August 3, 2004 > Crunch Time!
Police Rookies Hit the Streets
In our last issue, TCV introduced readers to three young men who had just successfully completed police academy training in Sacramento to work with the Fremont Police Department. After further instruction at FPD headquarters, Matthew Bocage, Ramin Mahboobi and Matthew Snelson are now on the streets of Fremont under the supervision of Field Training Officers (FTO's). With the completion of only a few days of patrol work, TCV asked for comments. Due to schedule conflicts Matthew Bocage and Ramin Mahboobi were interview together and Matthew Snelson at a later date.
Matthew Bocage & Ramin Mahboobi
TCV: You've had a little bit of time on the streets. What are your impressions? Has the experience met your expectations?
Bocage: With just the little bit of exposure that I've had, it has exceeded my expectations. Last time we spoke, we hadn't been introduced to our primary FTO. Since then, we've found out who we'll be riding with and I'm happy to say that we've got some highly qualified, highly professional folks ready and eager to teach us the ropes. My primary is Officer Crandall; he's very proactive, a very busy cop with a fantastic reputation in the area. I hear he's going to keep me very, very busy. We only rode twice, and I've gotten some great exposure. We start officially on Saturday. It's going to be good. I'm a little anxious, a little nervous. We're supposed to act as a solo officer. Initially they're going to be helping us learn the ropes, with codes and different things but the ultimate goal is for us to behave and respond like a solo officer. We're going to be pretty much doing everything.
TCV: So, right from the very beginning?
Bocage: I think it's going to depend on the primary FTO and what their teaching style is, but I know that I'm driving Saturday. I know that much. It's going to be a fast-paced learning environment for us.
TCV: Is it what you expected?
Bocage: It is. You know, there's so much going just being in the car for two days and listening to the radio traffic, dealing with everything around you, you're entire environment. It's the ultimate in multitasking. There's just so much to be paying attention to that it's a little overwhelming. From what I hear, everyone goes through that initially. It's a very steep learning curve, but I think we're ready for it. I'm cautiously optimistic.
Mahboobi: I agree with Matt. I went in there confident, yet nervous. I didn't know what to expect. I was immediately overwhelmed by it. You don't know enough to be confident yet, because it's completely different from the training we've received. It's the real thing. I've been to several calls and my FTO, Officer Koepf looked at me and asked, "Okay, what are you going to do?" Before we even get there - we're en route - and he's already asking me how I'm going to handle the call. "Are you picturing the different types of responses you're going to be getting from the RPs (Reporting Parties) or suspects, or whoever we're going to see right now?"
I started to mentally prepare for every question he asked me about a particular call that we're about to go handle. I question whether or not I have the correct answer. I just felt all of my confidence shrinking. The very first call that we were detailed, everything I thought I knew and that I would do was immediately justified. I thought that there was so much more to it. Nothing's simple, to sum it up. There is no routine call.
There's no simplicity at all. I immediately lost confidence and, although confident that I can do this, when thrown to the wolves, you start to look around and wonder if you're going to get out of there. It was very overwhelming. I was doing more than I expected to have to do right off the bat. I thought I would observe a little more. The first call we had was, "It's yours, handle it!" That kind of a thing caught me off guard. Even when I thought I handled it, I took it at one degree, and there's three hundred and fifty-nine degrees that I left out. There's so much involved!
TCV: Are you critiqued after each call?
Bocage: There's a constant dialogue with our FTOs, so we're constantly in a learning/teaching environment. There's written documentation at the end of every shift that's called a Daily Observation Report. It's a check-off sheet of twenty-five or thirty items that the FTO has to go over and evaluate you on. Scale of one to seven, seven being fantastic, one being, well, you'd better start working a lot harder.
Mahboobi: There's also a "Not Responding to Training," an NRT.
Bocage: You want to totally avoid one of those.
Mahboobi: That's your zero.
TCV: Do you see this report?
Bocage: Absolutely. We're signed off on every single task that we do, every piece of documentation requires our signature, our FTO's signature, their sergeant's signature all the way up the chain to lieutenant and captain is going to sign off on everything that we do.
TCV: Have your patrols been routine?
