Friday, July 31, 2015

Cop For a Day (Part Two)

This is a continuation of my previous post regarding the Citizen Police Academy, offered twice a year by the Santa Cruz Police Department.


The SCPD Special Weapons and Tactics team is part of their Emergency Services Unit (ESU), which also handles hostage negotiations and scuba dives (usually to recover evidence). Being a part of the ESU is in addition to an officer’s regular post with the department, and generally comprises about 10 hours of the officer’s work week.

The tactical (SWAT) portion of the ESU is responsible for high-risk searches and arrests, hostage rescues, dealing with barricaded suspects and armed suspects, and terrorism. It takes about one hour to deploy the Santa Cruz SWAT team.

Here’s a photo I took of the lucky student who got to show off the extremely heavy SWAT team gear to the rest of our class:

Jail/Prison Sentencing

When I heard that a Superior Court judge would be coming to speak to the class I assumed that—having spent some twenty years as a practicing attorney—I wouldn’t learn anything new. But I was wrong. Although I did already know much of what Judge Ari Symons told our class, I was fascinated by what she had to say about sentencing (something that civil attorneys like myself don’t have much experience with).

Among the interesting facts I learned:

  • Anyone sentenced to 120 days or less in Santa Cruz County will generally do community service rather than actual jail time.

  • Under current California sentencing guidelines, those sentenced to over 120 days will only serve half of that time (e.g., only five years on a ten-year sentence).

  • Any portion of a day served in jail constitutes a full day served.

  • Those given a life sentence will serve only seven years, unless the sentence is without possibility of parol.

  • If the sentence is fifteen years to life, they will serve 85% of the fifteen years.

  • Since no Santa Cruz jury has ever sentenced anyone to death (hurrah for us!), the local District Attorney’s office never asks for death anymore.

High-Risk Searches, and High-Risk Stops/Chases

These were two of our most exciting sessions, involving as they did class-participation. For the high-risk search demo, after being instructed regarding the proper way to search a building with a partner, we were each given a neon orange replica of a pistol and told to search for the “suspects” (fellow students) hidden among the numerous cubicles that make up the Department’s Records section.

with my “partner” (left), Detective Alex Martin (right),
and fellow classmates awaiting their turn (behind)
(Photo: Deborah Elston)

Fun though it was, playing cop like this was also a bit unnerving. My muscles tensed and my stomach felt tight—the same sensations I always got when I was a kid playing hide-and-seek or sardines. I can’t even imagine how stressful it must be when it’s the real thing. (For the record, I pretty much sucked at this: Had it been a real high-risk search, I would have been an easy target for the hiding suspects.)

For our high-risk chases and stops class we met at the Boardwalk parking lot, which was empty of cars and had been cordoned off for the occasion by yellow crime tape. After giving a demo on how an officer in a patrol car will chase down a fleeing vehicle and order the occupants out, arms raised, and then arrest and handcuff the suspects, we all got a chance to play the roles of cop and fleeing suspect. I was a little nervous about driving a police cruiser at 60+ mph around and around the parking lot, but once actually doing it had a grand ol’ time:

(Photo: Deborah Elston)

After we made the stop, we got to arrest the “suspect”:

I’m on the driver’s side of the car on the right
(Photo: Deborah Elston)

And here I am, in the role of suspect fleeing the scene. No one bothered to chase me down, however. Lazy bums.

(Photo: Deborah Elston)

Most vehicle pursuits, we were told, end in the crash of the person being chased, so the responding office has to weigh the risk of the pursuit versus the danger of injury to others. The SCPD has a policy of never intentionally hitting the car being pursued, and of never doing roadblocks, as being too dangerous. But they will use spike strips on the road to stop the suspect’s car.

Just negotiating the cruiser around the empty parking lot was nerve-racking enough for me, but a police officer doing a high-speed chase also has to be on the radio the whole time, giving updates as to location and what’s going on. Oy.

At our last class we were given diplomas, for finishing the 10-week course. (When I asked if it was good for getting out of a speeding ticket, I was, alas, told no.) Here I am, flanked by SCPD Chief Kevin Vogel (left) and Deputy Chiefs Steve Clark (right) and Rick Martinez (far right):

(Photo: Deborah Elston)

(I’ve known Deputy Chief Rick Martinez since he was about 13 years old, and when he was a rookie cop on the downtown beat in the early 1990s he used stop by to see my band Electric Range play at the Front St. Pub. I still appreciate that, Rick!)

So here’s a huge thank-you to Officer Joe Hernandez and to Deborah Elston for running the class, and to all the SCPD personnel who participated!

(If you are interested in enrolling in a future Citizen Police Academy, go to this site.)

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, Leslie. You were very brave to drive the patrol car around.