class but I already knew drunk driving was bad… ยฏ\_(ใƒ„)_/ยฏ )
  • It is next to impossible to surreptitiously take pictures of police officers. No really, I could have a gallery exhibit called “Cops Side-Eyeing My Camera” after this class!
  • Like a real life episode of Santa Clarita Diet, LA Sheriffs are super quick to bad-mouth the SMPD. HAHAHA, from what I could tell it was all jealousy over nicer equipment and not any type of character judgement.

You should really follow the Santa Monica Police Department on social media because sometimes they post pictures like this one:

…which is one of the cutest things I have ever seen! I have no idea who took the photo, but it wasn’t me. And I’m not telling you which account I stole it from because I want you to click and explore:

SMPD on Twitter
SMPD Chief of Police on Twitter
SMPD on Instagram
SMPD on Facebook

There was one thing that was said in class that I thought was extremely powerful. The photo below is pretty bad (blame the photographer, oh wait…) but I love it because, to me at least, it is the visual representation of what was said.

“The most important piece of equipment police carry with them is a pen.”

Wow. That’s profound, and not something I expected to hear. I love it.

The Santa Monica Community Police Academy was such an amazing experience, I can’t recommend it enough. If you live, work, or go to school in Santa Monica you should sign up. If you live elsewhere you should contact your local Police Department and see what kind of community programs they offer. There were so many great things I learned in this program, but my one big complaint is that there wasn’t enough of it. The classes we had on various subjects weren’t long enough, and some things weren’t part of the curriculum at all. (Is there an ‘advanced’ community academy? Can I play with the doggies again? Can I meet the horsies? Will I finally get to realize my life-long dream of playing with a police siren?)

I want to formally thank the Santa Monica Police Department for letting me participate in the program, and for having a program like this in the first place. I’ve never lived in a place where I could be walking down the street and have a police officer wave hello at me as he drove by. (Actual thing that happened to me today.) It’s a nice feeling. I should also formally thank the SMPD for not tossing me in jail at any point, and yes, I’d have totally deserved it. You see, at the beginning of all of this I signed a waiver that said “I agree that I will not engage in any photographing, video recording, or other reproduction of any activity conducted by the Community Police Academy Program.”

Uh… oops?

Nope, can’t pull off ignorance, not even gonna try. I broke every one of those rules and I did so with full knowledge and enthusiasm. But unless someone is waiting for me to hit “publish” on this post before I get tossed in the slammer, (send Officer Cutie-Pie* if you’re going to arrest me?) I think I’m in the clear.

*(Not his real name.) (Duh.)

By the end of class I’d gained a few new friends, a ton of knowledge, and a lot of cool swag.

Me and my palm trees

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Harbor Patrol

Sky & Pacific Ocean

Weeks 1 & 2 // Week 3 // Week 4 // Week 5 // Week 6 // Week 7 // Week 8 // Week 9 // Week 10 // Week 11 // Ride Along

The final class of the Santa Monica Community Police Academy was held in the most beautiful classroom I have ever seen. No, there’s not a “luxury room” hidden away at the police station somewhere, we were learning about the Harbor Patrol Unit while on the ocean!

  • The Harbor Patrol Unit is a non-sworn, civilian unit made up of both full time and part time employees. Yes, the Harbor Patrol technically works for the police department, but a lot of what they do isn’t like “cop stuff” at all.
  • The Harbor Patrol’s main job is to respond to water emergencies. That can include recreational boats, commercial boats, kayaks, long distance swimmers, etc.
  • They also are responsible for maintaining buoys.
  • SMPD Harbor Patrol is part of the LAX Air/Sea Disaster Preparedness Plan.

  • To be part of the Harbor Patrol unit you need to be both an EMT and a scuba/rescue diver with at least 1 year life guarding experience in open water.
  • The EMT part is due to the amount of time it takes to get someone off a boat and on to dry land if there is a medical emergency.
  • Traffic being what it is, they are often the first responders to medical emergencies on the Santa Monica pier.

