The Role of the Field Training Officer – An essay Pt. 1

This is part one of two of an essay submitted as part of the testing process for new FTO’s with the Marysville Police Departjment.  The author was a lateral hire from Juno, AK and had been an FTO at his previous agency.  After completing the Washington State 40 hr FTO Academy, he edited the essay based on his learning experience at the FTO Academy.


A Student Officer goes to the academy to learn the philosophy of police work, in a safe and sterile environment.  Upon completion of a law enforcement academy, a new Student Officer will have a basic, academic understanding of law enforcement.  It is the responsibility of the Field Training Officer to take the academic foundation of the Student Officer and expand upon it, forming the student into a competent, safe and capable officer.

Student Officers learn about law enforcement in the academy.  They learn to be law enforcement in field training.

“JJ Did Tie Buckle”

In order to explain my suitability to serve as a Field Training Officer, I need to discuss a guiding set of core principles that serve as a foundation I have personally used to measure the strength of my own character.  As a 17 year old Marine recruit, I recited the above heading until I knew it front to back.  JJ Did Tie Buckle is an acronym which stands for: Judgement, Justice, Dependability, Integrity, Decisiveness, Tact, Initiative, Endurance, Bearing, Unselfishness, Courage, Knowledge, Loyalty and Enthusiasm.  It represents my earliest exposure to organizational leadership in an organization that has produced some of the finest leaders in some of the worst situations in the history of mankind.  I have always tried to exemplify these ideals and they are what I look for in every leader or supervisor I have served under for over twenty years now.  The fourteen pillars of leadership are universal, and are as applicable to a Field Training Officer as they are to the Chief of Police.

Sound judgement is integral to the effective Field Training Officer.  The FTO bears the responsibility not only for their own safety, but for the safety of their Student Officer.  Furthermore, the FTO is responsible for the decisions of their Student Officer.  A prospective FTO must consistently demonstrate they are capable of making good decisions on their own before they can be entrusted with the responsibility of training another officer in the field.

Justice is synonymous with fairness.  The Field Training Officer must be objective and fair in their evaluations of a Student Officer’s performance.  Personal feelings are never a factor in a fair and objective performance evaluation.  A good FTO is capable of impartiality.

The best way to demonstrate credibility is to be dependable.  Being dependable means when you say you’ll do something, you do it.  When given a task to complete, you complete it.  When you don’t know the answer and say you’ll find it, you do.  If you cannot be dependable, you have no credibility.  It is critically important for a Student Officer to see their FTO as credible.  If they do not, learning cannot occur.

Few things are as crucial in our profession as integrity.  Integrity is more than the simple capacity for being honest.  Although it includes honesty, it is a word that describes the core strength of one’s character.  It’s about doing the right thing, all the time, every time.  Integrity becomes monumentally important for the FTO who is training a struggling recruit.  Throughout my career, I have trained many Student Officers who were great people, but had a hard time in field training.  The easy thing to do is always to pass them along but the right thing to do is confront the problems they are having.

Decisiveness to me represents more of a skill than a value.  However, it incorporates all of the other principles of leadership.  Decisiveness is making the right decision, for the right reason, at the right time.  It is about being confident in your knowledge, abilities and not hesitating when it is time to act.

Tact is simply the ability to conduct yourself professionally by words and conduct.  Tact is how you represent the standards you set.

Initiative is critical to the learning process, both on the part of the FTO and the Student Officer.  Initiative as it applies to the FTO means the FTO takes an active role in the training process, attempts to recognize problems and addresses them before they develop and encourages the Student Officer to actively seek out opportunities for learning and advancement.

Being an FTO is one of the most crucial roles in law enforcement.  FTO’s set the standard, the example and when they’re doing their job right, it is difficult.  Being an effective FTO requires constant vigilance, rapt attention to detail and dedication to constantly driving the Student Officer to be successful.  The job of the FTO can be exhausting, particularly when a Student Officer is struggling.  The endurance and intestinal fortitude required to help a new officer succeed is paramount.

Bearing is about keeping your eye on the ball.  Within the Marysville Police Department, an FTO’s ability to keep his or her bearing is what sets the standards of professionalism and dedication for the Student Officer.  Bearing is about the mission, and any successful law enforcement organization is a mission driven agency, guided by a defined set of core values.

Most of us in this profession are accustomed to this trait.  We don’t do what we do for praise or pay, we do it because we are some of the few who are capable.  Unselfishness in the role of a trainer means that we share our knowledge, experiences and mistakes with the trainee because that is how we prepare them for this career.  There are many things a new Student Officer must earn when they come to a new agency, but making them “earn” your knowledge and experience are a recipe for failure in the FTO process.

Courage exists in almost every aspect of our lives as law enforcement officers.  It takes a measure of courage to do this job every day and it takes even more to continue to do your job when someone is trying to kill you.  It also takes courage to choose this career in the beginning.  An FTO needs to exemplify courage to the Student Officer, because again, they are the model that will help to shape who they will become.  As it pertains to the FTO process, the most difficult things for most FTO’s to do is to let go of the proverbial reigns and allow the Student Officer to do what they need to do, without the FTO stepping in unnecessarily.  It takes courage to hold another person’s career when the FTO must step in and correct unacceptable performance and behavior.

One must know it to teach it.  A knowledgeable FTO is technically and tactically proficient, they must thoroughly understand department policy and procedure, criminal laws and many civil matters.  An FTO doesn’t need to have all the answers, but they need to know how to find the ones they don’t.  Raw knowledge in and of itself is insufficient.  Many officers are incredibly knowledgeable but a good FTO understands how to pass that knowledge onto others.

Being loyal means different things to different people.  I used to think it meant being loyal to a particular organization.  Although I still believe this to an extent, my reasons for this belief have changed over the years.  Loyalty is about aligning yourself with a mission based on a set of moral, ethical and professional values.  I am loyal to the Marysville Police Department not simply because it exists and I am employed there, I am loyal because I believe in the mission of the agency and the core values that drive us.  As an FTO part of your job is to sell the mission and the values to the next generation, to help them understand the mission is the goal and the values are the principles that guide us toward achieving it.

I enjoy teaching, so enthusiasm is easy for me.  Enthusiasm sells that an FTO believes in what they are teaching.  I have seen and experienced during my career FTO’s that obviously did not want to be there.  If you can’t convince a Student Officer that you care about their training, then they won’t either, it’s toxic and is yet another recipe for failure.

Officer Brandon Lawrenson – FTO
Marysville Police Department, Washington State

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