Bocage: Not at all, not even close. Even the simplest of tasks that we learned at the academy, that we flew through in scenario training, like just taking a simple report, when you're actually having a conversation with a real, live citizens who has concerns, it's a very different situation. They expect you to have all of the answers. I think a big part of being an officer is that the confidence level has got to be very, very high. People are counting on you to do the right thing.
TCV: What type of calls have you been on?
Mahboobi: I've had one burglary call. It was a "cold" burglary residential report. I'm in the middle of investigating that one right now to find out about a suspect. That was on my second day, and on that day my FTO said that it was my call, 100%. I'm thinking, "Wow, it's only my second day. I had more confidence on my first day." I just kind of fell back, and thought, "Okay, what have I been trained on? Go with what I know. Do what I know. Just learn from all the mistakes I'm going to make." My FTO did as he promised; he sat back and I took care of the entire call. He was there and asked questions of the Reporting Party that he felt I might have been leaving out, but for the most part, I handled everything.
After the call, we debrief everything. We talk about the plan of action on the way to the call, we handle the call, and after the call we debrief on why I did what I did, and what else I could have done. The most important thing he wants me to understand is there are several different ways to solve a problem. All can be right; you just need to know why each one is right and why others aren't. Learning, that is the challenge. That was an excellent learning call.
I've been to several "in-progress" calls and those are exciting. My very first day, I had a "245," assault with a deadly weapon. We expected resistance, but we didn't need to use any force. We took the suspect to the hospital for medical care and then to Fremont Jail for booking but, for medical reasons, and we ended up at Santa Rita; I learned a lot about the booking process. Not just detaining someone, but what do you do next? An arrest on my first day within the first couple of hours!
That was like, "Well, here you go, this is what you signed up for." It didn't take long; Day One and the second call of the day. That's an example of extremes - a cold report to gather facts and the other extreme, responding "code 3" (a fight in progress), where you have to be ready to use force. That was a great eye opener. I just wanted to make sure that I did everything right. They are not breaking us in softly.
TCV: When you're in a marked car and in a uniform, do you sense a difference in how people respond to you? Are you comfortable?
Bocage: There is certainly a difference. All eyes are focused on you whether you're driving, making a stop, going into a restaurant, getting some coffee, getting some gas, wherever you may be, you're everyone's focus. You stick out like a sore thumb. That's a good thing. Police presence is what a lot of this community is looking for. It's a little awkward I suppose but it's not that big of deal for me. It's something I got used to pretty quickly.
Going back to first question, everything is precipitated by the calls that come in. The intensity of your training is going to depend on how busy and what type of calls we receive in any given day. That same first day, we had a couple of traffic stops and a child abuse case. But, the most exciting call of the day was, by far, at about three o'clock in the afternoon. We had another "in-progress" call where a known felon had stolen a car the previous day. A zone sergeant saw and stopped him and the entire zone responded "code 3." The occupants of the car got out to run, so we had a foot pursuit going on - officers and canines. All of this is happening and I'm right in the middle of it thinking, "What do you guys need me to do?" I got a chance to book and interview the felon at the city jail. That was eye opening - to talk at length with this guy who's looking at doing some pretty serious time.
TCV: When you get into those situations, does prior training just kick in?
Bocage: The training kicks in. It's immediate - bam, bam, bam. The thing that I was a little apprehensive about is not so much the threat of what's happening in front of us but the process involved and how not to mess anything up - documentation, writing the report and if I had to take a suspect's statement or a victims statement that day. In a way, getting everything right is more of a concern for me than the actual crime in progress. That's going to get handled. There's no question about that.
TCV: Do you feel that you have a long way to go?
Bocage: Yeah, I've got a long way to go.
Mahboobi: I know that I have a long way to go - a lot to learn. Like Matt said, I haven't had any doubts about handling the calls and dealing with the issue; it's procedural stuff, it's beyond that. The instinctive response from the training is automatic. But, after that, it's a question of how I did it. There are things that other officers would have done differently and I want to learn all of those things.
