November 23, 2004 > Finding Their Footing
Finding Their Footing
Rookie Cops Close to Final Evaluation
For the past several months, TCV has been following the field training of Officers Matthew Bocage, Ramin Mahboobi and Matthew Snelson. They are currently working with their "Tertiary FTO" (3rd Field Training Officer) to complete formal training, working in tandem under direct supervision. Here are their thoughts as they work "Mids" (8 p.m. - 7 a.m.).
TCV: Now that you have been working the "Mid" Shift for a while, is there anything distinctive about policing that time period?
Mahboobi: Each shift is different from each other. The volume of calls waiting is very high from the beginning of Swing Shift; people are starting to come home from work and domestic activity increases. Mids can be that way, but sometimes things are quieter allowing proactive police work. After 3 a.m., the calls we get are primarily "in progress" when someone is awakened by an attempted burglary or theft. These are exciting to respond to since the crime is happening then.
Snelson: All shifts have their own pattern. The midnight shift tends to be action oriented calls. The day shift ends up getting a lot of "cold" reports where there is no suspect on scene, but the incident has just been discovered. Swing shift hits the ground running since kids are getting home from school, adults from work and everyone's home. Midnights are sporadic when some nights seem to hop requiring more officers since they can be "in progress." Our numbers can be depleted quickly during these times.
TCV: Can you get to the scene while the perpetrator is still around?
Bocage: It depends. The likelihood of arriving when the suspect is still around is greater in Mids since there is little traffic at that time and we can be on scene within a very short period of time. In the day shift, we are often called when someone discovers a burglary but they only know it happened sometime during the day.
Mahboobi: During a day shift, sometimes we were able to set up a perimeter and catch the suspect, but often they had already left the area. During Mids, a high percentage of the time, we are on scene when the suspect is still there or in the area and can be apprehended. It is hard for a suspect to blend into the background late at night since most people are inside and asleep.
When we patrol during the early morning hours, we can observe others and ask ourselves, "Is this normal activity for someone at this hour?" We may investigate with a "consensual encounter" where we may ask if it is okay to talk with the person and find out what they are doing. Sometimes stopping someone for a minor infraction in those early hours can lead to significant law enforcement issues.
Bocage: During Mids, we have the opportunity, after things have settled down a bit between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. to write reports - is a big help for us [rookies]. We are still very active on patrol, but citizen calls for service slow down. The number of officers on the street at that time is limited - there are not enough of us - so if we have a call that requires assistance, we are stretched very thin for the rest of the city. There may not be any cover units available and that affects how we handle violations and crimes.
Snelson: Down times allow more proactivity on midnights. There are areas we know that have problems and when we have time, observe and take action, if possible. There tend to be more criminals in ratio to other citizens late at night. I run across more parolees and those on probation on midnight shift.
TCV: Do you find that with all the changes in shifts and now working during the night, your energy level goes through some radical changes?
Bocage: I definitely go through ups and downs. I find that by the third or fourth day of the shift, I am running on fumes. I am constantly playing catch-up with my sleep patterns. On "off" days, I may sleep as much as 12 or 13 hours straight. It is tough, but it hasn't been that bad because this has just been a few months. When we get through this period, things will stabilize.
TCV: What is the difference between weekdays and weekends on the Mid Shift?
Bocage: A huge difference! It will be very busy during a weekend.
Mahboobi: We may do bar checks of an area. We find out which bars have large crowds and have the greatest potential of problems. Later that evening, we pay close attention to those places. There is a big difference between weeknights and weekend nights.
TCV: With the holidays approaching, is there more incidents of DUI (Drinking Under the Influence)?
Bocage: We have had our share of DUIs. In these few weeks, we have each had two or three that we have followed all the way through.
Snelson: I see a lot more DUIs at night. I have at least five DUIs now, all in the timeframe after midnight. One of the bars in my area has been having a lot of problems. Our sergeant may ask us to be nearby at closing time to prevent any fights from escalating.
Mahboobi: I feel there have been an abnormally high number of DUI's in the past few weeks. I have seen and taken reports on several DUI crashes where we investigate an accident and see that alcohol or drugs were involved. The report changes from an accident report to an extended report or reports. There is a lot of documentation - the traffic collision, what caused the collision, witnesses, involved parties, intoxication report, breath or blood test, etc. The amount of paperwork involved is amazing.
Bocage: Obviously, it is much better to catch these people prior to this happening.
Mahboobi: An increase in these types of statistics leads to heavier enforcement. As the holidays approach, people will be getting together to celebrate and the amount of DUI will increase. We are trying through heavy enforcement to prevent people from trying to drive home on their own while intoxicated. If they choose to do this, we hope to stop them before a collision occurs.
TCV: How do you handle someone who is intoxicated, but on foot?
Bocage: We try to apply the spirit of the law. If they are too intoxicated and cannot take care of themselves, they will be arrested. If a friend can help them get home, we advise them to go home directly. If the person is mildly intoxicated, but lucid, and on their way home - not a danger to themselves or anyone else - we let them go home.
