PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Next time you’re about to sneak a snack while riding on a Big Blue Bus, you may want to think twice.
Eating on the bus system isn’t just bad manners, it’s also against state law, as one 14-year-old boy found out first hand this month when two undercover officers escorted him off a No. 4 bus and wrote him a citation for unlawfully eating Cheetos.
Kaivon Simab, a student at Paul Revere Junior High School in Brentwood, was heading to his home in Westwood when he and another minor were cited by Santa Monica Police Department officers for the offense. Since the Feb. 1 incident, Simab’s mother has filed a complaint with the SMPD, arguing her son’s treatment was out of line with his offense.
She admits he broke the law, but says officers shouldn’t single out youngsters when eating on the bus is a fairly common transgression that usually goes unpunished.
“We as parents do not feel comfortable with undercover officers escorting kids off the bus … . This was handled as if he was being arrested for a much more sinister act,” Patty Simab wrote in a letter she sent to city officials.
While citations for eating on the Big Blue Bus are rare — just four of them have been issued in the past 12 months — they’re a legitimate way to enforce the law, said Sgt. Jay Trisler, a spokesman for the SMPD.
Trisler said Kaivon and another student were cited after a bus operator had reported regular problems with students from Paul Revere who were disturbing other riders, eating and taunting the driver. The undercover operation was scheduled after the driver notified a supervisor about the problem.
Trisler said enforcing the no-eating-on-the-bus rule is “not something that we proactively pursue” but is nevertheless a citeable offense, especially when it’s done to address a recurring problem.
Simab, for her part, said her son rarely takes the bus home from school and isn’t guilty of anything but eating an unhealthy snack.
Two SMPD officers are assigned to the Big Blue Bus and regularly patrol the system for violations that include fare evasions, public intoxication, noise disturbances, unruly behavior and other offenses. Going undercover, Trisler said, is a routine part of the job.
“Our officers go undercover for many things that people might think of as minimal,” he said.
In her letter, Simab said “using two officers for approximately one hour to cite a 14 year old [for] eating cheetos is a totally inappropriate allocation of resources” and demanded “a formal apology letter from the officers and the department.”
It appears unlikely Simab will get what she’s looking for.
“We have the jurisdiction to do it, we have the ability to cite. It’s an appropriate use of our resources because the Big Blue Bus contracts for our employees,” Trisler said.