I might not be right in trying to solve a problem - I'm not sure it's the way our agency wanted to do it. I don't think I'm doing anything unlawful or wrong, but there are so many procedures and directives on everything - on how we, as an agency, want to handle crimes. There are two binders of about five hundred sheets each - millions of words that I need to memorize. One day, I'll know them all. That's where your doubts come in. That's where the confidence kind of goes down. Am I doing this the way my Training Officer wants me to do it?
So on my days off, I've reviewed as much as can - all the policies that I've faced already that I didn't quite have the right answers for on day one and day two. I want to make sure that if I handle it again I'll do it the way everyone would want it to be done. What's going to be interesting is if I get the same type of call again. I still might mess it up, because it'll be different. Just because it has the same title doesn't mean it's not a completely different situation.
Bocage: We are trying to figure out exactly how we can take everything that we've learned and everything that we will continue to learn, formulating it into our personalities and the way we choose to handle it. I think every officer is different, and while procedurally we may all do the same things, they all go about it in very different ways. So, it's finding a niche - what works best for us to accomplish the same things. It's the struggle we're working with now.
TCV: Are you encouraged to try different approaches?
Bocage: Absolutely. My FTO is very supportive, very encouraging. Everything that Ramin said is the same for me. I've gone over everything that I can possibly think of. I mean, hours of studying since we got off last shift and I feel like I still don't really know anything. I'm working on mental preparation, visualization. When we get in the car Saturday morning at about 6:45 a.m., I want to be mentally prepared, just how I'm going to deal with the car, with the radio. I've gone over a few different role-playing scenarios in my head as to how we're going to proceed with certain calls. We're completely dependent upon our FTO. I'm really grateful that I have Officer Crandall as my FTO, because he's going to show me the way and I'm happy with what I've seen.
Mahboobi: The way that we're evaluated in the sense of progress is on how we handled a call compared to a solo officer. The way we're graded is based on would they have handled it, how much time would they have taken to be able to solve the issue, did they cover all of the material that they needed to cover, and did they hit all the information that they needed. Compared to a solo officer, I'm nowhere near that level yet. I need a lot of help in these calls, making all the right decisions and getting all the right information, asking the right questions, that alone is a huge challenge.
It's going to take a long time to know exactly what I need to do before I am even at the scene. I have an idea, but there's so much that I can overlook in one single call. I show up and it takes me three times the amount of time of an experienced officer. The FTO is there to help you see how you could have achieved the result in a better way and to make sure that you're prepared to know exactly what you need immediately. I'm stumbling through the calls. I'm nowhere near having my own style.
It's still so new to me, even though we've spent all this time training. It's a completely different type of training out there handling the real deal. I know Matt is probably doing a great job, but even so, I think I can speak for both of us - we're not at that level. We've got a long way to go, but there's been a lot of support from all the other officers that are there. A lot of cops come up and ask us how it's going, and how our first week has been.
Bocage: We just smile.
Mahboobi: We're looking at them and thinking, "Holy Crap! This is really something," and they're laughing like, "I know, I was there, man."
Bocage: Stock up on the Tylenol and Rolaids is what I've been told.
Mahboobi: They are encouraging saying, "Hey, we were there, it's overwhelming but you'll get through it." And that's comforting, because sometimes you feel like, "Man, I must be the worst cop who ever showed up to Day One because I feel so unprepared." Yet, it's how it is. You've just got to stick with it. I'm confident to go back to work, but I know I'll stumble all over myself all over again. As much as I've reviewed all of those directives and thought that they would help me and I've studied what I thought I should have focused on a little more, there's still another book I've yet to open.
TCV: Are you enjoying this experience?
Bocage: Yes. It is fantastic. It really is. There have been a lot of highs and some lows. Despite the anxiety, the difficulty and what's expected of us, there's no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision.
Mahboobi: Without a doubt. It's a very serious job, and it's very stressful already, but without a doubt it's the best career out there. I wouldn't trade this hell I'm going through for anything else out. I went home feeling like an idiot - to put it bluntly - but I couldn't wait to go back to work the next day. It's exciting.
