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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. 😉 )

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?

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Photo Post

9/11 Memorial

Since I’ve been taking the Santa Monica Community Police Academy I’ve been over to the Police Station a lot. I don’t just mean for class, I mean on my own to take pictures. (The building is really gorgeous if you’re an ‘architecture nerd.’) The most important thing I wanted to photograph was the 9/11 memorial that sits outside the Fire Department’s suite of offices.

As you can see, the base is beautiful. Sitting on top of the base is an actual piece of the World Trade Center.

I didn’t know anyone who died on 9/11/2001. It didn’t affect me in the way that people who lost a loved one/ones were (and still are) affected. I woke up that morning to instructions to turn on the TV, and watched the news with a mixture of disbelief and horror. (What? No. This can’t be happening. It looks like a movie. What are they talking about? This has to be a trick, but I don’t get it. Someone please make this make sense, I’m begging you.) And then the second tower fell. Like so many others I watched the murder of I don’t even know how many people live on television. I’m not sure when in all of that I started crying, but I know it took me a long time to stop. After that there weren’t very many tears, just a sort of numb fog, some mild form of shock maybe, as reality shifted in a way that can never shift back. I personally didn’t lose anyone, but as Americans we all lost something that day.

No one told me there was a 9/11 memorial in Santa Monica, it was something I saw out of the corner of my eye when class took me to a different part of the building than usual. I probably could have snapped a few quick pictures right then, but I wanted to come back and take the time to do it properly. I don’t mean take pictures ‘properly,’ I’m talking about the whole experience. To stand there and take a moment. To think about what I was looking at and what it means. To think about those people I saw die, and all the rest we lost that day. You know, the things you are supposed to do at a memorial. It’s what memorials are for. (Isn’t it?)

Walking home I just kept thinking about how some person (or group of people probably) had to decide which pieces of rubble were “salvageable” and which weren’t. What kind of base to attach. What to put on that base, and what it should say. And who should get it. (I’m assuming there were more places under consideration than available memorials to be shared.) And how much that job must suck. Not because of the work itself, which I consider terribly important. Because… well, because of what that work isn’t. It isn’t an archeological excavation with all of the emotional distance that history provides. It isn’t like deciding which museum gets the right to display historical artifacts, these memorials are going to places where people who lost loved ones might be. Places where people who helped in the aftermath might be. How much that must weigh on you each and every day. How your mind might replay that footage from the news on a loop while you were at work. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s something you get used to eventually, but I doubt it. If it was me I think I’d be so sad all of the time, even though I knew what I was doing really mattered.

I went back to the station to take my pictures. I know this piece of metal is just that, a piece of metal. It can’t give us answers or closure or bear witness in any way. This memorial is not a grave, and to treat it as such would be ridiculous. But it’s also not just a piece of metal anymore either, it is something else now, something bigger. I’m not explaining this well but I’m going to trust that other people feel the same way, because someone had left a red rose.

I actually had to go back to the station a second time to take pictures of the memorial because I noticed something in my first batch of pictures. I’d mostly convinced myself it was a trick of the light, but nope…

Do you see it yet? Ignore the grammatical nightmare that is the rest of the sentence. (Is it one sentence or is it really two? Between the capitalization and the unreliable punctuation I honestly can’t tell.) I’m drawing your attention to one particular area. “It’s” with an apostrophe is the contraction of “it is.” If you’re using “its” in the possessive you omit the apostrophe.

Look… I get it. I make more typos than probably anyone you or I have ever known, it’s not about the typo. Truly. It’s about a typo there. In stone. On a memorial to the people who died on 9/11. This isn’t a participation trophy from a bowling league we’re talking about here. And it isn’t just a piece of metal on top of a pretty stone. It means something more.

I posted pictures of the typo on social media along with something overly melodramatic no doubt. First someone in the police department reached out to me to let me know that the fire department was going to reach out to me. Then the fire department reached out to me on twitter to let me know they were looking at cost effective ways to correct it. I’m pretty sure I know a way they can get it fixed for free or very little cost, so I sent them my idea and offered to help. That was the last I heard so I don’t know what may have happened since then, but I hope whoever read my message knew I was serious. I try to live by the ‘golden rule’ of complaining and only complain about things I’m prepared to help try to fix, and I will take up a collection, throw a bake sale, whatever it takes to get that stupid apostrophe filled in. I can’t do anything about the grammar, but the apostrophe is fixable. I know it is, it has to be. (For the record I fail at that ‘golden rule’ stuff a lot. Like, a lot. But I do try.)

I know this might seem like a dumb thing to have strong feelings over. I don’t quite know how to articulate why it is so important to me. Maybe because generally we pay attention to the things that are important to us and this typo had to have been seen by any number of people who didn’t look closely enough to see it, or saw it and didn’t care enough to correct it. (Right? I mean, the same person who picked out the quote for the side of the memorial couldn’t have been the same person who did the etching or packed it for shipping or… sigh.) Maybe it’s because if I had lost someone on 9/11 and I saw this for the first time I’d feel insulted that so little care went into creating it.

I know that a memorial is not a grave and the base is not headstone, but it’s not just a piece of metal on display either. Maybe these memorials, collectively, are the grave of that intangible thing we lost as a country that day.

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! 😉

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…

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. ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) 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.