by Dale Byrne

If you want to get an appreciation for the fine work our Carmel Police Department officers do to protect and serve our citizens, you should do a “ride-a-long” with one of our patrol officers.  You will quickly learn what a challenging job they have and one where they come each day not knowing what is going to pop-up.  And, even in our sleepy little Village, things do pop-up!

Officer Joe Martis, my first ride-a-long partner.

Our Police Department has 25 direct employees and 6 in the Ambulance Department.  There are 15 sworn officers, with one Sergeant, one Corporal, one Commander, and one Chief.  There are also 6 dispatchers, 4 Community Service Officers (3 parking and 1 animal control).  There are currently 2 vacancies for officers and 2 for dispatchers.

To schedule a ride-a-long, simply go down to the station on Junipero and 4th and fill out a background check form which takes about 5 minutes.  After being cleared, you simply let them know when you want to ride and they will schedule you with an officer.  Officers work two shifts, one from 7 am to 7 pm, the other from 7 pm to 7 am so, to get a good overview, I decided to ride on a Friday from 3 pm – 6 pm and the same day from 9 pm – 12 pm.

The ride-a-long starts with a tour of the facility on Junipero after which you will see why they need an upgrade.  Nothing fancy here like at my nephew’s department in Carlsbad, but hopefully we’ll have a station we can be proud of with the future facility.  We are fortunate because we have our own PSAP or Public Safety Answering Point.  When you call 911 it goes directly to our dispatchers rather than being routed through a County system in Salinas like all the other local cities.  This allows for faster response time and gives Carmel more control over the process.

It was also surprising to see there is an extensive underground “bunker” where a multi-discipline team would go in the case of an extreme emergency such as a hurricane.  Generators would keep things going and they have a meeting room, a “war room” with computers, a restroom, and other office facilities.  One deluxe feature our department does have is a full-size practice shooting range where officers can practice using all types of weapons to protect our citizens.  Departments from other cities come to take advantage of it.

The officer I was supposed to ride with had just gone to a suicide attempt and was mired in some related paperwork.  I was assigned a different officer and our first assignment was to deliver the paperwork to CHOMP.  Meeting the wife, seeing the unconscious patient who had survived, and hearing the back story was very emotional.  The officer handled the situation with amazing grace and kindness and, after an hour at CHOMP, and with my eyes a bit teary, we headed towards town.

This time it was a woman who had driven past the post blocking Mountain View near the North entrance to Mission Trails.  This older, confused woman had somehow made it past the post, slightly scratching the side of her car in the process.  Amazingly, she managed to turn her car around after uprooting some landscape edging, but then couldn’t get out.  Doing some detective work for the officer while he measured the “accident” scene, I discovered there wasn’t any signage indicating you couldn’t drive down the street, only a fire danger warning.  That will probably change.  We felt very sad at her situation and again the officer handled the situation with great diplomacy.  She was let go without a citation after questioning her to see if she was mentally capable of finding her destination.

Modern police cars are really amazing.  They are high performance sedans with beefed up suspension and loaded with technology.  Each car has a tablet computer mounted between the front seats which has an incredible array of information including the location of every vehicle for every first responder in all of Monterey County.  This is important in the highly concentrated area that we live in, especially since all neighboring communities work as partners to assist the others when necessary.  Each car also has a rifle and shotgun, each officer carries a pistol and a Taser gun, and the officer I rode with had a Kevlar, bullet proof helmet and two different styles of heavy duty bullet proof vests that could augment the lighter-weight one they all wear under their uniform.

We saw a woman run a stop sign and puller her over.  She was Korean and spoke no English.  She also had a brake light out.  She received a warning for the stop sign and a fix-it ticket for the equipment violation.  It was here where I learned that our officers have now been trained on and have in their cars an automated means of writing citations.  A small Bluetooth printer will quickly print out the paperwork, the record is transmitted into an online database and, eventually, that record will be transmitted to the County’s database.  Instead of a 7-day waiting period, tickets can now be paid immediately, helping with cash flow and making it more convenient for the public.

This is one complex little city.  While it is only 1 mile square, there are lots of narrow roads, including curvy ones.  There are also thousands of pedestrians and crowded intersections downtown.  This all makes it difficult at times to follow and pull-over a car that has made a violation.  We still managed to stop a woman who was looking at her cell.  She was holding in her hand but had a proper holder for it.  She received a warning to use the holder.

There are no quotas for writing tickets for any officers.  However, the motorcycle officer is focused almost entirely on traffic enforcement, so they will be writing significantly more tickets than those in cars.  It is a little-known fact that the city gets only about 15% of a typical ticket amount.  The rest is split over many CA agencies.  When you add in the paperwork and spending time on contested situations I would guess they actually lose money on every ticket.

Next, we ticketed a truck parked on the South side of the Plaza going the wrong way and noted the time.  Then the officer showed me how they enforce stop sign violations at a couple key spots, which, due to the narrow and crowded streets is more difficult than you’d think.  The biggest violation got away because a car jumped in front of us before we could make the turn, causing us to lose sight of the minivan.  It became clear that our officers don’t have any quotas and execute their jobs entirely for the safety of our citizens and visitors.  We finished our “shift” by ticketing another wrong-way parked car on 7th near Monte Verde and giving a 2-hour parking ticket to the wrong-way truck parked by the Plaza.

