November 9, 2004 > Fremont Police Department Rookies Recount Traffic and 'Mid' Shift Experiences
Fremont Police Department Rookies Recount Traffic and 'Mid' Shift Experiences
TCV has been following the training of three Fremont rookie police officers while they complete their initial field training. Officers Matthew Bocage, Ramin Mahboobi and Matthew Snelson are scheduled to complete supervised field training next month. Recently, they have been working with the Traffic Division and relate some of their experiences and their thoughts at this point of training.
Bocage: We are just coming off our investigative traffic week and starting the midshift. The last few weeks have been pretty exciting. My FTO is Officer Javier Marquez; a very experienced officer. In the course of four days, we had about 28 moving violations. The approach to traffic is different than patrol. It took some adjustment.
Bocage: Traffic is involved with safety enforcement.
Bocage: Right! Traffic is focused on violations such as running red lights, speeding, seat belts, etc. I learned how to pace cars and that was interesting and exciting. No one is happy to be pulled over and get a ticket so everyone has a bit of an attitude, but it was interesting. I would say 75-80% of people denied the very thing I stopped them for. They absolutely denied it! People are funny that way.
TCV: Were there many incidents of extremely poor or dangerous driving?
Bocage: I would say the incidents I saw were within the norm. We were in a marked vehicle and most people were alerted to our presence.
Bocage: I wrote about 30 tickets. My FTO was Officer Dan Harvey who knows a lot about traffic enforcement and opened up the vehicle code to me; there is so much in the vehicle code. To answer your question, there were several times when I turned on my lights that drivers reacted in a strange manner. They didn't know what to do.
In one case, I activated my lights to stop a car and the driver slammed on its brakes and stopped in the lane. In another instance, as I was pulling a car over to the shoulder, another vehicle passed me on the right shoulder of the road! The people in the car looked back waving with anger!! The driver finally figured out that she was in the middle of a police stop and "floored it" out of there.
In another case, I was stopping another vehicle and a pickup truck traveling along the same street was approaching a signaled intersection. They froze when they saw me and decided to stop as the light was about to turn red but locked their brakes and skidded about 85 feet into the middle of the intersection.
What was interesting was that when people admitted that they had done something wrong and understood why, they were shocked that I wrote a ticket.
TCV: Did you notice that cell phones were a problem?
Bocage: A lot of people I stopped were on cell phones at the time. Our CHP collision forms have a box that you check that designates whether someone was talking on a cell phone at the time of the collision. It seems as if everyone is on a phone all the time.
Bocage: The state is keeping track of what was happening at the time of a collision - what actions might have distracted a driver prior to the accident. Sometimes I see a car swerving early in the day and wonder if we have a drunk driver that early. When I pull up, it may turn out to be someone who is lost, holding a cell phone and reading a map.
Bocage: I pulled a guy over who ran a stop sign and found that he had a map draped across the steering wheel. The driver claimed that the violation wasn't his fault because he was trying to read the map!
TCV: Was there anything about Traffic that was surprising?
Bocage: I enjoyed the opportunity to focus on traffic violations. It helped me to fine tune my ability to recognize violations. I feel very good about the mechanics of traffic stops.
Bocage: I was amazed at how busy that department is. I spent four long and busy days - I was exhausted at the end of each day. There were so many stops and contacts. People often are unhappy with the stop and feel they shouldn't be penalized for what others are also doing. They don't realize how many people the traffic officer deals with each day including serious traffic accidents. I am impressed with how much they do and how much is accomplished in one shift! We also responded to some calls to assist patrol - a bank robbery and a foot pursuit.
Bocage: I was impressed too! They are an extremely productive unit and I would love to work with the unit.
TCV: Are traffic units assigned to a specific area?
Bocage: No, complaints and concerns from citizens are used as a guide to where traffic patrols might locate. There are "hot spots" that are known for violations; detailed records are kept to find out where enforcement is needed.
Bocage: When traffic responds to citizen complaints and makes stops, especially in residential neighborhoods, people are happy to see action taken to protect them and their children.
TCV: Matt, you are on a different schedule, what are you doing now?
Snelson: I am on "Midnights" now. It is a bit different. Almost all calls are "in progress" or had just been "in progress." As an example, my first week on "mids," we had an auto burglary in progress when someone saw a burglar taking a stereo out of a car and reported it. We chased the suspect and recovered the stereo.
The pace is a bit different although I haven't worked a weekend shift yet, so there may be some big differences. It appears that Swing Shift is a much faster pace than "Midnight." Swing shift is on duty for about 4 hours before the midnight shift is on the street.