  • Harbor Patrol responds to deck fires on boats “quite often,” mostly from people smoking cigarettes.
  • The other call they respond to a lot is people who have fallen/jumped off the pier.
  • Harbor Patrol operates mostly at the Santa Monica pier & surrounding area, but will respond outside of Santa Monica city limits if a distress call is sent and they could get there before any other responders would.
  • SMPD’s main boat is a Seaway and is almost identical to lifeguard boats. (5 ft shorter, but with a bigger gate.)

This is the part where I just admit I have entirely too few ‘bullet points’ to justify what is entirely too many photos for one post.

I guess I think of the Harbor Patrol officers as one part diver and one part EMT, blended thoroughly and served up in a police crust.

I made a dumb video.

I’m sure there are some palm trees in there somewhere…

Santa Monica Police Department – Ride Along & Survey Results

As a participant in the Santa Monica Community Police Academy I was allowed to schedule a “ride along” if I wanted one. I’ve never been on a ride along before so it wasn’t even a question, I wanted to go! Every ride along is different because everything you see/learn depends on the calls you get, it’s impossible to predict the future after all, but that might just be the most important lesson to take away from the experience.

There isn’t any photography allowed while on a ‘ride along,’ this was the only picture I was able to sneakily take. And then I got “artsy” with it.

Generally speaking you show up at the police station right before a shift starts, sit in on ‘roll call,’ meet your new cop buddy, and then hit the streets catching bad guys and/or helping people. After about 4 hours your new cop buddy takes you back to the station, swears up and down that you haven’t haven’t annoyed them with your non-stop silly questions, and you’re done!

Uh… Some of that may only apply to me, now that I think about it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

My ride along was with C shift, so it was evening when I started. (You guys don’t even know how long I had “C is For Cookie” stuck in my head!) Roll call sort of seemed like homeroom in a strange kind of way. Attendance was taken and there were “school announcements” (department information etc.) No one was furiously copying their neighbor’s homework or trying to hide how sleepy they were,* so maybe it wasn’t that much like homeroom after all.

*(I mean that no one was sleepy, not that they were all yawning in the open or resting their heads on the table.)

Specific cases were discussed so everyone was working with the most current information, and I played a very quiet game of “guess the acronym” to myself. Some of them I knew from TV, some from class, and the rest I sort of guessed at. I would later learn that NFD stands for ‘no further description.’ Although I had two out of three words wrong, I’m giving myself credit for NFD because meaning wise my guess was 100% accurate. I was thinking ‘details’ instead of ‘description’ and I’ll let you figure out the rest on your own.

One of the walls in the roll call room has a very large depiction of the Santa Monica Police badges through the years. Now I have questions all about badges too. Why the change in 1915 from the star shape to the shield shape? I mean, both are cool, it’s just idle curiosity, but someone had to have wanted the change right? Things don’t just decide to change shape on their own, so what’s that all about? Same with the change in color from silvery to gold-ish in 1915 and back again in 1948. Is there a specific reason for the changes, or does it have more to do with who was mining what ores at the time? I think my biggest question is why the change in 1959 from “policeman” to “patrolman”? That makes no sense to me. I’m sure there’s a reason, but I don’t even know who would have that information or where to look for it.

After roll call was dismissed my partner for the night gave me a tour of that section of the station and we headed out to the patrol car. The most interesting part of the tour was actually watching people interact with “my” officer. Sometimes in an official manner, but usually not. Usually about work, but sometimes not. I’m not dumb, I know everyone knew there was an extra set of eyes on them and would have acted accordingly. Generally though, if I had to describe the ‘feeling’ or vibe I saw within the SMPD I’d have to say it was camaraderie and respect.

