Friday’s Heroes: Field Training Officer Gary Tabke (ret.)

Friday's Heroes - Remembering the fallen officers

Officer Tabke

Gary Tabke has lived a life in motion almost from his birth on an Air Force base. Attending four different high schools in various states and abroad helped to shape the individual he is today. Often the new kid in town, Gary learned early the narrow mindedness and prejudices that permeate society. It was one of the forces that drove him to become a police officer. Fourteen years of patrol including a stint as an FTO (Field Training Officer) on city streets lead to several injuries and an early retirement.

Not one to sit on his laurels, Gary started a successful swimming pool and spa design business and began coaching high school football. Five years later, the pool business has given way to a rising coaching career. Gary is currently coaching college football at a NCAA Division III school and is cofounder of two highly successful football camps in California.

A father of four and married for 25 years to the same romance writer, Gary loves helping Karin mete out plots, scenes and dialog. He also secretly harbors a love of writing and has had numerous sports articles published in his home town paper, as well as several poems of comic relief appear on various web sites. Rumor has it, Gary has the first six chapters completed of a police procedural novel that he hopes to someday see in print. Rumor also has it this is the third time the book has been started…

My book is about cops working the street and life through their eyes. I’ve incorporated many aspects of the job both funny and horrifying, as the main character works through his demons while trying to stop a string of violent bar takeover robberies. I love watching the expressions of surprise and disbelief on Karin’s face as she reads my story. Thank God it’s the story and not my writing she is reacting to. A sampling of Karin Tabke’s published list includes, What You Can’t See, Good Girl Gone Bad, Skin and the soon to be released Jaded, and Master of Surrender, Simon and Schuster.  Gary can be found on his web site at:

Gary Tabke:

Lee, thank you for the invitation to blog on your web site. I am an expert at nothing and couldn’t imagine why you would want my in put along side so many notables already posted here. Then my wife, Karin, pointed out all that has brought me to where I am presently. I think there is value to a life lived and experiences survived and learned from.  In many ways, my life has been one tutorial after another but I’ve taken those lessons to heart. As an FTO and later as a football coach, I have tried to pass on those life lessons to others in the hope of somehow making their journey a little easier.

Training a recruit is always an experience, whether they are fresh meat out of the academy or an old salt that just transferred to your department. As per Wikipedia:  The duties of the FTO involve being a role model of the expectations of training, teaching the trainee the policies of the department and to correctly apply the concepts they learned in the classroom to field operations, and evaluating the trainee on his or her progress in the program. Ultimately, the FTO is responsible for making sure shift duties are performed properly and completely, making the position a particularly challenging one.

Along with the department line, I always felt it was the duty of the FTO to make sure his recruit knew how to stay alive at three in the morning, alone in the meat grinder. The meat grinder is that section of the city where the crime rate is the highest, the income level the lowest and the neighborhoods the toughest. We worked one man cars, approximately ten-twelve per shift, plus two S-units. More than anything else, I needed to know my recruit could survive on their own.

There are several names of affection that can be given a recruit; rookie, boot, probie, trainee, asshole, idiot, Gomer Plye. The list is endless and varies with each individual and where they are with their training. There are just as many ways to test their metal. Most are by assuring the recruit gets to be in the middle of the action as often as possible. They love it when you answer up for someone else’s detail, “One-Adam-Twelve, we’ll take that for training.”

One dinosaur I worked with was a former Marine and Golden Gloves boxer. After about one week with a recruit he would have them drive to a quiet out of the way place and advise dispatch that they would be off the air for a few, “training”. He had one particular spot he liked to go and when we heard it come over the air everyone knew what was up.  This officer would get out of the car and light up one of those short, thin black cigars and invite the rook to get out as well. He’d start by questioning them about their life’s experiences and then move onto personal physical altercations and self-defense training taught at the academy. This was followed by a hand to hand demonstration and finally he would invite the recruit to punch him. Actually, he’d tell the recruit to kick his ass or get his own ass kicked. Relax, almost all survived, almost all.

“Many here the call but few are called to answer.”

One young redheaded lad who was affable enough but just not very tenacious had heard the stories and was getting ribbed pretty good about his upcoming tour with the old salt FTO. To say he was nervous would be an understatement. The moment he heard his FTO advise dispatch that they were headed to the sacred spot for some training, he broke into a sweat, getting out of the car and into the conversation just added to his tension.  When the big moment came, he ran around the patrol car in a panic refusing to engage his FTO who was in hot pursuit. After several minutes of this the FTO got back in the vehicle and told the rook to drive them to the station.  25% of our recruits washed out for one reason or another and Red ended up in that group.

There is much a recruit must learn and be taught. Being an FTO is a huge responsibility and must be taken seriously. They need to learn procedure, report writing, citation writing, officer safety, General Orders, the penal code, the traffic code, municipal codes, investigation techniques, driving skills, firearms, self defense, patience and when to escalate things. Knowing how to roll code three, talk on the radio and hold a cup of coffee at the same time isn’t bad to know either. However, common sense and a command presence pretty much have to be inherent.

