Thursday, May 31, 2018

Law & Order DUN DUN -- Week 7

Okay, at this point I have to admit that I'm looking forward to this class being over and getting my Thursday evenings back. It's been an odd mixture of really interesting factual information and... I don't know how to put it. Infomercials? Those mandatory school assemblies where they tried to scare everyone straight? And it's not even that the presentation is the bad part -- it's watching the people around the room nodding and "uh-HUH"-ing along.

Tonight was gang night. The first half of the evening was a prosecutor going over the legal definition of what a gang is, what they have to prove in order to get gang enhancements, the history of gangs in California , and the most common colors and symbols.

Basically, to qualify as a gang, you have to have the following:
  • 3+ people
  • common signs or symbols
  • one of the primary activities is committing crimes
  • members have engaged in a pattern of criminal activity
So basically the current GOP should be getting gang enhancements added on to their sentences. (Yes, I went there.)

As far as I can tell, street gangs are big pyramid schemes and it all comes down to money in the end.

After hearing about the geographic sort-of-borders, with the Norteños mainly north of Bakersfield and the Sureños mainly south of Bakersfield (although we have both in Woodland), the clueless blond girl (CBG) says "I'm from Bakersfield. Which one should I be worried about?" Questions like that make me want to pound my head on the desk. She kept asking over and over until finally someone pointed out that what she should really be worried about is drunk drivers unless she has a habit of hanging out with drug dealers or going to parties in cheap motels.

One thing I learned is that these groups have co-opted sports logos because they have the right color and letters. So despite it looking like we have a large population of die-hard Nebraska Cornhusker fans in Woodland, it turns out that they're all Norteños that like red hats with a big letter "N". Just another reason to distrust anyone wearing sports gear if you ask me.

Another question by CBG: "What kinds of drugs do they sell?" If she's trolling the class, she's really committed to her art.

The second part of the evening was a talk given by an investigator with the DA's office who has a bunch of gang experience. I'm sure he knows what he's talking about, but the talk was geared more toward parents of teenagers who are worried that they might find out their child is secretly a gang member. At various points in the evening I was convinced this was one of those "kids who play D&D are secretly worshiping Satan" talks that were very popular when I was a teen, but updated with different symbols.

Once you bring numerology into the mix you can make up anything you want and say you have proof. For example, the Norteños are associated with the number 14 and N is the 14th letter of the alphabet. Okay, I can go along with that. But the Sureños are associated with the number 13 because... "they're from L.A. and L is the 12th letter of the alphabet and A is the 1st letter and when you add them together you get 13". And maybe that's where that really came from, but I'm not buying that it's so obvious that it deserves a vigorous head-nod and a loud "uh-HUH". It could just as easily be 6+7 or 10 + 3 or some other combination. Or something completely different.

Then we watched a rap video that was produced by a bunch of members of one of the local gangs. The tune was kind of catchy, but mostly what I noticed was the really poor production values. I mean really, all those young people and none of them are any better at filming and mixing than I am? It's a really bad sign when there's nobody with any artistic talent in your group. I think that was the saddest part of my evening.

But the thing I had the most trouble with was the questionable parenting tips being offered -- because, yes, making your 3rd grade son run until he cries and pukes is absolutely the best way to deal with him bullying another kid, why wouldn't it be? *Deep breath*

By the end of the evening I was again glad that I don't have children and thus don't have to worry about attending information nights like those.

Anyhow, next week is the last week. I get a certificate. And pizza. And my Thursday evenings back.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Law & Order DUN DUN -- Week Five

So week four was about the role of the defense attorney. In the syllabus it said "You will witness an actual DUI trial in during [sic] this session."

They started with an actual judge, and actual CHP officer, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and some guy and went through a quick trial -- two counts, (A) one of driving under the influence and (B) one of being over 0.08%. There was a two hour lag between the time the defendant was pulled over for having his high beams on and when the breath test was taken. The A count was guilty, B count not guilty. It all fit together very neatly, with the CHP officer carefully explaining to the judge (but really to us) what the roadside tests are looking for, and the defendant expressing remorse and everybody playing up how expensive a DUI is. At the end the bailiff took the defendant outside in handcuffs and then came back without him and hung out for another 30 minutes until the judge had finished talking to us.

I assumed this was just a half hour of play acting. Everybody else seemed to assume that was the real thing. Normally when I'm that far off the average I assume I'm probably wrong (because hey, I'm not a white man...), but in this case, I've seen how little critical thinking other people in the class have, so I'm still not sure.

