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September 24, 2004 > Feeling the Pulse of Fremont

Feeling the Pulse of Fremont

Swing Shift Heats Up

In a continuation of a series, TCV has been following the field training of Fremont Police Department rookies, Matthew Bocage, Ramin Mahboobi and Matthew Snelson. They have been working on the "swing shift" (4 p.m. - 3 a.m.) for the past several weeks and relate some of their thoughts and experiences.

TCV: Can you single out an interesting learning experience or incident that you have been called to recently?

Bocage: There was an incident in Niles where we had several hundred youths over at Munoz Hall who got out of hand at a party. It started out as a disturbance which escalated into a fight, and then into a 'shots fired' call, so every cop in the city made their way down there; we had BART police and Union City out there helping us.

It went pretty well; the goal in a situation like that is to get the crowd dispersed as safely as possible. We had some squad sergeants on hand, and formed skirmish lines; basically all the tactical things that I learned about in the academy. We were just forcing the crowd back, out to all the main outlets to Mission Blvd as best as we could. It was a little chaotic, a little hectic, but it went smoothly. Under the circumstances, we organized well, communication was good, and we managed to disperse the crowd in a reasonable amount of time without anyone getting hurt.

After we got the crowd moving, we went to the Mission/Niles intersection, anticipating that there would be a lot of foot and vehicle traffic, We stayed posted there to make sure that they didn't all get back together and cause havoc, or do any looting to the businesses there.

TCV: Did you feel hostility?

Bocage: There was a lot of confusion and it was hostile at first. This crowd had been together a long time, and some were intoxicated. But I think we had a strong enough show of force that we quelled anything that may have happened. There were dozens of officers on the scene within minutes. We had our lethal and non-lethal weapons deployed. We were able to keep them from getting an attitude with us, but we were ready for anything that was going to happen. The ultimate goal was just to get the crowd to leave.

TCV: It all clicked in with the training you've had?

Bocage: Absolutely. It all coincided with what we've been taught about crowd control. It went directly from an academic level to being applied in the street in a seamless fashion. I was quite impressed with it, actually. It became real and practical, with everyone running around, car loads of people going here and there. It's good to see the coordination between the outside agencies as well. Collectively, I think we did a real good job.

TCV: Officer Mahboobi, what has been your experience these last couple of weeks?

Mahboobi: We've had a lot of in-progress calls. The difference between the swing shift and the day shift has been a higher pace. As soon as we get out of briefing and hit the streets, there's a lot of stuff waiting for us. You just immediately jump right into your shift. I've been experiencing a wider variety of calls.

I missed the Niles incident, because earlier in the evening there were seven individuals, all juveniles, who had been driving around, jumped out of their car and beat up another juvenile and robbed him. This is something that they had done a few times in the city and we had received a call from another victim who described the vehicle. Another officer, Officer Gaches, stopped the vehicle, and I took the report from the victim, who identified the stopped vehicle. So we ended up making the arrest on all seven individuals.

Once we were on the scene, I learned that my FTO (Field Training Officer), Officer Hummel recognized the vehicle description from a prior case in the same type of incident, so we then knew that these juveniles had done this in our city several times before. We contacted prior victims, to get identification from them as well. It took a long time to go through and solve these prior cases, but we were able to take all seven into custody, book them, and get them to juvenile hall.

I transported them to Juvenile Hall in San Leandro, and since it was a Saturday, they stayed there until Monday, when they could see a judge. We notified their parents to let them know that they were being detained. There are similarities between juveniles and the adult system, but there are special needs involved, such as the requirement to separate them from adults in a jail facility. Also, they are charged differently than adults, because they end up in a rehabilitation program. A lot of writing was involved in the reports.

The whole process took about four or five hours, so I missed that whole incident in Niles, but I learned how much goes into one arrest. I got to see the difference between dealing with juveniles, as opposed to adults. All seven of them were arrested for robbery. It was a good case.

TCV: How do you handle a large group and maintain control?

Mahboobi: Officer Gaches, who did the initial traffic stop on the vehicle, did a great job; he put out the information and requested a cover unit. He was unable to see exactly how many people were in the car, but he could see about six of them, so he called the other officer to meet him. He and the other officer handled the traffic stop while I took the report from the victim. We had not even been sure that we would find the vehicle, and then the report came on the radio that Officer Gaches had it.