Bocage: I slept three hours the night before our first day. I went to bed about one a.m., got up at four, and I was just burning adrenaline all day long, I wound up working 17 hours that day - five hours of overtime. I got home at about 12:30 a.m., didn't go back to sleep until about one-ish, and then I got up at four again, and worked two hours overtime that day. I was drop-dead exhausted after two days but I couldn't stop talking all day, I could not shut up, I was just so excited. Everybody knew exactly what we went through, and how much fun we were having, and how lost I was.
Mahboobi: I'm looking at my days off as not enough time to study for my next shift. There's just so much - penal codes, vehicle codes, procedures, directives, report writing, and the list goes on. I need to learn more. Review, review, review! Learn, learn, and learn! But, I can't wait to go back to work. My days off are too short yet too long. Between the excitement and the love I have for the job and the desire to conquer this training and be out there on my own.
This is everything I've wanted it to be so far. It's going to be hard and stressful, but this is the most stressful part. You know you're going to make it, but you don't know. You've got to prove it. This is the first time in my life that I've been this excited to go to work. From what I hear, I better get used to the feeling. I've never had so many people training me, so many different instructors and trainers. The one thing they've all agreed on is that they love coming to work every day. It's been that way for me ever since I signed up and got hired. That's what's beautiful about this career.
Bocage: Yeah. We are in a pursuit of experience. I've never wanted experience so bad in my entire life. Just to get that experience is all I think about.
TCV: Has your experience met prior expectations?
Snelson: I would say that it met my expectations in a lot of respects. There's a lot of multitasking once you really start getting out there. In the first two days, I wasn't even driving. I was just sitting in the passenger seat, and there was already a lot of information just from there. The last two days of my first week, I started driving, so now, yeah, a huge dynamic. You got your computer screen, but you don't want to be looking at that while you're driving, so you've got to wait until you get to a light or something to get information. You're trying to listen to the radio not only for your call sign and where you're being assigned but your zone partner so you know where they are in case they get in trouble. You're trying to think through different stuff.
We tried to serve some warrants. We were looking for a couple of stolen cars this week that we heard were in the area. There's just a ton of dynamics going. It met my expectations in some respects - it was extremely stressful. The pace definitely picked up, big time. I actually didn't expect the report writing to take me as long as it has. That, I think, is just learning the style, the format and how to get the information that's needed for the district attorney. Since the last time we talked, one of the days, in our in-house, before we started on the street, we went to the district attorney's office and watched one of the sergeants from our department take the cases over from the night before. It was interesting to see how leaving things out or putting things in to that report made a huge difference. Whether it was done or not in real life, that report was all they had to go on. Just a lot, a ton of multitasking, and just feels like my brain's been running at 120 mph.
TCV: After four long days of duty, what will you do on your days off?
Snelson: I need 'em. It was a long week. Just for my wife and I. My wife teaches, and it'll give us some time to connect. Really, on those four days, at least right now, we weren't able to see each other much. Maybe a half hour or an hour where I'd come home, eat dinner, and then go to bed. There are some things that I have to buy this week, knowing now what I need to get. I have a test next week that I need to study for. I think we're tested every week throughout the FTO...
TCV: A written test?
Snelson: A written test, yeah. I need to prepare for that. We took tests all the time in the academy, but the department also needs to make sure that we know what we're doing. You've got to know when you can go into somebody's house, when you can't, when you can detain somebody, when you can't. These four days are not only to study for the written test, but also areas that I already see as weaknesses. Studying radio codes and making sure that I just know those off the top of my head. Radio codes, penal codes, making sure you really know the elements inside and out for a crime. When you walk in and meet with somebody, they're going to tell you what happened and you have to be able to pick the bullets that make up the crime; we call them the elements. This week, I'll probably be studying those things, getting my stuff in order. Now I think I have a perspective of what a workweek looks like.
TCV: When you are in uniform and riding in a marked car, is there is a difference in the way that the public looks at you?
Snelson: It's different. You can definitely tell when people are watching. I can see in my rearview mirror whenever we get on a road, everybody starts doing the speed limit, which I did too. We got on the freeway the other day and a car was merging from the right. We were about even so I started to slow down, and my FTO says, "No. Don't slow down, because he's going to see a cop car and nobody wants a cop behind them." It is different. I don't feel different, that's what's weird.
