By Gerry Goldshine
Petaluma Police Department, retired
Part 2 (part one appeared April 2, 2015)
Beside myself, there were two other recruits from the Sheriff’s Office attending the Academy with me. The largest contingent of recruits was from a Silicon Valley Department of Public Safety. I found it a bit startling when I learned that there were several people in the class who had not been hired by any particular department; in essence, they were “civilians” putting themselves through the training in the hopes that successful completion would make them a more attractive employment prospect. I was also surprised at how small our class was; while I don’t recall the exact number of people who started training, I do know that 24 of us graduated and there was not an especially high attrition rate. Contrary to my fearful expectations, SRJC did indeed run a low stress, twelve-week-long training program whose atmosphere was almost collegial. Having a small class was not necessarily a bad thing because it meant much more one to one interaction with the various instructors. For me, the relaxed training environment took some getting used to and as I was the only recruit with any military training, I often found the lack of discipline and decorum disconcerting.
In 1979, women moving from administrative and non-sworn positions to becoming street officers were still somewhat of a “novelty”. In my class, they numbered less than a half dozen, one of whom was a fellow SCSO recruit. I didn’t find it particularly unsettling to have women among my classmates; they had been moving into “non-traditional” occupational specialties in the Army for some time, so I was quite used to training alongside and working with women. Some of the less enlightened male recruits felt differently and made no effort to hide their opinion that women did not belong, behaving like stereotypical misogynists. One of these “gentlemen” was almost a match to the “Police Academy” character “Mahoney” but with all the negative traits and none of the positive. Like Mahoney, somehow this person managed to make it all the way through training and graduated with the other recruits from his department.
Nearly every training course I’ve taken has had a cast of characters very much like those in the Police Academy movies. There always seemed to be a “Tackleberry” type; the borderline super-macho personality disorder who carried a virtual arsenal in the trunk of his car, always wore camouflage fatigues, often reckless and overeager. In most of the coed classes I been in, there was usually someone very much like the character “Hooks”; a female trainee soft of voice, uncertain of her abilities, and often deferring to men. Invariably there was someone like “Hightower”, the huge muscular guy who was smarter that he appeared, gentler than he seemed and loyal as a puppy dog to his friends. Finally there invariably seemed to be someone like the characters “Sweetchuck” and “Fackler”; this was the guy who tripped over his own feet, walked into closed doors, had a voice that cracked when under stress, lacked a scintilla of common sense and invariably either shot himself in the foot or a fellow classmate in the arse. Looking back, each in their own way, made the training far more interesting as well as more memorable, though at the time I sure many of us considered them with less kindly thoughts.
Having just come out of the Army where highly strenuous physical fitness standards were de rigueur, I found the “PT” at the Academy less than challenging. Unlike the other subject areas, such as criminal law, criminalistics, and firearms, our class did not have an instructor dedicated to physical conditioning. To be sure, we had someone to teach weaponless or hand to hand tactics but no one was assigned for every day physical training or “PT,” something which I had practically lived by over the prior four years in the Army. More often than not, our PT consisted of volleyball or disorganized workouts in the weight room. We did do some running, usually no more than two miles and generally less, during which time nearly everyone complained. For me at that time, a mile run was a warm up as I had been used to running up to five miles in full combat gear in under 40 minutes. I cannot recall if we had to pass a PT test to graduate beyond completing an obstacle course within a specified time frame. I thought then as I do now that we rendered a disservice with such lackadaisical physical conditioning. Aside from the obvious health benefits, maintaining a high state of physical conditioning is essential in surviving street encounters from fist fights to foot pursuits to the use of deadly force. I wasn’t the only recruit that was disconcerted by this and I do know it eventually changed for the better.