Since he called for a cover unit, we had the numbers present to take total control of all seven suspects. Luckily, when it was only two officers on the initial traffic stop, none of them made an effort to run for it, even though given the circumstances and location where they were, I don't think they would have gotten far, and they were smart enough not to try.

We're trained to make those stops when we're in the advantage, and Officer Gaches did a good job. He didn't pull the car over immediately, but waited until he had his cover unit and made the stop in a strategic area. By the time I showed up, the suspects were all lined up on the curb, and the two officers on the scene (Officers Gaches and Hernandez) had the situation going to their advantage.

I talked with Officer Gaches later on, and he told me what had been going through his mind. This is exactly how we've been trained to look at the situation and make decisions. You have to process that really quickly. You have to think about how many (suspects) am I dealing with? How close is my cover? You can dictate when to turn your lights on, and you can foresee where you're going to stop them.

TCV: What's been noteworthy on your shift, Matt?

Snelson: We got into a pursuit of a stolen vehicle. We were two blocks away when the call came and tried to get there in time to put spike strips down in the road, but the car was on top of us too fast, so we just blocked the intersection so that traffic wouldn't get "T-boned" (broadside) as he went through. He went down Grimmer and Blacow at about 75 mph, running the red light. We had been on Grimmer and Carol at the time. He got on the freeway going south.

This was my first pursuit, and I was the third car in. When I went to make a U-turn on Grimmer, I didn't get on it hard enough, so I was about 100 yards behind him by the time he blew the red light. I couldn't go through the light at a comfortable speed. Everyone else's head is turned, watching him, and I didn't want to T-bone anyone, so I was out of the pursuit before it even started. That was a learning experience.

We still tried catching up to him. We got on the freeway doing 90 mph, and our sergeant stopped the pursuit. We found out that the guy had stolen a plate from another Lexus, which was almost identical to the one he was driving. There was another pursuit with the same suspects and the CHP caught up with them in San Jose.

There was another pursuit in Hayward last night of four suspects and one of them was wanted for murder. Hayward PD hit the car and took out the rear end. We had been snaring the area, and had every section covered, looking for the vehicle for two hours. The sergeant had just called to tell us to end the snare when one of our lieutenants picked up the car, and the pursuit was on.

TCV: Have you used the tasers yet?

Mahboobi: No, but we handled a bar fight with the potential of use. There wasn't even a call put out; we were cruising by the area. We got near the bar, and we heard a commotion. There was a mob of people outside, and we're wondering 'what's going on?' We lit it up, called it in: "fight in progress, tasers deployed." People knew what we had, and right away the crowd started to disperse. One instigator almost got it, and I was ready to do it! But he backed off just in time. If he had continued, he would have gotten zapped.

TCV: So all the media coverage of the tasers has had an effect.

Mahboobi: We had a parolee last night who was arguing with his girlfriend. He's big time, he's been in Pelican Bay. He's been in prison for 27 years, a big time gang member. He started listing all the prisons he's been in, and I stopped him after counting 10. One of our cover officers pulled out a taser, so this guy put on a plaid jacket, thinking maybe it would protect him from it. He was getting amped up, and I thought we were going to go (rounds) with him, but he backed off.

Snelson: We had an emotionally disturbed individual in the Kaiser parking lot. The call said it was a suspicious vehicle. The security had approached him and shone a flashlight into his car and saw a gun on the front seat. So they called us, and we were the third unit on the scene. The guy tried to leave, but we surrounded him. Next thing you know, half the cops in the city are on the scene, and it turned into a barricaded subject stand-off situation. He had knives, and he was brandishing them, pretending to shave and putting the knife up to his throat, that sort of thing. It was by far the most intense situation I've been in so far. We wound up blowing his windows out with a .45 bean bag gun, and then pretty much rushed him. We tazed him, and used pepper ball grounds to help get him in compliance.

TCV: What about light management? Are you getting better at it?

Bocage: I'm getting a little better, still doing some things wrong, though. My last shift I was holding my flashlight in my dominant hand, which is a big no-no, and I got written up. You actually want to have it in your non-dominant hand, so that you can draw your weapon quickly.

