December 7, 2004 > Out of the Nest - Ready to Fly
Out of the Nest - Ready to Fly
Rookies Begin to Solo
TCV has been following the progress of three Fremont rookie police officers, Matthew Bocage, Ramin Mahboobi and Matthew Snelson since their graduation from academy training. All are entering the final phase of the Field Training Officer (FTO) program designed to provide on-the-job training under the guidance of experienced police officers. Each rookie has now had some experience operating as solo officer and will return to their initial FTO for final evaluation and approval prior to field assignment.
TCV: What is happening now?
Mahboobi: I am now on "shadow" and will go back to my original FTO, Officer Jim Koeph. This is the check-out phase. Many weeks have passed from the time I originally worked with him so he will now evaluate me to see where I have progressed and where there are concerns, if any. He will address those and then back off into a complete shadow phase where I am in a vehicle, on my own, logging on as a sole police officer. My FTO will monitor me over the airwaves and show up at some of the scenes to observe how I operate. The goal for him is to "not exist" but just to watch. This is a test of whether I can do this job on my own and function as a solo occupant of the vehicle.
Bocage: What I think they like to try to do is break you into the "shadow" phase before it actually starts with your primary FTO. My FTO, Officer Tony Tassano, wore plain clothes this last week. People are looking at me rather than him. I got the majority of attention on calls. This is how they step things up a bit - let the leash go, so to speak.
On Friday, I was with another FTO, Officer Steve Solaro who was told by Officer Tassano that I was ready to experience a solo patrol and I did. My call sign went out with my name. It was very exciting; very, very different! Little things like having the passenger seat for my gear was neat since with another officer, you have to jump out and retrieve things from the trunk. Just pulling out of the gate with no else in the car was exhilarating!
When we are in "shadow" phase, the FTO dresses in uniform but has a different car. Their call sign is their badge number and they will monitor your calls. Occasionally they will show up on your calls, sometimes when you do, sometimes halfway through or at the end of the call or, they may not show up at all. The FTO is "invisible" for the most part and does not show up as a separate patrol. If I need a cover officer, another officer - a zone partner - will show up.
Snelson: Last week was the last week in my third phase. My tertiary FTO, Officer [Joseph] Geibig was on vacation, so I spent the first few days with Officer John Anderson in the car with me since he doesn't know me and needed to make sure that I am safe to be out and about. The last two days I drove on my own and he "shadowed" me. I have been struck by the amount of wisdom out there with these veteran officers. This week I went back to my primary FTO, Officer [Norberto]Quimson on days. I will be finishing with him - he is doing the final evaluation. He rode with me for a couple of days in plain clothes and then the plan is for him to shadow.
Each time you meet a new FTO, it takes a bit of time to get to know each other. It doesn't really throw you since we have been doing this for so long, but it is an adjustment. They are trying to find your strengths and weaknesses and you are trying to understand what is important to them. In this last phase, since I have worked previously with Officer Quimson, I understood more easily what he is looking for and expects.
TCV: Have you been driving as a solo officer?
Mahboobi: Yes, with my third FTO, Officer Greg Pipp, over the last week. We did a shift when he wore civilian clothes to look like a ride-along so none of the people involved would turn to him. This was to determine if I could handle things on my own but with his presence just in case he needs to step in. I had a really good shift, felt comfortable with him there being able to handle things as if he wasn't there. I was able to make decisions. I feel that I can handle most of the calls I am going to now, doing the things I need to do and am becoming a little bit more fluid.
I know that I often have the discretion to do one of a couple of things and my decision will be right and "in policy," but I am still need more experience to be sure that I am doing the right thing for the person involved. Could I go with Plan B? In the past, I get to that point and run it by my FTO telling him what I am going to do and if he doesn't have anything else to say, that is the way I will go.
In the past, I have used my FTO as a "safety net." This week I have not done that at all. Even if I get to that point, I think it through myself and decide how I am going to "close it" and without looking at my FTO, finish the contact with the person. When we get back in the car leaving the scene, I tell my FTO what I did and why. He will either say, "Okay, that's fine" or "Do you realize what else you could have done?" I will respond with the choices I had and why I made my decision. He is usually happy with that since I am seeing the overall picture.
After the shift where my FTO was in civilian clothes, we went to Shadow Phase which was outstanding! I got into my vehicle without my FTO and leaving the parking lot. It was an adrenalin rush that is hard to describe! 'I am really on my own and this is my first night as me.' Everything will be done as I want to do it. Everything will finish with my final answer with no outside influence. For a second, I thought 'Holy Cow, this is overwhelming.' But, I went out there and the great thing was that I felt very comfortable. I knew that I wasn't going to get myself in trouble and was confident that I would not do anything dumb.
