On Thursday, December 9, I shadowed Santa Monica Police Officer Michael Prosser over the course of his 12-hour shift. It was, from all indications, an average day in the life of a Santa Monica Police officer. Below is the second part of the series. Go here for part one, and check back each day this week for the three subsequent installments.
7:43 a.m.: Officer Prosser is settling into his rhythm as he patrols the streets surrounding the . Sometimes he has to deal with pending matters, like pressing police reports, when he starts his shift. But "generally, what I like to do is get out, drive around my beat and see how things are. Then I'll go back and handle my other stuff."
Reports on minor incidents don't have to be handled immediately—he'll often wait till the 1 p.m. shift comes on before attending to those. Once an officer is finished filling out a report, it goes to the supervisor, who reads it and lets the officer know if any corrections are needed. After that, the report goes to the police-records team, which scans it and files the report in the database. At that point, a detective will pick up the report if an investigation is ongoing.
"If it's something like a robbery, the detective will be there at the scene with you" and not wait until the report is filed, Officer Prosser says. "If a crime is serious enough at night, they have detectives that are on call and will come out."
7:45 a.m.: Officer Prosser says he likes Beat 3, in part because of his familiarity with it. For six years, he worked the beat as a bicycle officer.
"Some people just really don't like dealing with the homeless," he says.
But Officer Prosser doesn't mind. Also, as he tells me later in the day, his love of the area goes all the back to his childhood.
"The was only second to Disneyland," he says. "It was such a huge treat to come down here. And then, getting to work there as a bicycle cop was amazing. Very few police officers can say that [they work somewhere] that was that iconic and meant a lot [to them as a kid].
"I'm kind of territorial about the city," he continues. "You should be, as a PO. You work here."
As we patrol the promenade, I ask Officer Prosser if he can pinpoint the most intense call he's received. He can.
"I was involved in the farmers market tragedy that occurred right here on this spot," he says, as we drive past Arizona and Third.
Officer Prosser recounts the horrific car collision, which occurred on July 16, 2003, and claimed the lives of 10 people.
"My partner and I were assigned as bicycle officers, but we were in a car—we were going to go to a restaurant. We got there probably within a minute of [the incident] occurring. We turned from Ocean onto Second, and the first thing we see is the car with a victim [stuck] in the windshield.
"It was chaos," he continues. "It looked like what I believe a multi-casualty incident would look like in Israel, where literally, for two or three blocks, there was debris and injured and dead people strewn. People were in mental shock, screaming and crying."
Officer Prosser says he also handled some armed robberies, "but not ones that end in gunfire."
"Generally, people don't get shot or stabbed here," he adds.
He also notes that gang-related crimes and shootings typically don't occur on Beat 3, which covers the area between Ocean, Lincoln, California and Colorado.
7:48 a.m.: We turn left onto Lincoln.
"There's definitely more [activity here] in the summer," Officer Prosser says. "The heat makes people uncomfortable and angry, plus people tend to drink more."
As I'll learn over the course of the day, much of Prosser's day is consumed by drinking-related incidents.
7:49 a.m.: He turns on the radio and sets the tuner to The Kevin & Bean Show.
Officer Prosser says he's the only police officer who works Beat 3 during this shift, but that there are some additional community-service officers that cover the area. A primary officer and a backup officer is assigned to every call; the backup officer is generally one working an adjacent beat.
"Eventually that degrades, because officers are in the jail or doing police reports," he says. "I'll be sent to the east end of the city, and it'll take me longer to get there or vice-versa."
He details the different beats:
- Beat 1: the beach, PCH and the pier. "We don't always have a Beat 1, especially in the winter, because that's one of the slower beats," he says. "But I'll always go handle calls there. Because I worked there so long as a bike officer, I have an affinity for it."