TCV: Is that a process for you, or is it just something that happens immediately?
Snelson: I think some of it is, they talked about command presence. You definitely have to be a little bit different when you have that uniform on. People recognize that authority from that uniform, and you have to own that. We went to a residence yesterday to check on a person's welfare. People hadn't seen them for two weeks and no one was answering the door. I knocked on the door and said, "Fremont Police, we need you to open up," did it three times. I almost didn't do it the third time. We were going to break the deadbolt but about mid-sentence, the guy goes, "Alright! Alright!"
He comes and answers the door, and now it's not just one guy, there are two other guys behind him. At that point, his response is - not because it's me but because it's my uniform - "Whoa, whoa, what's the deal?" I've got three guys inside, and we're in the house taking control. That has to happen. You have to be there to take control. I think the uniform has an effect on people and I think that you also have to control that. You don't want to abuse that, but at the same time it's part of your job.
TCV: Who's your FTO?
Snelson: Officer Quimson.
TCV: How much does he let you do?
Snelson: I was eased into it. Matt and Ramin just happened to get some crazy calls right off the bat. A lot of it is that. It's what call is going to come out. My first day driving, we're out looking for a stolen vehicle. If I find this car and this guy is the person that we think is driving the car - he's had some issues - we can expect some resistance. If I find him - we're rolling out of the police department at 7 a.m. - and see him at 7:05, this is my first day in the car and I'm possibly in a car pursuit! You've got to take all of that into consideration. I think Officer Quimson did a very good job of easing me into things. The first two days, I drove around and got to see him make traffic stops. I would walk up on the passenger side and observe him, listen to what he was doing, watch how he parked his car.
He would hand things off to me. We ran into a traffic collision right off the bat on the first day and he took control of the two people, got them out of harm's way, set his car up to block the intersection to protect the cars. When we got to the side, he got their driver's licenses and handed them to me and told me to "run them." That's the first time I've ever run anything, so I'm thinking about how I'm going to talk to radio, what channel do I go to. I think he did a good job just on the first two days, giving me some easy stuff to ease me in to it. By the second day, I took a few more lead roles in talking to people. I took a family dispute, an argument. Some of those things, I bumbled pretty good, but you've got to learn somehow.
By day three and day four, I was taking a whole lot more of the lead. I was doing the traffic pullovers, I was the one talking, I was talking on the radio a lot more. Officer Quimson did some of the computer work, so that I didn't have to deal with it so much on the first day, but I really wanted to get used to doing it, too. So when I'd get to a light I'd try to do it like I will in the future. I had much more of an easing process than I think Matt and Ramin did. A lot of that was just circumstance.
TCV: Do you feel that the prior training that you received was adequate? When you get into pressure situations, do you feel that the training sort of takes over, and in a way, you go into automatic pilot?
Snelson: Yeah some. I made a few mistakes this week on stuff that I was trained in just from the pressure. I look back and wonder what I was thinking - I know not to do that. I think some of that is just the stress and because there are so many things going on in your head at one time, you have to be conscious of everything that you're doing. A police officer has the power to take someone's freedom from them, even with a detention you are not free to leave right now until I figure out if there is a crime involved here. That's a huge responsibility that carries a lot of civil liability if you do something wrong there. So you're worried about that.
You're thinking about going into somebody's house wrong. You have to have probable cause to get in there. You're worried about all of those interactions. The biggest concern is officer safety. I don't want to get myself or my FTO hurt. There're a lot of things going on. I feel like I got a lot of good training in academy, and now it's just trying to fit it all together in a real life situation. We did scenarios at academy and scenarios are this nice, sterile environment. I actually considered myself a pretty good mediator between people, in academy. It's not hard for me to talk to people. Yet, my first family dispute I just got all jacked up in my mind. Some of it is the adrenaline, and you just start to get that tunnel vision - there's no autopilot yet. I think that that comes later on. However, a lot of people have said that sometimes that autopilot is what gets you in trouble.
TCV: After the four days on the streets, are you enjoying yourself?