Officer Pitt really opened it up for me. In this phase alone, I felt a big transition. In the last two weeks he opened up my vision to what I am seeing at night - how to foresee things and understand what is coming at me rather than react to what already happened. That made a big difference when I was on my own. I didn't have to call him once. He assured me that if I called him he would be right there - that I wouldn't be on my own. I handled my calls in a reasonable amount of time with the correct conclusion. I made several proactive traffic stops, wrote a few tickets and gave a few warnings. I was real confident of what I was doing. That was a real difference of not having the FTO next to you making you nervous. You don't have the pressure of someone sitting next to you.
I have had great FTOs but there is a pressure of their presence which makes me second-guess my actions. Being solo, things are clear as a bell without the pressure of scrutiny of every single thing I do. I was able to get to where I needed to go. In a few instances, I was unfamiliar with where I was supposed to go but it was no problem - I take my book, my resources and quickly know exactly where to go. In the same instance with my FTO, I would get nervous about whether I am going to get marked down for that. It was like a whole new job. It was the best week I have worked in this career!
Bocage: There is a difference in how backup officers treat you now. The training wheels are off now. Everyone knows that you are fresh into it and helps. Ramin [Mahboobi] and I were going solo on the same day (in different zones) and I was constantly monitoring his calls; we were both being as proactive as we could, volunteering for assignments.
Snelson: What I have realized after driving on my own is that the calls I felt were basic became a bit more ambiguous since now there is no "safety blanket" of an FTO by my side. I need to figure out the process and dealing with the issue. It is a healthy transition; now if there is a question, I ask my cover officers. There is wisdom and experience on almost every call I go to from other officers. When I have a question, I can look to someone else, but now they are my partner in this rather than an FTO.
TCV: Was this a quantum leap for you?
Bocage: A total quantum leap. It is like night and day. You are free to do what you want and no one is evaluating every little move that you make. If you take the long way to a call or get a bit lost, there is no one to see that. You can make little mistakes and learn from them without the pressure of someone watching. By the same token, you are absolutely responsibility for your safety - there is no one to correct you in the middle of something. You have complete ownership of who you are, what you do, what you represent and your own personal safety. I feel pretty good about things. I still have a lot of questions, but there are others to help if you need it - cover officers and supervisors.
Mahboobi: I wouldn't have been comfortable six weeks ago. I wouldn't have had the confidence to make investigative stops. There were calls during this shadow phase that I took without hesitation. I know that even if I struggle with something, I will come out with the right answer. I need more experience and training; every shift I work will be another day I learn something. I believe in myself and have confidence to say that one way or another I will get the information to solve a problem. If I get jammed up, I know where the resources are to get the answer.
It's all about the repetition and training. Every call is unique, but now we have seen enough to know how to handle the situation. The way you solve problems are pretty consistent. Once you understand your resources, you know where to go to help with each situation.
Snelson: I think I can go out and handle in a rough way most calls that come my way. Over the years I will become more finely tuned and smoothed out. I have appreciated and seen cover officers, after a call, pull me aside and help me refine my techniques. I can see that process going on for many years. Many senior officers tell me that even now they confer with other officers to discuss what they are seeing in a situation. It is a foolish person who thinks they have everything worked out.
I feel confident that I can go out and do these things. It feels good to be at this point. I look forward to the other end of five years from now and I can look back and say that I have handled quite a few things and feel confident that I can go to a majority of calls and handle them smoothly. I feel competent to do the job. I know that I will stay safe, I know I will protect the officers I am out with and I know that I will protect the public. That is the most important part. I feel I am at a safety level and competency level where I can go out on my own although you are never really on your own since you have partners and a sergeant to help.
TCV: Are you surprised that all of you have been successful so far during your training?
Mahboobi: Not at all. I had no doubt about our abilities to do it. I thought "we will get through this" when we first started. In the beginning when we got hit with all the information to absorb, it was overwhelming. I began to question whether I could handle all the complexities of the job. As we worked through it and I could see the progression of Matt Bocage who was working the same shifts and compare how we were doing. We would hear about Matt Snelson and knew he was doing well. We worked together at the academy so we were able to watch and help each other. I hear that the others are doing okay and that I am doing okay too. We have become very good friends and see each other off duty.
Bocage: It was very helpful to have others going through the same experience with me. Our lockers are right next to each other. At the end of a shift, Ramin and I were able to compare notes and lean on each other. Matt [Snelson] was on a different shift, so we didn't get to see him as much but the three of us were able to relate our frustrations, experiences, excitement and growth was great. It is probably tougher to do on your own.
TCV: There will be a new group of rookies entering the FTO program about the time the three of you leave it. How will you respond to them?
Mahboobi: We owe it to them to sit down with them and give them the benefit of our experiences. In a way, we were able to get the same information from others in the department who had finished academy and the FTO program most recently. They were able to talk about the academy and what to expect as well as insights into the FTO program. It was helpful to hear them and understand what to expect. We knew that we could contact them if we had questions. We were assigned mentors - veteran officers - that gave us information about the FTO program. Others officers offered advice and anecdotes that helped us see some humor in our situation. It lightened the atmosphere for us. It would be real selfish of us if we didn't turn around and give information and guidance to those who are following us. Each of us has contacted the new hires and told them to contact us at any time if they need to talk.