If there is a problem with a particular bar, we will try to work with the bartenders and owners to let them know that they need to be aware of the age of their patrons and the potential for problems. Sometimes we will walk through and, if people appear underage, ask for identification.
Mahboobi: We are not trying to tell people how to run their businesses. Our business is to inform them of the law and work with them to stop illegal activity.
TCV: What happens when there is negative news about the use of Tasers or other police procedures?
Bocage: We definitely hear about these things. The department treats these things as an educational experience and as long as we are acting within our policies, we continue accepted methods of law enforcement. We do talk about these things at briefings.
Mahboobi: The Lieutenant will talk about something that may have happened within our own department, neighboring agencies or elsewhere. We try not to second-guess another officer's judgment but we try to discuss the facts and actions that led to the incident. All the facts and factors may not be known, so we try to learn from what we do know. The department spent a long time developing policies for the Taser and every officer that has one has spent a long training day on the use of them.
Briefings will cover what has happened in our area, around the Bay Area and beyond - information that will help us during our shift. If we need to be on the lookout for particular suspects or vehicles, that will be covered. Radio and dispatch personnel may come and awards are given at briefings.
Bocage: I feel very informed coming out of briefing.
TCV: At this point, if you were told that FTO training had ended and you were to patrol on your own without accompaniment by another officer, could you do it?
Bocage: I am comfortable enough to be able to do it. I am not sure that I am ready, but I have enough tools to learn on the fly. A couple of months ago, I would have been very uneasy about it. You are never out there alone since there are cover officers and support from the department. Right now, my FTO, Tony Tassano, stays in the background as an observer on calls, but we are constantly discussing procedures afterwards.
I am really going to appreciate being "10-8," on my own. When I am working with these people and engage as a patrol officer, I will have come full circle. No longer will I be filling in all the blanks, it becomes a team effort rather than someone holding back and evaluating how I am doing. We have averaged about one arrest per shift which is above average. I know that some of those have been due to my observations and diligence.
Mahboobi: I am confident that I would be able to do it. There is still a lot that we don't know, but you never will know it all and there is some that we will not know until we do it. If they cut me loose right not, I know a lot about officer safety and would not put myself in danger. I am more oriented with the city streets and can get to a "hot" situation. I know how to start off calls and can find help to reach a final disposition, if necessary. If an unclear situation occurs, I know how to find help through resources available to me. That is something I did not have earlier in the training.
My FTO, Gregory Pipp, doesn't say a word in most instances - he is observing. On scene, he steps back and lets me do what I have to do. My goal is to not turn to him at any time during the call. We discuss my procedures after the call.
When we are cut loose, in real life, there is a team effort to take care of a situation. Right now, everyone is standing back to see what I can do and waiting for direction from me. That is good because it makes me think of everything that needs to be done.
Snelson: About a week and a half ago, my FTO, Officer [Joseph] Geibig, asked me to drive my own car. He rode with me the first week and in the second week, I began driving my own vehicle. On my "Friday" of my second week with Officer Geibig, at the beginning of the shift, he directed me to get my own car. That was a great moment! Within three minutes on the street, I made a traffic stop. I have probably made over a hundred traffic stops with an FTO, but walking to the car that time, I was so amped up, so excited internally. I had to tell my self to relax and breathe. Within a few hours of being on my own, I started to get that under control. It was definitely a different feeling - there isn't someone in the car evaluating every move you make.
I think I made the transition to being capable of working solo in phase 2 when I was working with Officer [Kevin] Gott, the expectation was "OK kid, show me what you can do!" He wanted to step back and watch me do it. I don't believe there was a single day when I made the transition but I felt I was moving towards this goal.
Officer Geibig drives a second car and "shadows" although he doesn't drive right behind me. I am doing my own policing. After a big call, he and I will discuss my actions. Recently, on a burglary call, I was the primary officer and he and I met afterwards to critique my performance. We still show up as one unit on the roster and are viewed as one unit on the street. Dispatch will not dispatch us separately even though Officer Geibig may not be needed on the call.
I have found that when working on a big call, the team effort comes through not only during the call, but when handling the paperwork. Other officers will ask if they are needed to write a supplemental report to augment the primary officer's "umbrella" report. A cover officer working with me is no longer evaluating my performance; rather we are working as part of a team effort.
On a call, I can now make sure I know exactly where the location is, while with an FTO in the car, you don't want to be looking something up all the time. You want to look like you know exactly what you are doing and where you are going. If I have to stop at the curb for 5 seconds to confirm where I am going, it's better because when I move, I can concentrate on driving, what type of call I am responding to and what I need to do when I get there.
It definitely is "freeing." We couldn't have done this until now because we didn't have the tools. Being solo now, a lot of the training is coming home. I feel that I have a lot to prove. You don't want to be known as a slacker. I want to be known as working for the team and effective for the City of Fremont.