YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — If you said that Bernard Fronzaglio’s first day on the road as a Youngstown police officer went to the dogs, that wouldn’t be far from the truth.
Fronzaglio, one of seven officers hired in December, spent part of his first morning on the road the day after Christmas chasing after a blind, maimed dog on Interstate 680 with his temporary training officer, Doug Pesa.
All’s well that ends well, however: Fronzaglio and Pesa were able to find the dog and turn him over to the Mahoning County Dog Warden’s Office.
Fronzaglio, 23, of Hubbard, and four other new officers began road patrols with their Field Training Officers (FTO) after two weeks of in-service training. Each new officer is assigned an FTO for each of the department’s three shifts, a process that takes up to four months, before they are assigned a beat of their own.
The other new hires are James Shirlla, 23, of Boardman; Deon Gilbert, 26, of Youngstown; Alex Wharry, 25, of New Springfield; Dave Garcia, 31, of Youngstown; Tyra Grant, 31, of Youngstown; and Thomas Feterholf, 27, of McDonald.
Shirlla and Gilbert have both been assigned FTOs on midnight turn, while Garcia and Wharry are each working afternoons with their respective FTOs. Grant and Feterholf have yet to reach the FTO stage of their training because they have not yet graduated from the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy.
WKBN has been allowed to shadow the officers during their training.
Fronzaglio is assigned to Car 204 and officer Pat Mulligan. Mulligan is a 20-year veteran of the department who has worked the South Side his entire career, save for a stint in the former Street Crimes Unit.
The beat, which covers the Brownlee Woods area of the South Side, is consistently the busiest in the department, generating a lot of reports for property damage, break ins and burglaries and quality-of-life issues such as illegally-parked cars, which the pair dealt with several times on a frigid January day.
In 2018, the beat received the most calls of any in the department, with 8,331, an average of almost 23 a day. The beat also received the most calls in 2017 and 2016. Statistics for 2019 are not available yet. In 2018, the department answered a total of 72,934 calls, an average of almost 200 a day.
With his leather jacket and chiseled looks, Mulligan could pass as a cast member in a 1970s or 80s cop drama. One of several “Star Wars” fanatics in the department, his text tone is the sound of Darth Vader’s breathing mask, which can catch people off guard. He is also, in a sense, undergoing training; himself; Mulligan was recently appointed to the FTO training program. Fronzaglio is his first trainee.
BACK IN THE DAY
The training process now is a lot more in depth, and a lot of the new officers have also undergone more extensive education before being hired. A good percentage have criminal justice degrees, which indicates they want to have a career in law enforcement and are dedicated to making it their profession.
A lot of officers are also veterans, who received training in the military which can also translate into law enforcement. Of the seven new officers Youngstown hired, four of them — Wharry, Garcia, Gilbert and Feterholf — have served or are serving now in the military.
Police Chief Robin Lees said when he started in law enforcement over 40 years ago, the police academy was not even required for new hires when they started, although they had to have completed the academy before their first year on the job was done.
In some ways, that was good, Lees said. He said the officers could apply what they had already learned on the job with their academy classes and training.
But training requirements have doubled since he was a rookie officer, Lees said. He said officers then needed 300 hours of training in the academy. That has now been increased to about 600 hours.
Lees said he spent time with a “senior officer” when he started, before he was assigned to the road, but a lot of other officers on the department now did not have a lot of time before they were assigned a car of their own.
Lt. Brian Butler, who heads up the Internal Affairs Division and also helps to run background checks and other testing on potential hires, said he was assigned his own car after less than two weeks in the department. Mulligan said he had about two weeks training with another officer before he was given a beat of his own. He likes the new system a lot better.
“This is a good, standard, system,” Mulligan said.
FTOs also fill out a daily form on their charges that has a checklist and then room for them to write out their thoughts and observations on the day. The sergeants on the beat then have a weekly form they fill out on the new officer, followed by a monthly review by Capt. Kevin Mercer, who heads up training for the department.
When that is completed, the rookie officers are then given a car of their own for a day, accompanied by the sergeant for that beat. The sergeant is just an observer and he will then report back to Mercer to recommend if the new hire is ready for a beat of their own or if they need additional training. Mercer then makes a recommendation based on the sergeant’s recommendation and submits his recommendation to Lees, who ultimately has the final say.
Wharry is among the first officers to arrive for the 1:30 p.m. roll call the day after Christmas for the afternoon turn. The department staggers its roll calls so that there are always cars on the road. Afternoon turn begins with early roll call at 1:30 p.m., followed by a 2 p.m. roll call for the remainder of the shift.