Actually, I should go back. The most interesting thing to me about roll call was sort of the same. Roll call is more formal than people passing each other in the hallway obviously, but it wasn’t just “here’s some info, now go to work” either. Officers were shown how to use a digital tool they have at their disposal and encouraged to play around with it until they were more comfortable. Officers were encouraged to think about strategy and operations they could develop and bring those ideas back to their supervisors. It was about making the community safer, but it was also about supporting/nurturing co-workers and employees to challenge themselves and grow. It was really nice to see.

On our way to the patrol car we passed the most gorgeous old police car but there was no time to stop and admire it. A little research online tells me that the car is an 1964 Plymouth Savoy. I’m not really a “car person” (unless we are talking about things like the Nethercutt collection) but this car is so adorably bad ass that I’m a little in love with it. (I tend to anthropomorphize everything around me.) I want to take pictures of it. I want to ride around town in it. I want to pull people over with that car. Mostly I want to watch people’s reactions to that car. Would they even take it seriously or would they be looking for hidden cameras?

We were finally ready to go, or so I thought. Nope, it’s not like jumping in the car to run an errand, there’s a whole list of things to do to make sure the patrol car and various equipment is ready for use. My ‘partner’ also showed me the computer system they use inside the car. Everything I was shown made sense, but collectively the amount of coded information on the screen is overwhelming. I’m sure it’s like anything else and becomes second nature after a while, but wow it was a lot!

We left the police station and headed out. We answered a number of different calls throughout the night, never getting the same kind of call twice. At one point there was a call to my home address about a neighbor, but that wasn’t answered by us. It just amused me to see from the opposite perspective.

Typically we’d get a call and look at the information on the car’s computer. My ‘partner’ would talk to me about what might potentially happen when we arrived and how we should arrive (depending on the type of call.) My ‘partner’ was always thinking ahead about the best/safest/most effective way to do their job. Sometimes the information the police were given was wrong, and officers had to sort out what they were actually dealing with and shift gears to respond to the situation.

Calls are prioritized so sometimes we’d arrive just after something happened and deal with it, but sometimes we’d go to calls that were hours and hours old and find nothing. That doesn’t have anything to do with laziness or whatever reason you’re thinking, it’s entirely about too many calls and not enough resources. Just like sick people in an emergency room, the lowest priorities are going to the bottom of the list.

There were a few procedural things I learned here and there, but mostly I found value in being able to fade into the background and watch. In nearly every civilian interaction I witnessed officers were treated as “the enemy” upon arrival, but always the dynamic would shift at some point as the civilian would try to put the officer into the role of “mommy/daddy” and expect the officer to “fix it,” whatever ‘it’ was. It was only a few hours worth of patrolling, and not every call resulted in a civilian interaction, but even in very different circumstances I saw that same shift. I also watched a civilian speaking very differently to a female officer than a male one. The civilian never crossed the line into being outright disrespectful, but the difference was noticeable. I just wanted to smack the jerk upside the head and say “dude, they’re both police officers, knock it off!”

I asked the female officer about what I’d seen and she didn’t really have anything to say about it. I mean, of course she only knows how people talk to her, it’s not like she does her job in someone else’s body occasionally, but it just aggravated me that it happened at all and makes me sad that it’ll probably happen her whole career. I also asked what it was like being a female officer in the Santa Monica Police Department and she didn’t really have an answer. She wasn’t blowing me off, she genuinely tried to satisfy my question, but there really wasn’t anything specific she could point to. The lack of an answer is actually its own type of answer, and I’m taking that to mean it is a non-issue in the SMPD. So really, it was the perfect answer.

I can’t really talk about the specifics of any of the calls we went to, but there was one that was so potentially dangerous that I was told to stay back and let the officers approach without me. I tried to surreptitiously watch from the shadows. It was too dark for me to get a ‘selfie,’ but it probably looked exactly like this:

I have no explanation that doesn’t involve brain damage.

Survey results!

