The Role of the Field Training Officer – An essay Pt. 2

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.

My Vision for the FTO Program

Being a Field Training Officer is about leadership.  It is first level supervision, and to me, effective supervision is about effective leadership more than anything else.  The preceding was a list of values that I have modeled my leadership style upon, and what those values mean to me in the context of a Field Training Officer.

Being an FTO is a difficult and demanding job.  It is not about taking a break, sitting in the passenger seat and not taking reports, that’s a ride along, not a day in field training.  An FTO needs to be critical, honest, impartial and vigilant in their observations.  They need to be adaptable and understand that different people have different learning styles and be cognizant enough of that to make adjustments to help their Student Officers succeed.

A solid body of Field Training Officers is the core component essential to the future of a healthy agency.  It begins with the host agency setting clear, defined standards of acceptable performance.  The Field Training Officer’s responsibility is to drive their Student Officers to achieve those standards and to have the courage to address a Student Officer’s failure to meet those expectations.  A superior Field Training Officer will continually evaluate the Student Officer’s performance based on the defined levels of acceptable performance, but will push Student Officers to their individual limits.

I view the field training process as an opportunity to learn and I have learned at least as much from the officers that I have trained than I have taught them.  We need to continue to learn as our profession evolves to avoid becoming stagnant.

I have the benefit of having served as an FTO for several years prior to my employment with Marysville.  I’ve done it long enough to learn many things that work and many things that don’t.  I have trained over a dozen officers and I wish I could say all of them made it and were successful in this career, but I can’t.  What I can say is that I never gave up on them and did everything I possibly could to help them be successful.  Some have personally thanked me for helping them realize that law enforcement was not a good fit for them.  I can also say that having Student Officers who were not successful did not change my passion to teach those who want to learn, and who have the courage to step up and answer the call to be part of the blue line.  Because of this, we owe them our best effort.

Successful FTO’s understand the concepts of coaching and mentoring.  They recognize that the FTO process is fluid, and although the standards remain the same from day one to the final day, the way each Student Officer gets to the final day will be different.  The foremost responsibility for the FTO is to discover the most effective way to impart the knowledge the Student Officer will need to complete the training process.

Field Training Officers must be cognizant of the influence they will have upon their Student Officers, which does not end when the FTO process is over.  An FTO has an immense impact on who the Student Officer will become and they need to recognize the Student Officer will continue to emulate FTO’s within the agency long after the field training process is over.  FTO’s should be those officers who represent an experienced resource for other officers to draw upon and must recognize that the opportunity to teach, coach and mentor also exists outside of the FTO process.  Serving as an FTO means setting high personal standards as a leader that others will strive to achieve.  Finally, it is about understanding that you hold the responsibility for the future of your agency and that today’s Student Officer is the next generation of FTO.

Officer Brandon Lawrenson – FTO
Marysville Police Department

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