The shift commander that day is Lt. Ramon Cox, a veteran of over 20 years who can talk fast and cook faster; he runs his own barbuce business and chides some of the officers for not eating the food he brought in Christmas Day.
There is a lot of good-natured ribbing going on, especially when roll call starts and Wharry introduces himself to the other officers. He is assigned Car 205, another South Side car, and officer Luis Villaplana as a training officer.
When the early roll call attendees are told of the other new officers, Jason Quarrie, an officer who himself just completed his training, said of one of them, “He was in my class at the academy.”
“Ain’t none of my classmates in here,” Cox said as everyone laughed.
The new officers, however, are quickly thrown into the breach with their FTOs.
Gilbert, who was a part-time officer in Cortland before coming to Youngstown, said the amount of calls he has answered since starting far dwarfs the amount he answered in Cortland. He also said a large number of those calls are more serious than he answered in his previous job.
“It’s definitely been a change in scenery,” Gilbert said. “It’s a higher call volume as far as the different levels of calls we respond to.”
Fronzaglio, who was a part-time officer in Hubbard before he came to Youngstown, also said the volume and seriuosness of calls was a big difference from his previous job.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot, seen a lot already,” Fronzaglio said. “I knew the call volume was going to be high. It’s a world of difference.”
On January 9, when a reporter accompanied Mulligan and Fronazglio, the pair answered seven calls between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Fronzaglio said that would be a very busy day in Hubbard. In Youngstown, it was slightly below average.
Garcia is paired on afternoon turn with Officer John O’Neill Jr. in Car 103, which patrols a North Side beat.
“It’s been pretty busy,” said Garcia, an East Side native who was an officer in Campbell before coming to Youngstown. “I like it so far. I like the atmosphere.”
DAYTURN PATROL, 08:42 HOURS: PARKING COMPLAINT, 1680 EVERETT AVE.
Mulligan and Fronzaglio are dispatched to Everett Avenue, where someone has parked a car in front of a fire hydrant the night before and still hasn’t moved it. When they arrive, they find the car, a silver Acura, with no front plate, excessive window tint and a bashed in driver’s side headlight.
They park behind the car, then get out of their cruiser to get the car’s VIN, or vehicle identification number from the dashboard, then go back to the cruiser to use the radio and computer to find out who the car might be registered to.
The call is an example of learning your beat, Mulligan said. He told Fronzaglio that there is a man on the street who has his own car lot, and the car may belong to him and he is just waiting for it to be towed to the lot. Before they can run the VIN number, however, the man shows up in his own vehicle and pulls up next to the cruiser.
What’s up, Pat?” the man asks.
Mulligan asks him if the car belongs to him. The man said no. He pulls away and another neighbor approaches walking his dog. He has the leash in one hand and a dog poop bag in the other and tells the officers the car has been there since 7:30 p.m. the night before.
The car is registered to a man with a South Side address, according to the VIN number. The officers decide to have the car towed. As they wait for the tow truck, Fronzaglio is coached by Mulligan on the byzantine labyrinth that is the department’s computer system, which can be very complicated.
Fronzaglio manages to finish his report and save it, but because of an unknown glitch, the report is stuck in the maw of the computer system and can not be submitted for final approval. They decide to go to another location and try to submit it from there on the theory that perhaps the internet signal is bad in this part of town.
09:30: RETURNED MISSING, 934 CAMPBELL AVE.
As soon as Fronzaglio clears the call, the pair are called to take a report of a runaway 14-year-old who has returned home. As they drive, Mulligan quizzes Fronzaglio on several topics, such as:
If you see two guys walking through the backyards early in the morning on a winter workday, how would you approach them? What would you say?
What kind of tags must an ATV have, and are they permitted on the roadway?
When should you give someone a warning and when should they get a citation?
Fronzaglio also asks a lot of questions, especially about the department’s complex radio codes.
On Campbell Avenue, the officers get the runaway’s information from the child’s mother, then drive to a nearby church to write their report. Because the runaway report was taken on another date, Mulligan asks the only sergeant on the road, Detective Sgt. Mike Marciano, to reopen the original report so the information about the runaway returning can be entered. Marciano, however, is tied up with two other cars at a Wood Street address, where an ambulance is requested.
It seems like it may take awhile before Marciano can answer, but within a few minutes, Mulligan’s phone emits a sinister chime — Marciano texts back and opens the report so Fronzaglio can add the information. Then, the two are on their way to another parking complaint, this time on East Florida Avenue.