Every week I’ve found at least one opportunity to ask an officer “When has TV or film come the closest to accurately showing what law enforcement is like?” (Or some variation of the same question.) I’m also including in the final tally a few responses from police officers I asked outside of normal class interaction. Two different law enforcement agencies other than SMPD are represented. I asked my ‘favorite cop of all time’ (hi Brad, miss you!) what his thoughts were on the subject. I also had to invent a reason to talk to a sheriff on a Metro platform in downtown LA because he was one of the most attractive men I have ever seen (shut up, I’m allowed to be shallow sometimes) so into the survey he went. It’s not like this was a super scientific survey or anything, but now you can’t accuse me of misrepresenting the data.

Final tallies:
End of Watch – 6
Southland – 5
Cops (and other “reality” TV) – 5
The Wire – 4
Reno 911 – 3
Law & Order – 2
Lethal Weapon – 1
CHiPs – 1

If there was a “winner” it would be End of Watch. I haven’t seen it and don’t know much about it, but it is going on my “To Watch” list after this. Based on the title I’m guessing it doesn’t end happily, so I’m going to keep some tissues nearby when I watch it.

I checked the IMDB credits and here’s what I saw:

Chief Seabrooks was involved and it’s the best Hollywood has done. Yeah, that makes sense. I get it now. Winner.

Southland and Cops/”reality” TV are the other two responses that I heard the most. (Southland is the show one officer found so realistic he couldn’t watch it!) As for Cops and other “reality” television, I’m still skeptical. Maybe this reveals the most interesting thing about the results though. I think, looking over the variety of the answers, it’s pretty obvious that whatever question I thought I was asking the person at the other end was hearing something different. I think some officers heard the question with law enforcement overall in mind and other officers were hearing me ask about their specific job. There’s no right or wrong answer, although I’m guessing “Lethal Weapon” was a joke answer and not an attempt to start a conversation about mental health and the particular challenges police officers face. But maybe I’m wrong. ยฏ\_(ใƒ„)_/ยฏ

No one answered Brooklyn Nine Nine which surprised me a little. Not because I thought it’s accurate or anything, its humor is ridiculous, but because it is a current show and when the B99 writers want to make a serious point they do it incredibly well. (Did anyone watch the episode where Terry is detained for being black in public?)

I’m also a little bummed that no one answered Scott & Bailey. I didn’t expect to hear that as an answer, but it means I need to continue my search for someone who works in law enforcement and has seen the show. Unlike American crime shows where the “bad guy” is a 4th act reveal, a lot of Scott & Bailey’s drama comes from building the case so the criminal can be charged. The audience and the police both know who the “bad guy” is early in the episode. I have no idea if Scott & Bailey is accurate or if they are just telling a story in a different way than I’m used to, but it would be fascinating to talk to someone in law enforcement and get their take on it.

It’s not quite a “palm tree pic” but this wasn’t a normal class post so I’ve decided it counts.

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

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.)


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…

Santa Monica Community Police Academy – Week 5

Week 5 – “Treat Everybody with Dignity and Respect, But Always Have A Way to Kill Them”
— Captain Lowe

That quote was a little scary, so here’s his photo. Look at that smile! (Feel better now?)

Photo credit: no clue, not me

This week’s first topic was “Rules of Arrest” which we’ll get to in a minute. First I want to (re)introduce you to Captain Lowe. He oversees the Operations Division and the class met him at the first session, but I didn’t realize at the time that he has his Master’s in “the Zombie Apocalypse.” To be honest, I didn’t even know that was a thing you could get a Master’s in and I now immediately regret every life decision I’ve ever made.