Bocage: We will be able to relate well to them since we will have just completed our FTO training. More than likely, I will work with or come in contact with one of them since there are five of them and they will rotate through different shifts. I will give them whatever advice I can and some pointers.
Snelson: Being new officers in general, there is some camaraderie with other new officers. Being just six months out of the [academy] process, I may have more empathy for them than some others. They have been at academy for six weeks and only spent a few weeks in Fremont before leaving so we didn't have a chance to get to know them well before they left for academy. I spoke with one of them today and I remember my feelings when I was close to finishing the academy - how they are still getting a lot of pressure from Training Officers at the academy. We talked about getting together after they get out of the academy and sitting down with the three of us that will have just finished FTO and the five of them that will be entering the program. We might have some insight on how to prepare mentally for the FTO program. It is always easier to go into a process with some knowledge about what it is like.
On my midnight shift, Officers Jacob Shannon and Armando Magana were both the last recruits that went through academy before us. They are just clearing probation (1 year) now. Officer Shannon was saying that it is nice to see newer officers on the street. We talked about going through probation, going solo, what to expect. It's a cycle! There are already guys in academy behind those who will soon be graduating. My sense is that it takes a good three to five years of police work on a daily basis until you get to the point where things click as second nature.
I am still a rookie. Obviously there is a maturation process and these officers have "shed some weight" clearing probation becoming full-fledged members of the department. There is a change, but not a feeling of knowing it all. When I look at the senior members of our department who I believe are really good officers, these are people who don't stop learning. One officer spoke about the Miranda Law (citizen rights when arrested) which has changed three times since he has been a police officer. Just because you learn something one way in academy doesn't mean that it will always remain the same way. Things always change; you have to be adaptable and flexible.
TCV: Now that you have been on your own, will you feel more comfortable when you ride with your primary FTO in the shadowing phase?
Mahboobi: Now that I have worked as a solo officer, I will feel more confident. I have shown myself that I can go out there and do what I need to do. There may be suggestions of better ways to do things, but I am confident that I will do things correctly. In the past, the presence of my FTO made me second-guess. Now I know that I don't need to do that because I have proven my ability to myself. I anticipate some uncomfortable feeling but I am going to do things just as if I was solo. Having experienced a solo patrol, I know what it is like.
TCV: Would you change anything in the training regimen?
Snelson: Honestly, I cannot think of two many things I would tweak. I liked "Midnights" since they have a lot of hot calls. Things are happening quickly and you need to put all the pieces together rapidly. I can't say that I would want to give up any time on "Swing" or "Day," but another shift of "Mids" would have been just that many more experiences of those calls. At the same time, I feel that I am ready to make the transition to a solo officer and would not want to extend another week. I do know that through the process, I feel prepared. I was thinking of how to encapsulate the process philosophically and looking at it, the youngest FTO that I have had has been on for about eleven years. That is a long time as a police officer - some have been on over twenty. It is a process of passing on learned wisdom and knowledge from the veteran officers to the rookie officer. That is the point. To pass that on so you can become a proficient, competent officer more quickly. If I look at it in that light, the process has done very well.
Mahboobi: I think it is pretty much on track. If I didn't feel as confident as I do now, having gone through some shadow phase, I would say another week or two with the FTO in the car. The program has already been extended to 18 weeks, so we have spent a lot of time experiencing as many calls as we can. The amount of time in each phase was appropriate. For instance the week in Traffic taught us a lot about the vehicle code and how to be objective and focus on safety rather than just on every little violation. It taught us how to be fair. The week in Investigation was excellent - what type of cases get to them and how they are handled - and how to use that resource and be of assistance to that department. I wouldn't want to extend the program, but I think it is necessary time in training. It is well thought out. Looking back, I can't say that I would change anything.
Bocage: I thing they have it pretty well dialed in. It was challenging at times, but necessarily so. I felt a little overwhelmed by paperwork at times, but the goal is to get you as much exposure as they can. That is what we were told from the very beginning. Looking back, you get a little frustrated and overwhelmed but it was necessary. I have a wide range of experiences, being able to take primary on many things in the zone. You are buried in paperwork but it is an invaluable experience. I have an idea of how to handle a lot of different types of calls. I think they have done a great job with the Fremont program. We haven't spoken much about the academics, but we are taking tests all the time - I will be taking my final next week - we have binders full of information. It is a well-oiled machine. Much depends on your FTO, but we have good, solid people here. It's excellent.
This week, I am going through another big change in my life. Tomorrow I am proposing to my long-time girlfriend, Raquel Leon. Raquel is a teacher at Alvarado Middle School, Union City.