AFTERNOON TURN, ROLL CALL, 1400 HOURS:
On this afternoon, Capt. Rod Foley is in charge and tells the officers he wants them to pay special attention to stores and parking lots, where several recent robberies have occurred. He wants them to spend some time at those stores and parking lots, if they can, even walk around if they want to, to act as a deterrence.
The officers are also looking for a stabbing suspect who goes by the name “Money.”
“There’s lots of tasks to do out there. Be careful,” Foley says.
With his youthful looks and tall, skinny frame, O’Neill, the son of former fire Chief John O’Neill, could easily pass as a college student. He has been on the force for five years and said he decided to become a Field Training Officer because he liked his experience when he went through the program. He also wants to make sure the new officers who will be on the road with him are properly trained.
“These guys are going to be my backup someday so I want to make sure they are trained properly,” O’Neill said.
Garcia, like Fronzaglio, has lots of questions for O’Neill, who he said has been very helpful.
“He’s filling my head with knowledge, with something new every day,” Garcia said.
AFTERNOON TURN, 1452 HOURS: INVESTIGATE BODY ON SIDE OF 651 ANDREWS AVE.
O’Neill and Garcia are sent with the other North Side car, 105, to investigate what appears to be a body next to a vacant building. When the pair pull up, they see what appears to be a human form underneath a dark, blue blanket. The two walk over and O’Neill gently prods the man with his foot, first asking him to wake up, then asking him if he is OK.
When the man says he is OK, the officers get his name and run his information. His skin is raw, most of his teeth are missing and a blue cap covers his head. All his possessions are in a large trash bag, save for a can of Pringles, which is conspicuous because of how it is sticking out.
The man says he does not want to go to a homeless shelter, but the officers point him toward the Mahoning Valley Rescue Mission anyway. He walks away, but not before grabbing his can of Pringles, muttering about a long-ago fight he claims he had in Chicago, the mutter turning into a yell when he says a man pulled a knife on him while a police officer watched but did nothing.
“Protect and serve, thank you very much!” the man yells as he walks toward the Madison Avenue Expressway.
10:02 HOURS: PARKING COMPLAINT, EAST FLORIDA AVENUE
Fronzaglio and Mulligan are sent to a call where two cars are parked against the flow of traffic. Mulligan tells Fronzaglio he can do one of two things: write them tickets, or ask them to move the cars so they are parked properly.
Fronzaglio walks up to a home and knocks on the door, asking the man who answers if he would “flip the cars around.” The man says he will.
“Thank you, I appreciate that,” Fronzaglio says as he walks back toward his cruiser.
Once inside the cruiser, Fronzaglio says there was no need to write tickets before asking if the cars could be moved. Why make an enemy? he asked.
“I say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and they’re already out here,” Fronzaglio said.
Garcia and O’Neill also have a parking complaint to deal with on Norwood Avenue, and they also look for the driver of the car parked in a no-parking zone. They knock on three doors of an apartment building and get no answers.
They are about to write a ticket when a man pokes his head out of an upstairs window and asks what they want. When told him they want the car moved, the man says it is his car and he will be right down to move it. Garcia also tells the man, “Thank you, I appreciate it.”
As O’Neill and Garcia patrol, the calls start to pick up about dinner time across the city, a lot of calls for two cars — fights, property escorts, welfare checks. O’Neill says 103 does not get a lot of calls, but that gives him more time to be visible. Because the beat is so compact — north from Rayen Avenue to Gypsy Lane and everything east of Fifth Avenue — he can drive through it several times.
“I want to make it look like there’s 10 cars out here,” O’Neill said. “If it’s quiet, I’m doing my job.”
15:58 HOURS: CRASH WITH INJURIES, WIRT STREET
The pair head over to Wirt Street and the eastbound Service Road to back up 105 at an accident in which two SUVs collided with each other. When they arrive, the driver of one of the SUVs is sitting in a daze on a grassy median, while a man is stuck in the passenger seat of the other SUV. Firefighters eventually have to cut him out of the SUV.
The whole scene stinks of burnt rubber and gasoline as O’Neill and Garcia don their reflective safety vests and direct traffic so the beat car, 105, can concentrate on the accident investigation. The man on the grass is fitted with a neck brace, then, like they are carting a fragile package, gently lifted by paramedics onto a gurney and wheeled to a waiting ambulance. The man stuck in the other SUV is also fitted with a neck brace when he is cut out and also taken to a hospital by an ambulance.
The pair also make sure they show themselves, parking for several minutes at a Logan Avenue gas station and also at the Belmont Avenue Dollar General as the sun begins to set over the city.
The training schedule is expected to stay the same for about another week, then, the officers will begin transitioning to other shifts and other FTOs.