It sounds like I’m pulling your leg, doesn’t it? Not really. Captain Lowe has his Master’s in “Emergency Services Administration” which I’m sure is just what it sounds like, and I will now refuse to call anything other than “Zombie Apocalypse Management” because that’s just who I am. ( ยฏ\_(ใƒ„)_/ยฏ ) It’s probably disaster management & logistics, the science of effective allocation of resources when your ‘resources’ are in flux or just next to nothing, the psychology of dealing with a traumatized population, that kind of thing. (I could google it and find out I’m sure, but I’ll just make myself sad if I’m wrong and it has nothing to do with zombies after all.) In Santa Monica that’s probably regional stuff like earthquakes along with more general disasters like fire or flood, and major outbreaks of disease. Like what to do in the case of an illness spreading throughout the population so quickly and dramatically that people are just sort of wandering around looking for help, too sick and confused to really know what they are doing, until they finally collapse in the streets. You know, a zombie apocalypse!!!

I have so many questions, I don’t even know where to start. Do people have doctorates in this, is that even a thing? (Would they accept a zombie themed dissertation if the work was solid, just presented in a silly way?) How much of what Captain Lowe learned getting his Master’s applies to day-to-day law enforcement, or is it things that only apply in huge disasters? Was this a particular area he’d always been interested in? Why or why not? Does it make it impossible to enjoy ‘disaster’ movies now, or are they more fun? What do I do in the event of a west coast based Sharknado? (Do you think I’m kidding???)

Captain Lowe briefly went over his background with the Santa Monica Police Department (24 years!) which only made me want to ask him a million more questions… How is one assignment different from another one? (And different from the next, and the next…) Which one surprised him the most? Which one did he like the most? Does he ever miss any of them, or is he very happy being a big shot Captain and doing Captain-y things? And what are those Captain-y things like anyway? Is it mostly meetings in conference rooms and internal politics at that level? What is his day to day job actually like? Forget a “ride along” with a patrol officer, I want a “ride along” with Captain Lowe!

In a previous class we’d gotten to speak to someone who also had a long career in law enforcement, but his was at a number of different agencies. That’s where all that stuff I learned about SMPD vs LAPD tactics came from. It wasn’t part of the curriculum necessarily, but it made the class better just being able to chat about that officer’s history and experiences. I bet just casually chatting with Captain Lowe about his 24 years with the SMPD would have been similarly fascinating, teaching me things I’d never even think to ask about.

I was too busy writing down questions I wanted to ask to catch it exactly, but Captain Lowe said something about teaching at Ventura College and my ears perked right up. Ah VC, the site of many of my victories and even more of my defeats…

The Santa Monica Police Department building is really beautiful

We jumped right in to the presentation on “Rules of Arrest” which is something I knew nothing about. (The only thing I was taught about this as a kid was ‘if you do something bad, the police will come and arrest you’ so the only “rule” about arrest I know is ‘don’t do bad things.’) Oh sure, I know all the phrases from TV, but knowing what they actually mean in a legal sense is totally different.

There are three different types of ‘Police Contact’

  1. Consensual encounter – this could be initiated by either side. Stopping an officer to ask for directions etc… Also the other way around, when an officer stops and asks “is everything okay here?” (Even when they really mean “I know what you’re doing, you are so busted.”) At this point either party can terminate the contact and it’s all good.
  2. Detention – Nope, you can’t leave. The officer may be asking you questions or running a search on something etc…
  3. Arrest – Handcuffs, no safe word

Looking down in to the foyer of the building

Captain Lowe used short videos to great effect throughout his presentation, they’re here if you’re curious.