When I left the FTO program I was told they were going in a different direction than in the past.  They wanted training officers who would be “cheerleaders and mentors”. I never wanted to work with a guy or gal who needed a hug to get through a shift. In the end, I guess I too had become a dinosaur.

Books by Karin Tabke

Master of SurrenderWhat You Can't See

25 replies
  1. Gary T
    Gary T says:

    Kath – glad to be of service. Karin rocks my world too. Ah, can I say that here?

  2. KathCalarco
    KathCalarco says:

    Gary, I’m so glad your wife posted this at her blog. One of my mss has three NYC cops. Although not a cop story, I still feel it’s important for the characters to have authenticity. Now I have a place to bounce off questions. Thanks so much. BTW, your wife rocks my blog-hoppin’ world!

  3. Gary T
    Gary T says:

    Okay, finally, the end of our training exercise. Once you’ve decided to stop someone, do it. advise dispatch your making the stop, give your location and do it. If the subject is in s car you might get away with following them a bit for a better spot but on a bike they’re going to know you’re looking at them.

    On or off the bike? Make the stop and tell the subject to stradle the bike, do not get off the bike. Off the bike creates a couple of officer safety issues: The subject can manuver the bike to be between him and you. Now it’s an obstacle to overcome. Off the bike and he can use the bike as a weapon against you and then run.

    Astride the bike he has nowhere to go. He can’t run without getting off the bike which gives the officer reaction time. If he tries to get back on the bike and ride away it is but a few steps to reach him and knock him to the ground. If he gets an owie falling down we call that a bonus. Astride the bike his hands can remain on the handlebars in plain view.

    True story: A young officer was making a bicycle stop at about 2:30 in the morning just a couple of blocks from where I was enjoying my first cup of the night. He asked for cover before making the stop so I arrived just as he initiated the stop. He was approaching the guy still on the bike as I was exiting my vehicle. I heard him tell the guy to get off the bike as I was advising him to leave the guy on the bike. Rookie standing at the rear of the bike with me approaching the bike side of the stop. As I walk up the subject tosses the bike at me, turns and runs. The rookie was caught off guard but I was anticipating it, jumped over the bike and the chase was on. It lasted about 25 yards when I caught him in a Jack in the Box parking lot and took him down. Then the fight was then on and I ended up on the bottom with a headlock on the guy.

    All this could have been avoided. I have arrested many a subject while they stood astride a bicycle, even put the cuffs on them while they held the bike between their legs. Being a cop is a great job with great challenges and I guess what I loved about it was getting over on the bad guys.

    Fianlly, when training someone I always found it best to explain it, demonstrate it, have them do it and then critique their performance.

    Lee, thank you so much for the invite, this was a kick. To all those who dropped in I hope I kept it interesting. To those still on the job, be safe.

  4. SZ
    SZ says:

    For safty, I would say off the bike and step a way a bit. Suggest near the patrol car lights.

    Now can you imagine why you are here ? Fun interactive lessons !

    Also, Lee, nice job on the site change.

  5. Gary T
    Gary T says:

    SZ – You answered while I was answering. Reading above you’ll see that you are correct regarding the lights and probable cause to make the stop. Got a few errands to run so we’ll wrap up the officer satety issues upon my return.

    Any more guesses or thoughts out there?

  6. Gary T
    Gary T says:

    Okay, here we go. In most states, bicycles are considered vehicles and therefore must conform to the rules of the road of the vehicle code. Often, as is the case in California, there may also be specific vehicle code sections just for bikes. In California, bicycles are required to have a head lamp, visible from 300 feet. There is your probable cause or legal reason to make the stop.

    Additionally, most law abiding males in his age range are home in bed at 2:30 AM and most have a drivers license and don’t use bikes as their main means of transportation. Ecosensitive folks excluded. These observations should raise a cops suspicion. My experience tells me that an individual at this time of day meeting this criteria is probably one with an arrest record, outstanding warrants or up to no good.

    Joyce, a consensual stop like you are describing is good but if the guy says I don’t want to talk to you Officer, the cop has no legal grounds to detain him. Therefore, a vehicle code violation works better and gives the officer the right to obtain personal information from the guy and do a “pat down search” for weapons and contraband.

    Now, officer safety issues; Do you leave him on the bike or have him get off the bike during the stop? Take your time and I’ll be back later with the second part to this training exercise.

  7. SZ
    SZ says:

    As for the tu tu Gary, your picture has you looking all buff and stuff. Me ? I have the gift of flab.

  8. SZ
    SZ says:

    Ok, well I live in San Francisco, so that right there is probable cause.

    I would think all bike laws are to have proper lights when dark. I believe it is white light front, solid or flashing (red) in back. That would be probable cause to pull over.

    How to handle it ? I would call in first that there may or may not be trouble due to neighbor hood and then turn on a large spot light once you have followed to an area large and safe if possible. Hard to ride away or hide in a larger area. (my guess)

  9. Gary T
    Gary T says:

    This is good! Come on now, keep thinking. Try to work through the options.