On my second ride I learned that at night, equipment violations are more visible.  We had our share of burned-out brake lights and cars driving without headlights.  One call took us to Scenic and 13th where someone has reported a minor accident involving a white van.  We found the van and eventually found the owner but, after spending about 20 minutes with both field officers, failed to find any damage or anyone claiming damage.  A big waste of time.

We also pulled over a couple of stop sign violations including an AMG Mercedes, owned by the passenger and driven by an older man with a suspended license.  At 11 pm they were driving up Ocean Avenue when he discovered left his credit card at the restaurant.  In a hurry to return, he ran the stop sign at Ocean and Dolores.  With the other on-duty officer assisting, they determined that the passenger was sober and, rather than impounding the car for 30 days (an inconvenient and very expensive proposition), they let her drive back to the Bay Area.  The original driver was ticketed for the stop sign and much more serious license infraction.

I was dropped off at 12:30 am and learned later that the next call was a high-speed chase of someone doing 130 mph on Highway 1 in a Porsche Boxter.  That driver eluded two Carmel cruisers but was arrested the next day in Pacific Grove sleeping in the car that he had borrowed from a “friend”.   Probably good I left when I did!

My advice after seeing how things work behind the scenes?

  1. Only call the police when you have a situation that warrants it but don’t hesitate to do so when it does. With limited resources every unnecessary call takes an officer out of action for up to an hour.  One of the things that surprised me is how much time seemingly simple calls can eat up.  The officers are always multi-tasking, listening for a more important call even while doing other tasks.  Like airline pilots, officers are trained to be listening to their earpiece while driving, entering data into the computer, and even while having conversations on calls.  It made my head spin!
  1. If you are pulled over ALWAYS be respectful, understanding, slightly apologetic, and polite (strangely just one letter different than police). It will go a long way towards you getting a warning instead of citation.  Our officers don’t have quotas and aren’t out to get you.  They are out to keep you safe from yourself and others.
  1. Keep your car in good shape. Check your headlights and taillights once in a while to avoid getting pulled over for an equipment violation.  They watch this very closely.  Also, don’t forget to put your headlights on Auto.  They see rental cars often that don’t have their headlights on.  We had two situations where the equipment violation led to more serious offenses.  Likewise, in another case, running a stop sign resulted in discovering the driver had a suspended license which could result in your car being impounded for 30 days at great expense and inconvenience.
  1. Drive under the speed limit at all times and always at a safe speed for the situation. California law gives the officers a lot of latitude in this area.  You could be pulled over for going 15 in a 25 zone if it is unsafe and for going 26 in a 25 even if it is safe.  From my radar research with CarmelCares.org, this means they could ticket 80% of the drivers on San Carlos and 80% of the cars at stop signs.  A speeding ticket can range from $234 – $480.  It just isn’t worth the few seconds you may be saving, only to give it up at the next stop sign.
  1. Do full-stops at all stop signs. Trust me.  They are watching this often from areas hidden to you.  It is actually embarrassing to sit in the car watching the intersection at Carpenter and Ocean.  It seems that 90% of the cars do a California rolling stop and 20% barely slow down.  Some stop too short of the white line and many past it.  The rule is that you have to stop short of the limit line, sidewalk, or intersection (if no limit line).  On many Carmel intersections you should stop short of the line, then again when you have a clear view of opposing traffic.  It is the ONLY safe thing to do.  Rolling through stop signs in Carmel-by-the-Sea is a VERY dangerous practice and is also an expensive $238 ticket.  You never know where they will be.
  1. Don’t park going the wrong direction on ANY street in Carmel. You will be ticketed for your front wheel being more than 18” from the curb because the driver side wheel is actually completely across the street.  The other risk in getting this type of ticket is that the officer then has a record of how long your car has been parked and will return 2 hours later to issue a parking ticket.  I witnessed this on my ride-a-long when I reminded the officer to check on a truck parked outside Carmel Plaza we had previously ticketed.
  1. Each of the officers I rode with had a particular style of communicating. It is a fine line between being nice and polite to the offender and being cautious and firm and, like actors and teachers, they each develop an approach that works for them.  They were both very effective.
  1. It’s a good idea whenever you meet an officer around town, to ALWAYS thank them for their service and appreciate how hard they work to protect all of us 24 hours a day. They literally put their lives on the line for you.  Teach your kids to respect them and every chance you have to tour the station or attend some event where they are educating the public, jump at the chance.  You will be as amazed as I was.
  1. If you want the fastest response to a 911 call made on a cell phone, come down to the station and provide a basic emergency information form that includes your cell phone number. They will enter it into their database so that your call will be routed directly to our PSAP rather than another one, causing a delay.  Using a land-line will always be routed directly.

Bottom line?  We have great officers.  They have a complex and difficult job and are 100% dedicated to our safety.  I would advise anyone that has an interest and a sense of adventure to request a ride-a-long.  It’s an easy process and well worth it.  Finally, to help make our officers’ job easier, we would like all Carmel-by-the-Sea citizens to be mindful drivers and pedestrians.