One of the pieces of beautiful art we walked past

  • Don’t tell a cop “I know my rights,” show them you know your rights with your behavior (I’m pretty sure that just means acting like an asshole to a cop isn’t going to go over well, which… duh.)
  • What we think of as SVU they call CAPS (Crimes Against Persons)
  • POST = Police Officer Standards and Training, continuing education for cops
  • Do you have to show ID to police? If you’re an adult it depends on the circumstances but probably yes. If you’re a minor it also depends but probably not. If you’re driving the answer is always yes.
  • Captain Lowe –> his officers “If you can’t prove it, you have to let them go” and “A crook is a crook, you’ll get them another day”
  • People always think “match the suspect’s description” is what cops say when they want an excuse to bother them, but sometimes the descriptions they’re given really are so vague a bazillion people fit them.
  • Terry stop – Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio
  • “Reasonable suspicion” is a legal standard less than “probable cause” (the legal standard for arrests & warrants) but must be more than a suspicion or hunch. It must be based on something specific and articulable
  • A male officer can’t pat down a female suspect unless it’s totally unreasonable to wait for a female officer to arrive, etc. There are rules about how to touch, what part of the hand to use, etc.
  • A female officer can pat down a male suspect, no biggie. (That’s sexist.)
  • “Reasonable officer standard” – the legal standard/what the court asks is “what would a reasonable officer do?”
  • “Probable cause” – circumstances leading an officer to believe that a suspect committed a crime, requires more than mere reasonable suspicion but does not require one to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
  • As an officer you don’t always have to issue a citation to someone, if you’re polite you can sometimes turn it into a teachable moment. (Can I just say how much I LOVE that Captain Lowe said that?!!)
  • Can the police lie to you? Yes.
  • “It’s about the process, not the outcome.”
  • An officer shooting a suspect in the back is sometimes about the Officer’s reaction time – the suspect knows he’s going to resist before the officer does. (I have so many questions about this.)
  • Just because you’re arrested doesn’t always mean you’re Mirandized. (TV lied to me.)

There was SO MUCH to cover and not enough time with Captain Lowe so I was only able to ask one question. As much as I was dying to ask the zombie question, (see what I did there?) I continued with my survey. According to Captain Lowe the closest entertainment media has gotten to accurately portraying the reality of law enforcement is ‘The Wire,’ which I have never seen but have always heard is amazing.

“I am releasing a list of people who have annoyed me this week. Further names will be released as they become available. No questions at this time.”

Even I can’t take myself seriously

A picture of the podium with 100% less dork in the frame

Next up was “Public Safety Communications” which is a fancy way of saying 911. (AKA those people you never think about until you need them, but when you need them boy are you glad they’re there!) This part of class was taught by 2 people, but if I follow my personal rule about only naming names of people who are specifically named on their department’s website that means I’m going to introduce you to one and not the other. Which is really odd… Don’t read into this okay? Both of our ‘teachers’ were wonderful, clearly loved their jobs, and full of fascinating info to share.

911 is part of the Office of Emergency Management. Christopher Herren is the Communications Administrator.

I like neatly labeled things, be they office supplies or offices.

Under Christopher Herren are 1 staff assistant, 5 dispatch supervisors, and 24 dispatchers. They handle all dispatch for the Police Department, Traffic Services, Animal Control, the Jail, the Fire Department, and Emergency Medical Dispatch. If the system were to go down for some reason there is a switch that reroutes all calls to the UCLA Police Department. (I really wanted to ask about this switch. Is it on the wall somewhere or behind a bunch of locks? Can anyone ‘flip the switch’ so it gets flipped as soon as possible after the system goes down or is it more like a nuclear launch where people with keys and secret codes are involved?)

UPDATE: Christopher Herren is awesome, and answered me on twitter

Arclight has nothing to do with 911, they’re just visible through the window

This is the actual dispatch center. Yes, that is Lethal Weapon on the TV. No, it doesn’t mean anything, it was random. Yes, it amused me way more than it should have. The display thingie by the ceiling (its official name, probably) is similar to what we had in the call center I worked in a bajillion years ago, but instead of people calling to complain about billing, this is 911, people’s calls are actually urgent. The letters and numbers show everyone what’s going on in a general way. I mean info like how many operators are available, how many 911 calls are holding (if it’s busy) and for how long, etc. The bottom row (where it says “ADM”) is the same info but for administrative calls. One side is for Police Department, the other for Fire Department. (I think. This part is all from memory.) The actual dispatchers sit in desks with screens all around. The first thing I thought of when we saw the room was the Mission Control Center at JSC.