Mahboobi: There are a lot of important things. As your approach to cover another officer, you have to shut off your lights so that you're not putting a big, bright backdrop on him, especially if he's approaching a car. I'm getting better about light management. It's a matter of repetition. Now I need to remember to recharge my flashlight, before I get in trouble for having no light! I have explained the weak light to my FTO by saying 'I'm just trying to be on stealth, sir!'

It's a lot of fun learning, and I've been improving. Now that we're on a nighttime shift, it's routine. The more exposure you have to every type of situation, it becomes secondhand.

TCV: What about you, Matt?

Bocage: This week went much better. I'm still working on getting out of the car faster, on traffic stops. It's harder to see what you're trying to call out at night, and there are more lights to turn on and deal with, so everything seems to happen a little bit quicker. There have been incidents where people have been trained to storm the police car as soon as it stops, because they know that officers take too long to get out of the car at first. So it's a critical thing to get out quickly.

Now I'm enjoying the night scene. I'm able to catch people speeding at night, because they don't know you're a police officer, versus during the day, when they can tell. I've gotten some good traffic stops. Last night I stopped some guys who were smoking marijuana in the car while driving. So I stopped them for speeding, and then I was able to turn them in for a little more than that.

I'm starting to wake up better at night now. I've had much more energy this week than I did last time. I got a guy on a DUI who was at 1.7, which is double the legal limit. There were about 14 Corona bottles in his car.

Snelson: It's definitely a different clientele (than the day shift.)

TCV: Do you feel more like part of the department now?

Snelson: I'm starting to sense how we do things in Fremont a little better. The academy is a more sterile environment, where they're really pushing for officer safety. And it's stressed in Fremont too, but you can't be this stiff board when you interact with people. There are some contrasts on how we deal with people. The way you stand and interact with people; you have to be able to ebb and flow. When you pull grandma over, it's a lot different than when you pull over, say, four gang members that are flying their colors. I've sensed that I have felt the pulse of Fremont.

I've gotten some real positive interactions with citizens. It's kind of cool to be in a city where the citizens still respect and like the police, which is not the case in many other cities. I had a call from a dad the other night, whose daughter's window got kicked in at the bar fight. He left a message saying thanks for being there for my daughter, and if you need any more information, give me a call. People pull up alongside us and wave "hi," that sort of thing. I feel more a part of the department now. I'm going to be a rookie for a long time. There's so much to know out there, and I don't think you're ever going to be finished learning how to do things better.

TCV: How about you, Matt?

Bocage: I would absolutely echo everything he just said. My frame of reference has changed, from when my only experience had been from the academy, and that sterile training. Now I've written about 50 or 60 reports and I've been a cover officer on many more scenes, so that's become my frame of reference. I'm relating to those experiences, rather than to my academy experience to get me through these calls. Certain calls I've been through 4 or 5 times now, and I'm really feeling in control of those types of calls. I've always been a people person, able to talk to folks, but now I'm feeling more comfortable, in control of the calls. We have definitely been getting more acceptance by the other officers - and been the butt of their jokes - which is a good thing.

Snelson: The other officers are generally happy to have fresh faces, people who want to be part of the organization. And they're finally getting some additional manpower, which was sorely needed.

Mahboobi: I agree. Having some experience to reference really counts in real life situations. Being able to go back and recall how we handled it last time makes a world of difference to your level of confidence. It's only in those situations that I can say that I feel like I'm a step ahead, and know exactly how I want to go ahead, and control the scene.

Officer Hummel is a very good person to learn from...

Bocage: Shout out for Officer Hummel!

Mahboobi: He's been involved in everything the department does, and he's been on every special unit can think of. He's full of knowledge of how to handle many different situations, from being a nice guy to being a guy who you hate who's taking control of the situation. There's times when I'm not as aggressive as I should have been, but once you see it done, you learn that, and the next time you come in with a different approach.

Every situation is different and unique, but it helps to know how you want to solve it. I'm starting to have an idea right off the bat how to get it done effectively. We're big rookies, they should put "R's" on our chests, but every day is a chance to learn and get better. I don't know if I would have been able to say that a month ago. I'd wonder 'am I making progress? No, I still feel like an idiot!' Now it's changing, and there's a good percentage of the time when I feel like I know what I'm doing, and that feels good.

Snelson: We are in double digits [weeks on the job] now!

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