- Beat 2: the area between Ocean, Colorado, the south of the city and Lincoln
- Beat 3: downtown
- Beat 4: the area between Ocean, 20th, Olympic and Montana
- Beat 5: everything north of Montana
- Beat 6: the area between 20th, Centinela, Olympic and Montana
- Beat 7: Sunset Park, near and
- Beat 8: Pico Neighborhood, north of SMC
For major events—such as the Los Angeles Marathon—there will be a "maximum deployment." Sometimes, in those situations, Officer Prosser will be on sniper patrol for the collateral SWAT team, which also consists of bicycle officers, detectives and other POs. In sum, the team has 24 to 26 officers, which Officer Prosser calls "a pretty good size for a small agency [like ours]."
"Everybody has their regular job they do, and then we train together two or three times a month and are always on call," he says. "So you could go home after your 12-hour shift, and then your pager goes off in the middle of the night" and you have to return to work.
Of course, Officer Prosser's day is usually occupied by more mundane calls. That includes 2735s, or domestic disturbances.
"A lot of times they're called in by neighbors. They hear arguing or yelling, and when we get there, we determine that there was yelling or broken dishes but no domestic violence occurred," he says.
Also common are 415Ms: disturbances caused by loud music. Meanwhile, 415Ps refer to paparazzi calls.
"We get a lot of those, but I can't think of any that have resulted in an arrest," Officer Prosser says. "We tend to get some traffic tickets out of it, usually, because [the paparazzi] drive like idiots. It's kind of a problem there isn't a solution for, because they do a lot of [the disturbing] before we get there, and they're rude and annoying, but it's not criminal in nature."
8:01 a.m.: We're at Ocean and Hollister—outside the confines of Beat 3.
"We're allowed to patrol wherever we want," Officer Prosser says. "I like to patrol all the beats I worked as a bicycle officer: the pier, the , . I like to hit my old stomping grounds and occasionally give tickets."
Bike patrol usually involves public-intoxication arrests and open-alcohol container tickets, according to Prosser.
Is he nostalgic for those days? And does he miss the exercise?
"Yeah, I would much rather be on a bicycle," he admits. "If I could do that forever, I would. [I wouldn't always get exercise], 'cause sometimes you'd ride out and get a felony arrest that'd take you three hours. But there were other days where you rode all day long. [I liked] the freedom of being on a bicycle. I don't have any recollection of what traffic was like back then."
Also, being on a bike would give him "the ability to roll right up on top of people who were selling or using narcotics, because they think they're at a place where a police officer can't be. Next thing they know, they're being tapped on the shoulder by a police officer, saying, 'You're under arrest.' "
8:06 a.m.: Officer Prosser explains the car's computer system to me and points out the two screens he checks the most: the pending-calls screen and the status board, which shows all the police cruisers that are active and what they're doing.
He indicates that there's only one pending call at present: a DB (dead body) at 2908 Exposition. The screen says ENG 5 EN RTE, which means the is responding to the call.
Officer Prosser says DB calls are common. "We have a lot of senior citizens [in Santa Monica], so we handle a lot of death investigations that are very minimal," he says. "[If a] person's been in hospice care, most of their loved ones have already been notified by the hospital or facility already. So you go, make sure there's no foul play and complete a minimal report.
"If somebody finds a dead person in an alleyway, we're going to do more investigation," he adds.
Another pending call appears. It's a non-injury TA, or traffic accident.
"If we get there and determine it's a non-injury accident, we don't require a report. Traffic collisions are pretty common, although we have community-service officers who handle most of those," Officer Prosser says.
CSOs are civic employees who do non-exigent police work. Officer Prosser says there are eight of them who serve in addition to the sworn officers. They have been serving in Santa Monica for decades and mostly work during the daytime.
"If somebody's calling to report that their ex-wife stole their golf clubs or something, a community-service officer wouldn't take that report, because there's a chance the suspect could show up," he says. "But in burglaries or thefts where there's no chance the person will come back, CSOs will take those."
"They're a huge help," he continues. "I came from LAPD, where any report is handled by a police officer, period. We didn't have the luxury of community service officers who relieve that burden from us. There are offices who are arrogant and look at them like, 'Well, they're not cops, I don't have to be cool with them.' But they don't understand how much work we could be doing if we didn't have CSOs."
Check back Wednesday for the third installment in the series, in which Officer Prosser confirms that there's no such thing as a quota for writing tickets.