    Just got back from my stanky work out. So, after a clean up I’ll be back to resolve this training issue. Jump in while you still have a chance…

  10. Terry
    Terry says:

    Now, if I (as me, a defenseless civilian) encountered this situation, I’d make sure my car doors were locked and get out of that part of town. Which is why I have so much admiriation for you LEOs who run toward gunfire. However, I don’t really see probably cause for a stop in what you described, but that’s only based on my VERY limited understanding of what cops do, and since I never wrote a scene like that, I didn’t research it.

    I looked in Lee’s book, but I couldn’t find “late nite no headlight bike stops” in the index.

  11. Gary T
    Gary T says:

    Auntieamy & Joyce – Thanks for playing along. I can understand both of your takes on the situtation however, neither is the answer I am looking for, but more on that later.

    Anyone else want to play along and take a shot? Come on!

    If you did make the stop what are some things you might or might not do?

  12. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    The answer is: It depends.

    The guys in our suburban department would most likely stop him just because he was out riding around in the middle of the night. They’d consider it “suspicious activity.”

    Any time they see anyone out walking, etc. at night, they always stop them. They would ask the bike rider if everything was okay, ask if he needed assistance or a ride home. If he acted suspiciously, they would question him further. If not, and he said all was well, they’d let him go on his way.

  13. Auntieamy71
    Auntieamy71 says:


    This is great stuff. I will answer but take pity on me, my only connection to law enforcement would be a couple of friends who are retired sheriff’s deputies.

    I would say no, I did not have probable cause because I had not seen him do anything.
    However, as a writer, I have a feeling that the bike without a headlight is a big clue or else you wouldn’t have mentioned it.

    Thanks for posting and Lee, thank you for having him on.

  14. Gary T
    Gary T says:

    Okay, so let’s have a little fun. How about a training exercise?

    Situation: It’s about 2:30 AM, you are alone in your vehicle on patrol in a seedy area of town. You spot a male, approximately 32 years old, wearing baggy clothes and riding a bicycle with no head light.

    Q #1 – Do you have probable cause to stop this individual?
    Q #2 – If not, why not?
    Q #3 – If so, why so and how would you handle the stop?

    Remember to bear in mind the totality of the situation. I’ll be back in about an hour so, feel free to talk amongst yourselves, and smoke’em if you got’em.

  15. Gary T
    Gary T says:

    Terry & HollyD – Thanks for coming over here to look around. Lee has some great people blogging here with a lot of useful information, especially if you’re writing cops.

    Elena – “Changes in title tend to not effect function” Funny you would bring this up. I recently had lunch with a pal who is still on the job and has been most of twenty years. He commented on the new guys working the street and how many of them just want to drive around and show off the car. He said many are the “go to the refrigerator and get the box type of guys”. This means they aren’t trying new things in law enforcement, they’rer not proactive but only reactive to the dispatcher. If you never stir things up on your own you’re going to drive by a lot of crime and criminals.

    My poetry? It often times is sarcastic with an attempt at humor. Check out Magical Musings, or Fog City Diva’s, or even the archives at

    Thanks for asking and thanks for commenting!

  16. Gary T
    Gary T says:

    Good morning everyone! Ah yes, the benefits of retirement…

    SZ – A tu-tu out of the question? Not necessarily, how do you look in a tu-tu? I took my role as an FTO seriously and it is a very important role within the department. In some departments an FTO is actually a promotion to corporal which makes them a supervisor. In my humble opinion, if a guy or gal needs a hug to get through a shift I don’t want them as my partner. Therefore, I didn’t want to foster that type of behavior through my teaching. I’m not saying cops don’t need a little emotional boost from time to time but I’m not going to incorporate that in my training.

    As for my book… Exercise in Blue (my working title) most of the ideas have come from personal experiences of my own or those of others I have been exposed to. I think it will be a good read. Thanks for your comments!

  17. Elena
    Elena says:

    And, where can we find your poetry? I’m into ‘shooting off steam’ limericks myself.

  18. Elena
    Elena says:

    They can call it ‘cheerleading and mentoring’ but I strongly suspect that the new crop won’t look a whole lot different than the old crop. Changes of titles tend to not effect function, especially when it’s life or death.

    That said, I do hope you keep writing – you are a compelling read.

  19. HollyD
    HollyD says:

    It’s great to read you here. I’m glad Karin put this on her Murder She Writes blog. I now have a new site to visit.

    You’re not a dinosaur. There are just lots of people out there who are not cut out to be a police officer. It’s a disservice to the citizens and their fellow officers to allow them to serve.

    I have no doubt you were always a top notch officer!

  20. Terry
    Terry says:

    Thanks for the fabulous stories and insights, Gary. I’ve enjoyed Karin’s work and her blogging at Fog City Divas. I’m betting your book will be out there for us all to read someday.

  21. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Gary – Thanks for being here today. Great post.

    I, too, served a couple of years as an FTO. It’s a pretty tough gig because you have two backs to watch, yours and the rookie’s.

  22. SZ
    SZ says:

    I imagine you are here as there is no time for narrow mindness here ! You will be working away on your book all day with the ideas you get.

    That said, if you did not want to be a cheerleader, I guess a tu tu is out ?

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