Did anyone doubt I’d find a way to work NASA in here eventually?

The dispatchers don’t all face the same way and there aren’t any ginormous screens at the front displaying the International Space Station (shame, that) but each dispatcher has multiple screens at their workstation similar to the MCC. From what I could see of their screens these dispatchers are probably the world’s most highly trained professional multi-taskers.

  • They can get busy anytime, day or night. Most of their calls are during the day, though. Day shift has 2x the staff.
  • They handle 350,000 calls per year. 75,000 of those are 911 calls.
  • These days 80% of all 911 calls are coming from cell phones.
  • If a crime has occurred and police and fire are both dispatched but the fire department gets there first they have to stage until the police secure the scene.
  • Questions are asked in a certain order in order to get the most important information to responders as quickly as possible.
  • Help is already on the way while dispatchers are talking to you.
  • Dispatchers work in 12 hour shifts and can have mandatory overtime.
  • Dispatchers often calm down panicked people on site. The example we were given was a medical emergency 911 call where a medical professional was on scene and had to be reminded not to do CPR on the bed, to move the non-responsive person to the floor.
  • Santa Monica’s dispatchers can’t afford to live in Santa Monica.
  • In CA dispatchers have 120 hours of training, plus ongoing training. EMD is a separate 40 hours of training.
  • Mobile 911 routing takes longer and is less accurate, but improving.
  • When something big happens 911 receives many calls at once, tying up phone lines. If you didn’t see whatever it was yourself and you’re pretty sure it’s been reported, don’t call them. Example: if you drive past a car accident you didn’t witness and people are standing around, phones in hand, don’t bother calling. Always error on the side of caution though, if you’re not sure not sure go ahead and call. (Just don’t be an idiot is the point.) (My words, not theirs.)
  • After a large scale disaster cops will do something called a ‘windshield assessment.’ Without stopping, they’ll radio in such-and-such building demolished, on fire, etc. This is to get a clear picture of what is happening. Drills are held a few times a year. (I have so many questions about this.)
  • Don’t call 911 because the power goes out or about your lost dog.
  • 911 lines are a limited resource, each city is allowed a certain number based on population. (I have so many questions about this, too. I find this fascinating.)
  • Know your location when you call 911. They’ll try as hard as they can to find you, but they aren’t clairvoyant. (I had to call 911 from a friend’s house once. I didn’t know his address or cross street. I called from his landline instead of my cell phone and the 911 dispatcher didn’t have to waste any time before sending the paramedics.)

Two different 911 calls were played for us as examples. The first was from a more rural area where encounters with bears aren’t unheard of, so when the caller reported a bear had broken into her car and had gotten him/herself stuck inside, the dispatcher was ready with questions to make sure no one was in immediate danger. (They weren’t, although the bear would probably disagree.) The dispatcher moved on to collecting information for the responding officers which is when it got um… interesting. When the caller told the dispatcher that the car was a Prius the dispatcher couldn’t help but laugh. If it was me I’d have been rolling on the floor clutching my sides, but this dispatcher was a professional and after a split second of laughter was back to collecting info. It was just such a human, relatable moment.

The second call we heard was the polar opposite. What sounded like a young man called 911 to tell them he’d just shot and killed two family members. It was chilling. Once again, the dispatcher was professional, collecting information so first responders weren’t walking in blind, but she also asked if he (the caller/shooter) was okay. We didn’t hear how the call ended, but you could hear the dispatcher try to develop a rapport with the young man, no horror or judgement or sadness in her voice. Anything to help resolve the situation with no further loss of life. It’s something I wouldn’t be capable of doing no matter how much training I had. Dispatchers don’t get enough credit for what they do.

There hasn’t been a session that I didn’t enjoy, but this week’s class was particularly fun!

As always, we end with a palm tree pic.