Then a different defense attorney came in and talked about some stuff (things like "hey, these are constitutional rights here") and I was once again left wondering what the DA's office was hoping to get back from this class. They have a bunch of people spending a lot of time and effort on this, and I appreciate that, but I wonder why they're doing it. I asked the person next to me what the target audience really was and she looked confused and said "the citizens".

I feel like I'm the only one in the class looking the gift horse in the mouth, but there you have it.

Anyhow, this week the victim services people came in and talked about what they do and what resources are available. It was all interesting since I know pretty much none of that side of things.

But the best part (for me) was the beginning when the K-9 group came in. We had a quick presentation about the group and how they pick and train the dogs and then we had demos from four dogs in the parking lot of the police station.

The first dog was demonstrating tracking, so one officer took the dog's toy, went into the police station, and hid the toy inside. The handler then got the dog out of the car, put him on a 30' leash, and had him search. The dog picked up the scent fairly quickly and led us to the door.

I think I've mentioned how this group goes through doors before. Ahem. So once the dog and handler went through and the dog picked up the scent and started dragging his handler down the hall at a good clip, the rest of us were trying to get past the five people who stopped one foot inside the door and blocked the entryway. I finally just used my elbows -- walking my fastest I was able to catch up with the dog and officer before we lost them completely. We went down a couple of hallways, then upstairs, and into a conference room and the dog found his toy and was super happy. My dogs only get that happy when there's food involved.

Then we all had to go back through the door again for the other demos. Two drug searches and a explosives residue find later and it was time for everyone to pet the dogs and ask questions. Everyone else was asking stuff like "how do you tell the dog it's time to look for drugs?" and I was asking things like "how do you search for things in a field of foxtails?" (The officer winced when I asked that one. Clearly it has been a problem.)

Next week we get to talk about what county law enforcement is doing to address the problem of the homeless population. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 11, 2018

My Superpower

I used to think that my only superpower was the ability to choose the slowest line. (Pro tip: if you're in a hurry, wait until I choose a checkout line and then go to a different one. You'll be out of the store before the person three people in front of me has a chance to dig out her checkbook that she won't open to start writing in until after all her items have been scanned.)

But today I realized my ability to make any website uglier also qualifies. Case in point:

Now if I could just figure out a way to monetize either of these powers...

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Feel The Power!

As mentioned previously, I've been waiting anxiously for my new lawnmower battery as the weeds around my house have been multiplying and unionizing.

After many weeks of uncertainty (because Sears...) I got an email from UPS yesterday saying the package had been delivered to my porch. I hadn't heard anything which was a little weird because a) I was working from home and my office has a window onto the porch, and b) the dogs didn't bark about that although they were certainly not shy about barking at every other thing that morning. So after I told the dogs I was docking their wages, I went out on the porch and found... nothing.

Then I walked next door and found my package by my neighbor's driveway. I'm pretty sure that's a fire-able offense at UPS, but I'm guessing the driver had just delivered so many things to the business next door that it was all autopilot.

Anyhow, I'd ordered the thing from Sears because every time I tried to figure out what part to buy on the internet, I got a bunch of pictures of individual battery cells in various shapes and sizes and I just wanted to be able to lift out the old battery pack and plop the new one in. So naturally when I opened the box I found individual battery cells.

There were no instructions included, not even crappy drawings that make you wonder if doing that sort of thing in Alabama would get you arrested. About twenty screws later, I had this:

After I took the picture I called my brother Jeff for both practical and moral support. "Do I need to be careful about anything so I don't electrocute myself?" He congratulated me for taking a picture before going any further. Then he reminded me that I have a degree in electrical engineering. I didn't bring up the time that I blew up a capacitor during one of my labs.

The old cells had expanded and warped, so getting them out was a bit of a challenge, but the new ones slid back in and I didn't electrocute myself.

I left it charging overnight and this morning I couldn't contain my glee any more. At 8am I was mowing my front lawn, cackling and yelling "FEEL THE POWER!" over the (not very loud) engine as I plowed through the weeds and I looked over and saw my neighbors out front discussing what to do about one of their plants. But apparently they didn't find anything odd (or at least nothing odder) about my behavior and they didn't even look up.

It's the little things.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Law & Order DUN DUN -- Week Three

This week in the Citizens Academy we visited the county morgue and jail.

Astute readers might notice that I seem to have skipped the week two recap. It's true. During week two one of the prosecutors came in and went through a case from beginning to end. The beginning was a five minute 911 call from a neighbor that started out as a fairly standard domestic violence call (the upstairs neighbor had just come home from work then came running down the stairs with bruises on her neck crying that her husband had just tried to kill her, but they'd seen the husband drive away so there was no rush) and then halfway through the call they found all three children strangled in the apartment upstairs. It ended when the guy accepted a plea deal that will keep him in jail for the rest of his life. (For the record, I am totally on board with the decision to offer him a deal -- aside from the inherent problems with the death penalty, his wife was the one most affected and she just wanted things over and done with and not have to see him in court for the next ten years of trials and appeals.)

