This is the last of 3 guest posts from Gerry Goldshine
More firearms training
I’m really not sure what I was expecting from a relatively small regional academy, but it wasn’t firearms training from someone who split his time between firefighting and police work in the South Bay. I’m not saying he was not a decent instructor; it just was not what I was expecting. While I had qualified “Expert” with an M-16A1 rifle in the Army, I was only shooting just slightly above average with that .357 pistol. It wasn’t until several years later, that a new 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 firing range, we also received training in what was called “Shoot-Don’t Shoot”. The idea was to develop situational awareness and judgment when employing deadly force. Our “state of the art” technology back then for the practical portion of this training consisted of a video projector, 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.
Emergency Vehicle operation
While firearm training was a bit of an ongoing process, emergency vehicle operation training was done over a three day period. All of us were excited because we were going to be the first class to receive training through the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving at what would become Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma. Boy, were we disappointed. First of all, the vehicles we were to train with were compact cars, nothing like the big high powered beasts we would be driving with our various departments. None of the vehicles had any emergency equipment installed. There were no flashing lights, no sirens or radios; none of the distractions that would drive our adrenaline sky high under actual emergency conditions. Then there were the instructors; they may have been excellent race car drivers but none had any law enforcement background or experience driving emergency vehicles that they could share with us. I suppose the final frustration was that we were not permitted to drive over 35 miles per hour during any phase of our training. I got very proficient at avoiding cones that day and not much more. Among the first supplemental training that I received upon graduation, was eight hours of training with their driving instructor using retired patrol cars from the Sheriff’s Office. I’m here to tell you there is no quicker learning experience than losing one of those vehicles in turn at 65 miles an hour because you didn’t set up properly entering a corner. As a result of that training, I had confidence in my driving abilities the night I pursued a suspect who had just committed an assault with a deadly weapon and who had tried to run me off the road, down Highway 101 at over 120 miles per hour, one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding the microphone to communicate with dispatch–the siren, radio and scanner blaring away. At the same time, I had to be aware of my location, that of other responding units, other traffic ahead and around me, changing weather and road conditions. I had to constantly evaluate whether any of those variables would make the safety of the public outweigh the need to continue the pursuit. All of that was something the Bondurant experience failed to provide in their block of training.
As the weeks went by, our sponge-like minds tried desperately to absorb still more data in yet additional subject areas. There were classes on how to write police reports, criminalistics (that whole CSI thing) and everyone’s favorite, accident investigation. Then came training in non-lethal defense methods, which meant some form of CN or CS or what is more commonly known as tear gas. Our practical exercise involved a group of us going inside a closed plywood shed accompanied by an instructor where they would expose us to some form of that blessed substance. Unbeknownst to our instructor was the fact that I had been an instructor of essentially the same type of training for many years when I was in the Army. As my group nervously entered the shed, I found a corner, leaned back and steadied my breathing. As the effects of the gas hit them, my fellow recruits hit the door to get out like a stampede of water buffalos. It wasn’t long before it was just the instructor and I staring at each other, him with a very surprised expression. “You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” he asked after about five minutes had passed and I still hadn’t gone running for the exit. I nodded my head and then explained my background. He asked if I wouldn’t mind leaving before him as it would damage his mystique if I came out after him. Still, for about a day or so, I was quite the sensation having stayed as long as I did.
Felony Vehicle Stops
As we neared graduation, we were all looking forward towards finally getting instruction on making vehicles stops. Vehicles stops are perhaps the most common, one of the most complex as well as most dangerous activities for a patrol officer. As an officer, you have no idea what the intentions are of the driver of the vehicle you are stopping. Have they just committed a crime? Are they armed with a weapon? Are they intoxicated? Are they going to flee when you turn on your emergency lights? In addition, you have to exercise proper radio procedure in notifying dispatch of your stop. You have to know something as basic as the location where you are making the stop. You have to be aware of traffic around you, how you park your patrol vehicle and how you walk up to the car you’ve stopped. You also have to pick a good spot to stand when you make contact with the driver. While no means the last thing that goes into a traffic stop, how you talk to the driver can calm a tense situation or escalate a calm one. Though I had already made several hundred vehicle stops while in the Military Police, I was painfully aware that what little I knew about vehicle stops came from a class on patrol procedure in college and some on the job instruction I got from one the soldiers who worked for me. Not exactly something to inspire confidence in my abilities.
As was the case with my firearms training, I’m still not sure what my expectations were as to training when it came to vehicle stops, both low risk or “routine” and high risk or “felony” stops. I know I was anticipating more than about twelve hours of both classroom and practical instruction. Many of us felt the scenarios devised by our instructors for the high risk stop exercises were ridiculously complex and bordered on the impossible.
The geekier side of me recalled the Star Trek “Koboyasi Maru” test; for those non-Trekkies, it was a final exam scenario at the Starfleet Academy that was designed to be impossible to survive. I can vaguely recall my own “Koboyashi Maru” test; it was night in a poorly lit area and another recruit and I were to make a car stop on a vehicle that contained four “armed” suspects. As the vehicle came to a stop, all four bailed out of the car and ran off into the darkness. Our “backup” was many minutes away leaving us to decide on a course of action. If both of us went after the suspect, the bad guys would have been lying in wait and “shot” us both. If one stayed and one pursued the suspect, the chase would have ended with either the recruit officer being “shot” or taken hostage. If both officers stayed, then they would be ambushed because the suspects had doubled backed to launch an attack against them as they waited for back-up help to arrive. It was a designed to be a no win scenario.
Finally, the big day arrived; graduation. I had finished fourth out of our graduating class of twenty-four. I walked up to the auditorium stage in my spiffy new uniform literally almost ready to bust my buttons with pride. Alongside my two fellow deputies, we received our graduation certificates from the Sheriff. Unlike Mahoney and his bunch of misfits from the Police Academy movies, we weren’t about to be turned loose upon an unsuspecting public. Ahead of us lay nearly another twelve weeks of training in the field under the watch eyes of our Field Training Officers. This was by no means a complete detailed accounting of not only just the academy I attended but of the many other law enforcement academies throughout the country, both then and now. Each recruit or cadet comes away with their own unique litany of successes, failures, achievements and disappointments and what I have written about are those experiences that I considered still note worthy enough to share after all these years.
Petaluma Police T-36 Gerry Goldshine 1987
photo by Mike Kerns
Gerry Goldshine is the author of this guest post. Born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California. Upon graduating California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty in 1979, he worked for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement in 1996, he was a patrol officer, traffic officer, gang officer, field training officer and criminal resource officer at Petaluma Police Department. He has received training from Northwestern University Traffic Institute, California Highway Patrol, Institute of Police Technology and Management, Texas A&M Engineering Extension, College of the Redwoods and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Operation Safe Streets. He’s been married to his wife Linda for 33 years, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California.