September 14, 2004 > Night Vision
Rookies Move to Swing Shift
This installment is part of a continuing series of comments from Officers Matthew Snelson, Matthew Bocage and Ramin Mahboobi of the Fremont Police Department who have been receiving field training since graduating from Police Academy earlier this year. They are now working on the "swing shift" which includes late afternoon, night and early morning hours.
TCV: This shift is something new for you? What are the differences?
Snelson: Sleep was huge! I went from waking up at 4 a.m. to trying to sleep until 12:30 p.m. and going to work from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. We get off at 3 a.m., but you have to write reports after that. There were a few nights when I got out at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. This was a change for my wife and I since she is teaching and I get home at 5 a.m. She gets up a couple of hours after I go to bed. She writes notes to me about her day and her classes and I now write her notes about my "day."
The people we deal with have changed a ton - a completely different populace! During the day we dealt with your normal average citizen. You might be going to some problem calls like a family fight but at night, there are more family fights and more people under the influence or have been drinking. They have been home for awhile. You definitely see a different side of life at night
Bocage: During the day shift, I would get on at 6 a.m. and usually have a chance to "warm up" and then the calls would start picking up during the morning. Now, we have a briefing at 4:30 a.m. and things are already hot - very, very active. There are usually several calls waiting. We are being dispatched constantly; right out of the gate. You are hitting the ground running on this shift. As soon as the sun goes down, everything is moving.
Snelson: There are traffic pattern changes too. During the day there is so much more traffic on the roads that you have to be very conscious of how you are driving - you have to be aware at any time - but at night there are far less people out so when we need to get to a call quickly, the traffic is much lighter.
TCV: Are the calls different in scope or just more numerous?
Bocage: Loud music and disturbance calls are numerous. There are more nightlife activities getting out of control like bar fights. That is different.
Mahboobi: We are in the same zone and working the same hours so we see each other more now. If there is an in-progress call, we will probably see each other since our FTO's (Field Training Officer) will want us to get the experience. We are seeing new things now. I notice a lot more in-progress calls, so I am not just showing up to take a report with no suspect or suspect description. I am showing up with the suspect there. There is whole different approach and mindset. Day shift has its share of in-progress calls too, but in the short time I have been on swing shift, there have been a lot more in-progress calls.
We will probably see a lot more of each other at these calls. It's good to see a friend and see the same look in his eyes reflecting the same questions I have about handling the call.
Snelson: When we have a music disturbance or loud party call, a "BOL" is broadcast on the radio which means "Be On the Lookout." The department used to dispatch an officer to that answer the call, but now, because of staffing levels, we are told of the problem and if we happen to be in the area, can deal with it.
Mahboobi: Once we hit the streets at 4 p.m., there are calls waiting, so we are already down in work. As we get out of briefing, get in the car and log on, within the first 30 seconds there is a call. From then on, it is just call to call to call. I don't really notice a peak of activity. It is like you are in a hole and you are trying to get out. Until at least 11 p.m. or midnight, we are handling calls continuously and then it seems like, although calls are still coming in, we start to have the staffing to handle the calls. It begins to balance out. By around 1 a.m., it begins to slow down.
Snelson: We are very conscious of our zone partners since many calls translate to reports. If you happen to get a big case that requires a lot of paperwork, it takes you out of the zone for a period of time and creates a heavier load for the others. You are trying to do all you can for the case but at the same time you want to support your partners in the zone. It is a tough juggling act.
TCV: Have you had any significantly new experiences?
Bocage: Yesterday was my first court testimony in a felony case. It went pretty well. This was just a preliminary hearing to decide whether there was enough evidence to take the case further. Along the same line, now that we are in our sixth week, I am seeing a lot of the cases that I started, come back with convictions. We get disposition forms that let us know what happened to the person we arrested. We are coming full circle seeing the punishment that is given to these people.
TCV: Did you feel prepared for your court appearance?
Bocage: I felt well prepared - our academy training prepares us. The deputy district attorney also prepared me well. I was a little nervous, but once I settled in, it was okay. You just testify to what you saw and heard - what is in your report. It is important to have good notes since court appearances are often many weeks after the arrest and we have to rely on our reports. This appearance helped me to understand what I should include in my reports.
Snelson: I watched the court testimony of Matt and Officer Ehling and I was impressed by how they handled themselves. They looked confident even though I am sure they were nervous inside. I was interesting to watch them and see the prosecutor ask questions and then the defense attorney take his turn. There were two defense attorneys in this case, so you have to go through two different sets of questions.
Bocage: It was a great experience. You can see the defense attorney taking notes while the prosecutor is asking questions. You want to look as competent as possible, telling the truth, being professional and courteous. I had to recall a lot from my memory and consult my notes. The biggest lesson of all is to know what needs to be in my reports to be prepared for testimony in court.
Snelson: That is supposed to be the end result of our work. If you arrest somebody, you want them to be put in jail for the crime.
Mahboobi: The prosecution of criminals is what validates our work as a police officer.
TCV: What is the primary operational difference when patrolling on the swing shift?
Bocage: I am still having a hard time adjusting to what happens at night; even something like a car stop. There is enough going on in the daytime; now you have to worry about - there are more buttons you have to push on the display panel - lighting up the car in front of you with the spotlight just to see what is going on. It will be a couple of weeks until I am comfortable. I had a code 3, lights and siren, last night and I didn't feel comfortable.
Snelson: When you are trying to get to something quickly, street signs are harder now and numbers are very difficult. A lot of places don't have numbers on their houses or they are not easily read. You may be driving along and suddenly the numbers jump 200 digits and find yourself "on top" of the house you are looking for. That is not where you want to be. It is best to stop before the house.
Mahboobi: We want to have the advantage when we arrive, but if we stumble across the place and the next thing we know, we are right at their front yard, we have lost our advantage. You lose the element of surprise. It is a new challenge!
Bocage: We have resources to help us locate a call. We are given some street direction but that just gets you to the street.
Snelson: The other thing I am struggling with is coming to the scene as a cover officer. The primary officer has already made contact and they may be standing in the dark. I need to turn my headlights off as I approach so I don't destroy their night vision. Light management is the package we have added. This is when to add light, when not to add light. You don't want to shine a flashlight behind another officer because that silhouette's him. Light management is huge!
Bocage: The things you can readily see on the day shift often cannot be seen easily at night. The level of danger escalates because of this.
TCV: Are procedures more automatic now or do you still find yourself missing parts of a protocol?
Mahboobi: With repetition, many things are now automatic. However, depending on the situation, I might miss something. It seems that just as we begin to get an understanding of our role, they change the rules on you. Now, we are working in the dark and there are more things to do. It adds more tasks to the same game. There are many steps to take even before we get out of the car. This will improve with time. Every day we go home, we go home wiser. We just need to do it over and over again.