Anyhow, that week was just pretty traumatizing and mostly what I learned is that people who listen to 911 calls for fun need to examine their life choices.

Week three wasn't quite so traumatizing. We were sent a list of things not to wear, so I made sure that I wasn't wearing my usual getup of a tube top and a mini-skirt then drove over to the other side of town. The first time I went to the county animal shelter years ago I took a wrong turn and ended up at the county morgue, so at least I knew where I was going.

The morgue is tiny. The scale is outside, then inside the building there's a little alcove with a portable x-ray machine, a room where supplies and samples are stored, a small walk-in cooler that smells pretty awful (because death coolers always have that smell), a smaller freezer for longer term storage and two small autopsy rooms. On the other side of the autopsy rooms is a viewing room though they don't normally have people watching -- they almost always do identifications with fingerprints, dental records, or tattoos, so the whole Hollywood scene of having relatives identifying the body at the morgue doesn't really happen there. The only exception is with small children and luckily that's a pretty rare occurrence.

The most shocking thing of the whole morgue tour was when our guide opened a locked cabinet to show us the stored samples. In vet school we were taught there should be a 10:1 ratio of formalin to tissue. In other words, there should be big containers with small blobs of tissue inside. I saw a bunch of little jars filled with large tissue samples, topped up with formalin. The human pathologist who is part of our group started muttering about improperly fixed samples. I can only hope they don't send her samples from that cabinet.

The most annoying thing about the morgue tour was the people in the group. Turns out that now that we've spent over five hours together I've almost hit the limits of my ability to overlook certain behaviors. There's the person who is constantly commenting when someone is giving us information ("oh", "tsk", "that's so sad", "um hmm"). There's the person that interrupts someone answering one question to ask a completely unrelated question.

And then there are all the people who have so little spatial awareness that they follow the guide into a small room and block the doorway so no more than five out of the twenty-five people in the group can get in the room. During the evening we probably went through at least twenty doors and each time the same people had to be asked to move out of the way.

Every. Single. Time.

Be proud of me. I did not end the evening in custody.

The county jail is right next to the county morgue, so when we had finished looking at big samples in tiny jars we walked next door. After we saw the sally port that the police cars bring the prisoners through, the two officers leading the tour made a point of telling us that if anything happened while we were in the building, the policy was that they don't negotiate with prisoners for any reason. With those comforting words we went in and started the tour in the intake area. That area also has about six cells where they keep people who need close supervision, in this case three people on suicide watch, one woman who had chronic mental health issue (who I assume was going to be transferred to the hospital for evaluation), and someone coming down from drug ingestion. They get checked every fifteen minutes.

A bunch of people in my group were excited to see the blank wall where they take the mugshots, which I found odd. I mean, it's not like it's a portrait booth at a party -- it's literally a blank wall.

Then we went into the depths of the building, through one door after another (opened by someone in a control room), pushing the people who stopped right inside the room out of the way so the rest of us could get through the door so the door could close again so that, you know, we were protected from the felons. There are a couple of buildings and they have about 350 people housed there right now, with a limit of around 500.

The jail is fairly clean if a little worn, but at one point I felt and saw an ant crawling on my hand, and another on my neck. (Since I hadn't touched anything inside I think I may have brushed up against a branch before we went into the building.) So then I was listening to the sergeant talking while feeling imaginary bugs crawling all over me, which made me start scratching and that got all the mosquito bites I'm currently sporting get into the act and I'm sure I looked like I was on something by the time we moved out of that area.

We passed a couple of different pods, one of which was medium security and housed mostly members from one specific gang, and another where they keep the prisoners that can't come into contact with anyone else (either because they are too violent or because they are in protective custody). The medium security prisoners in the common area were doing their best to see through the tinted windows to see who was in the hallway and to attract our attention. The high security prisoners each get one hour per day out of their cells in the common space. There's sixteen of them. I feel kind of sorry for whoever had the midnight to one AM slot.

After another couple doors, pushing the same people out of the goddamn way because they still didn't understand the concept of not blocking the doorway, we went into the pod where the women are housed. Oddly, they can house women in different gangs in the same pod without it being a problem. That's when I had the thought that women are generally more civilized than men while at the same time wanting to harm the women who kept blocking the doorways. Life is confusing sometimes.

Anyhow, it was an interesting evening. I've decided that I would have a really hard time as an introvert in jail, so I've decided to continue to try to not end up there. The morgue, too.