Contrary to Zed’s bit of wisdom, my academy class spent a great deal of time in the classroom receiving instruction on subjects ranging from the obvious, such as criminal law to less considered but critical report writing. However, looking back over 35 years later, the very first place to which my Field Training Officer took me, when I was with the Sheriff’s Office, was a Winchell’s Donut shop. Much as I hate to admit it, even to this day many a cop visits the local donut eatery because it’s fast and the coffee is always hot; I guess there was a bit of truth to what Zed had to say.
Donuts aside, we were about to get a great deal of information distilled and condensed into a 12 week time frame. Hours were spent on learning the fundamentals of California Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure. Things that now still seem so basic were new to many of us back then, such as the differences between statutory and case law–both of which we needed to know. What were felony, misdemeanor and infraction type of crimes? We committed to memory the elements of the more commonly used sections of the Penal Code, such as 211 P.C. which is robbery or 459 P.C. which is burglary. We had to know the applicable sections of the Business and Professions Code, particularly those parts dealing with alcoholic beverages. There were the parts of the Health and Safety Code that dealt with drugs, legal and illicit. We had to know the parts of the Welfare and Institutions Code some of which dealt with children and psychiatric cases. Then there was the California Vehicle Code, which covered everything from driving while intoxicated to what color the front turn signals on a particular year car have to be.
All those various codes and laws were just really a foundation and a starting point. Knowing what constituted a violation of a particular law was just part of the process. There followed training on the complex laws governing arrest, probable cause to detain versus probable cause to arrest. We had to know the most up to date court decisions and laws governing arrest, search and seizure. Then there were the courts; traffic, municipal and superior. As a peace officer, you had to know the differences between them and what type of case went to what court. Beyond that, we had to have a working knowledge of how the criminal justice system functioned, from the filing of a criminal complaint to an arraignment to a court or jury trial. If that wasn’t complex enough, there were separate systems for adult and juveniles.
I was not the only one with a college background in Criminal Justice and though we were familiar with much of the material, there was still much that was new in some manner. It was all coming at us fast and furious. Fortunately, there was plenty of practical, hands-on training that got us out of the classroom to stretch our legs and shake out the cobwebs that inevitably formed in our minds. Naturally, we all looked forward to firearms training. Levels of experience with firearms varied greatly among us. Many grew up around guns through hunting and other sporting activities. As a result of my Army training, I had a familiarity with a very wide assortment of weapons, though it seemed highly unlikely I would have need of an anti-tank missile system as a Deputy Sheriff. As a deputy, my duty weapon was going to be a Smith and Wesson Model 66, .357 magnum revolver, which took some adjustment, as my sidearm while in the Military Police was the classic military Model 1911, .45 semi-automatic pistol. In the late seventies and early eighties, firearm training was on the cusp of a revolution, both in technology and theory. I was fortunate to have been exposed to some of it while in the Army. There was interactive training with lasers giving immediate feedback under simulated combat conditions; automated targets made to look like human silhouettes; and shooting in a variety of conditions both in lighting and weather. Our instructors were some of the best, most knowledgeable military people in the world when it came to firearms. Gone were the days of plinking away at a circular stationary target some hundred yards away.
Back to my Academy firearms training, I wasn’t expecting our instructor to be someone who split his time between firefighting and police work in the South Bay. Understand that I’m not saying he was a poor instructor; it just was not what I was expecting. While I had qualified “Expert” with nearly every Infantry weapon in the Army, I was only shooting just slightly above average with that .357 pistol. It wasn’t until several years later, when I was a Petaluma Police Officer, a range master discovered while right-handed, I was left eye dominant, which had a great effect on my pistol shooting accuracy. In addition to the live fire range, we also received instruction in what was called “Shoot-Don’t Shoot”, the idea being to develop situational awareness and judgment when employing deadly force. In 1979, our “state of the art” technology for the practical portion of this training consisted of a video projector which showed a scenario on a butcher paper screen and a pistol that fired wax bullets. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that felt a bit foolish yelling “Freeze!” at that butcher paper.
Read the conclusion of Police Academy Redux on April 9, 2015