Snelson: I am. But, there are times. Wednesday night I was not enjoying myself. We took a burglary report. Another officer had been assigned a burglary report, and my FTO said that we would take that for training which was good because you want to take every report you can possibly take while you're in training. I don't want to get out on the street and have to take a burglary report when I've never taken a burglary report before. We went to this business and It turns out that the guy had entered through one business, and then they went through a wall and into the next business. That's not one burglary report, it's two. Two separate one. Not only was I writing my first burglary report, but I was writing my first two burglary reports at the same time. The way that Sacramento does their reports is completely different from how Fremont does it. I'm kind of going through this learning process of just doing it. I ended up working late on those.
TCV: Were you prepared for the amount of paperwork involved with police work?
Snelson: I knew that I would be writing a lot of reports. I didn't know that I would be this slow at it right now. My wife and I made a huge sacrifice with me being in Sacramento four days a week during my academy training. I thought when I got back to Fremont that we'd see each other more. The last four days have proven that, at least right now while I'm in training, while I'm learning how to do these things, I'm putting many more hours in than I thought I would. Some of that should have been expected, but I think I was just surprised by that. Because my dayshift starts early, I try to go to bed around 8:30 or 9 p.m. and I'm waking up at 4:30 a.m. Most of the shifts are long, like last night was probably my lightest night and I got off at 7 p.m. The window is just pretty small.
TCV: Did you feel prepared for the communication part of policework?
Snelson: You have to report on paper everything that you're going to do because in the end, the point is to convict criminals and to protect the city and myself from liability. You have to document things you do. I knew that, I just didn't think I was going to be that slow about it.
TCV: Looking to the future, what do you expect from your next shift, do you see a gradual increase in confidence or maybe this kind of up and down for maybe the next month or two?
Snelson: I think it's going to go longer than a month or two. Last night, my FTO did a pretty good job of debriefing the week at the end of our shift. At about seven o'clock we sat down and talked about what kind of stuff I needed to study for next week and then talked about the week. I think he's 11 or 14 years on the force and he said that there are plenty of days where, he'll either have a good day or a bad day, he's just on or off. Within the shift, he might have eight great hours of police work, but maybe for two of them he'll wonder where his head was.
I think it's expected that you're always going to have highs and lows. It's just learning to manage that so that your lows aren't endangering yourself, any other officers, the public, and your lows aren't messing up your basic fundamental job - to protect the peace, and to fight crime. I expect my confidence level to slowly rise. My FTO started me off this week with some car stops. That was good because I have to communicate with people, I have to drive the car, activate the lights, do the radio, manage traffic around me and get to that vehicle. My first traffic stop was okay, because I got behind the car and they were at a red light. When the light turned green, I made the call, they pulled over and it went smoothly. My second car stop didn't go so well. I was driving past the car in a residential neighborhood and it had no plates. I got too jacked up and inside I thought, "No plates! That might be a stolen car, or..." and my brain starts spinning. I got too "amped" up. A lot of it is just learning to react in a calm and measured response.
After I messed up that car stop I didn't want to make another car stop because you think you're terrible at it. But inside, you also know that you have to do it again and again to get that confidence. 10, 20, 30 more down the line, I'm going to be able to say that I know how to get to the vehicle; I know how to put the radio traffic out and all of these things. I felt the same thing with the family argument call. I walked out of there thinking that I didn't ever want to do another one of those but at the same time I need to volunteer for another ten. When I go out on my own, I better not be worried about knowing how to perform in those situations.
TCV: How does your wife feel about this?
Snelson: I think she's been doing really well. I think that this week was a good learning week for us because we finally got to see what a week of actually working looked like. I was there pretty late, and I wasn't sure if I could use the city phone to call home real quick and say that I was working late, so she was pretty mad about that, about not getting called. I would be too. I explained that I wasn't sure if I could make that call and then I found out that I could. Since then, that's helped a lot, just communication. Everything breaks down to communication I think. She's doing really well with it.
Our understanding and expectations are a little more realistic after those first four days. I was sitting there Wednesday night wishing I was home with my wife instead of writing these burglary reports, but they had to get done, I've got to put the long hours in now to learn how to do this stuff, and I'll get faster and better at it and more confident.