Graduating to the streets of Truckee
Editor’s note: This is the third in a continuing series following one of Truckee’s newest police officers as he completes his training and joins the department.By Paul RaymoreSierra SunSix months after walking in the door at the Yuba College police academy in Marysville, Jeff Safford can now call himself a Truckee police officer. On May 25, the Truckee resident graduated from the academy, and two days later was sworn in as the Truckee Police Department’s newest – and greenest – officer on the beat.”It was a dream come true,” Safford said of his graduation ceremony, during which he was able to wear his Truckee PD uniform for the first time. “The whole class was sort of on cloud nine. There was such a huge build-up to get there. You spend about every day from day-one thinking about graduation.”Truckee Police Chief Scott Berry was there to pin Safford’s new badge on his chest and officially welcome him into the department.
But while Safford is now wearing the uniform of a Truckee cop, he still has a lot to learn and a one-year probationary period in which he must prove to his superiors that he’s got what it takes to be a successful officer in town.”Some of the pressure was lifted by making it through the academy. I knew the academy was going to be a challenge and it was, and I succeeded there,” Safford said. “But it’s not over. I still need to continue my training and prove that I can be a good officer out there.”Like all new officers in Truckee, experienced or not, Safford will have to undergo a 12-week field training session designed to familiarize new officers with the geography of the town and the department’s general operating procedures.For Safford, who has lived in Truckee for a number of years and used to work as a dispatcher with the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, getting to know the lay of the land has been less difficult than it can be for new officers. However, he anticipates that being from town will bring with it a host of other issues that he will have to deal with.”Being a local and knowing a lot of people in town is definitely going to be a challenge,” Safford said. “I haven’t stopped somebody [that he knows] and had that face-to-face experience yet, but I’m sure that’s going to happen eventually.”Though he’s reasonably familiar with law enforcement procedures from his time with the sheriff’s office, at this point in Safford’s training, almost everything is new to him – including making arrests.”Every one is sort of a different experience for me right now,” Safford said, adding that he was nervous making his first arrest – a DUI – during his first week on the job. “My trainer tells me that once I get comfortable with each of those situations it won’t be an issue any more.”Training in Truckee
To help make the transition from the academy to the streets go smoothly, new officers in Truckee are paired with Field Training Officers – more experienced officers who impart their procedural wisdom and street smarts to the new officer during the 12-week field training sessions. Typically, a new recruit will have three different FTOs during that time so as to get a broader range of experience to draw from.According to Lt. Jeff Nichols, who heads up the officer training program at the Truckee PD, brand new officers will face a variety of challenges and stressful situations during their first full year on the job. One of the most difficult, Nichols said, is coming to grips with the realities of life as a cop.”I think typically there are a lot of misconceptions about what law enforcement is really like,” he said. “You see what you see in the movies and on the news and TV shows, and you’re just inundated with law enforcement types of things. But so much of it is really glorified to a degree, and they don’t really show the real negative things that do happen that can create a lot of stress for officers.” This is especially true for new officers, who are doing something that they have never done before, Nichols said. He added that if rookies aren’t committed to the life, they will likely get out of it.”You don’t know what it’s like until you’re working it, and you start doing things that are kind of unnatural to some degree,” he said. “You’re dealing with death, you’re dealing with tragedies, you’re dealing with things that create extreme stress for you on a moment’s notice.”Quiet streetsWhile Safford anticipates having to deal with everything Nichols mentioned, so far the problem has been a lack of activity rather than an overabundance of stress. As the summer season gets underway and Truckee’s streets get crowded again, both Safford and his trainers expect that he will have plenty of opportunities to hone his skills. But during his first month on the job, Safford and the other officers on the force did a lot of scenario training to work through the kinds of cases that might come up in the future.
But the area’s low crime rate doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy being a Truckee cop.”It’s pretty stressful even though we’re in a fairly low-stress environment here,” said Nichols. “But it doesn’t really matter where you’re working, the same kinds of things can happen to you anywhere. Your own personality has to be adaptable to the things you run into out here.”So what does it take to make it on the streets of Truckee?”If your heart is in the job, you’ll do a good job,” Nichols said. “Because you’ll want to do everything you can the right way. And that’s really the key.”And although he’s still the low man on the totem pole at the Truckee PD, Safford sounds like he won’t have a problem fitting in with the attitude he brings to the job.”This whole experience – while it’s been a dream come true for me – it’s not really for me, it’s for the public,” he said summing up his training so far. “Nobody gets into this for their own personal gain. We’re the public’s employee.”Follow up: This series started by following two recruits, Jeff Safford and Joshua Akright, as they went through the Yuba College police academy and joined the Truckee PD; however, Joshua Akright did not graduate with his original class for administrative reasons. He is currently re-enrolled in the Yuba College police academy, and still hopes to eventually join the Truckee PD if there is a need for new officers when he graduates.