TCV: Since you have worked on different shifts and learned some techniques such as light management, do you find that some things are more familiar and a bit easier?
Snelson: I am finding more calls that are similar to what I have done before. It is still a mechanical process; I have to think through things and I am not moving as fast I should. As an example, if I pull someone over and decide the car should be towed because someone is driving with a suspended license. There are a few things I need to do in that case. First, I need to write a citation for the driver, a CHP tow form, notify dispatch that I need a tow truck and dispatch needs vehicle information for records management. In one case, it was raining and I was trying to get the driver a taxi, so I was also working on that too! An experienced officer might take 30 minutes to take care of everything and for me, it might take an hour. I need to tighten up on time management.
I was thinking about the importance of highly visible street numbers on houses. There have been many times that we are traveling down a street on a 911 call and people are depending on fast response and finding the house is difficult since the numbers are hidden or small. There is no consistency of where numbers are located either.
TCV: Any interesting experiences you can tell us about?
Snelson: I pulled over a guy who was driving with his lights out and it turned out that he was on parole. A search of his car turned up nothing of note. While I was handling the driver, my FTO was talking with a female passenger who, when asked for identification opened her purse and which contained a 14" knife in a sheath. She claimed the driver put it in her purse when they were being stopped. The driver had taken a little longer than normal to stop and that made me suspicious. He was cited for driving with lights off and the passenger for carrying the knife. The driver's parole officer was notified and will handle any parole violation issues.
Later, I thought about that knife and the fact that the driver could have decided to come at me with it. I appreciated all the things I was taught at the academy and by my FTO. You have to be consistent when stopping cars because you don't know if it's "mom" or a parolee. Some people at night will grimace when light is shined in the car, but the reality is that I don't know who they are and what I will be facing. I will be looking at someone's hands when approaching because 'your eyes are not going to hurt me, but your hands might.' That has to be balanced with communicating with people.
TCV: As you near the evaluation period to complete the FTO training, are you confident of your abilities?
Snelson: Yes, I think you have to go into that with confidence. If you do this passively, you will not do the things you need to do. There is no other way to be a solo officer than to do it! I have four more weeks of midnight shift with my tertiary FTO and then two weeks with my primary FTO for evaluation. If I pass all that, I can be released as a solo officer. You can be extended to allow some extra time for training. That is very common.
TCV: Has the academy training receded into the background?
Bocage: I see the academy as the core of my training and the on-the-job experience is what I am working with everyday and building on.
Bocage: When you get the academics and fundamentals at the academy, they are essential for the job. Now I have a chance to fine tune your technique and integrate your personality with the job.
Snelson: There are many things taught in academy for safety and academics which are a good foundation. But, now that we are on the street, there is a different level of knowledge that is based on our experiences. I am now operating more on a Fremont Police Department training standpoint than I was when coming out of the academy.
TCV: How do you feel about your growth in this profession?
Snelson: I know the things I am doing wrong and put a lot of personal pressure on myself to excel and succeed. This is a self-driven job. When you go out on your own as an officer, you have a choice of what to be doing so you have to be self-driven and self-critical. From what I have heard and seen, I think all of us are on track. We may be extended in our training, but that isn't a negative thing in our line of work.
I few FTO's have told me that I am too nice at times and I can see that. It is important to know when you need to be strong and in control without any appearance of weakness. I think I have kept my private life separate from work, although there are times when I have had an attitude at home, but I think that is more from the changing shifts and sleep cycles rather than who I am.
Bocage: My comfort level has increased a bit. My friends and family have commented that I look a little more relaxed.
Bocage: I see the confidence level increasing in all of us. You start to believe in yourself - that you can do this. In the beginning, it is so overwhelming. Looking back, as a person it changes you. I know that I have grown so much! I feel more confident each time I go out. I still know that I have so much more to learn. I have not found my comfort level on the job yet, but I do have confidence that I can do the job. I am now able to relax a little when off duty. My friends and family have seen that too.
Bocage: It is easy to loose perspective of what this is all about. We are constantly second-guessing and asking what I could do better, but that introspection is part of the process. I am okay with that now and understand that I have a lot to learn, but it can be done.
Snelson: I now have a great appreciation for the complexity that police officers face on every call. Before entering this profession, some things appear very straightforward and easy but from a police officer's perspective, there are many decisions and concerns that need to be addressed; Is the environment safe?, what crime was committed?, Investigation and evaluation concerns, time management and coverage issues. This is a very complex profession.