What Shape Is Your FTO Program In, and Does It Reflect Where You Want To Be?
It has been a long time since most agencies have done any significant hiring so what will it take to be ready for the new officers when they enter your FTO training? Most agencies will just dust off the field training program they have been using for years and be excited to get the new bodies in the field as quickly as possible. Although this will work for the most part, and your agency will be happy to get the officers on the street with the same training as your field training officers received when they started out, but is that good enough for today’s policing?
How long has it been since your FTO program has been revised; 5, 10 even 15 years ago? Are the same areas previously used for evaluation in the FTO program relevant in today’s policing environment? The current anti-police climate makes proactive policing extremely difficult due to how law enforcement is being watched and second guessed at every turn. Law enforcement is being pressured into adding camera systems to both officers and vehicles; and both the departments and communities are expecting officers to know when and how to use this new technology. In this current environment, many officers are feeling underappreciated and their morale is low. In this climate, how does a department select highly qualified, motivated field training officers to guide and train the newly hired officers?
One of the first questions that should be asked; what is the quality of your current police product as first responders? The quality of your department revolves around the quality of the paperwork, particularly that which is prepared by first responders, submitted to the detectives and/ or prosecutors. How are the officers using the new technology, and documenting its use in police reports? Additionally, how are they documenting their use-of-force encounters, or their basic investigations of criminal activity? Most agencies can look to their detective units to get a feel as to how well their first responders are writing reports. In order to produce a high quality police product, these highly qualified, motivated field training officers must be adept in providing this training to the new officers.
Next should be a review of the tasks that are being taught in the FTO program. There should be a review of the department’s critical need-to-know policies, have-to-know polices, and nice-to-know policies. Then redirect your standard evaluation guidelines to correspond with your program objectives. The use of technology is one of the fastest growing concerns in American law enforcement. How do the department’s policies address this growing need? Is there a need to create new policies, or update current policies? How do these policies address the concerns of the community and their expectations?
How is your current FTO program inserting the ideals of Blue Courage, proactive policing, or other leadership philosophies? The command staff is being trained and using these leadership philosophies; and they should be integrated into the FTO program. It is becoming vitally important that FTO’s understand the leadership philosophy that the command staff is using, so they can train and instill those philosophies’ into every level of the department.
The last part of the FTO program which should be evaluated, is how have the FTO’s been training the new officers in the past. Has it been slow and methodical? Or has it primarily consisted of chasing radio calls and throwing information at the OIT as fast as possible so he/she can handle the next call. Have your FTO’s been opening up the operation orders and covering the proper policy for your agency, or have the FTO’s been teaching the short cuts they have learned either by their FTO or during their time on the job? We all understand the importance in answering all the calls for service that the community generates, but should that be the excuse for rushing the training of the new officers? Does your FTO’s teach your OIT’s how to engage with the community members that are not involved in criminal activity? Most FTO’s that I have encountered over the years think that interacting with the non-criminal community is something that they can learn after they have completed the FTO program. The truth is that your OIT’s will view dealing with non-criminal community members as not being important because their FTO never trained them to make contact with them. This communication has to be a training point in the FTO program if the department wants to change the philosophy of officers’ interaction with the whole community, and not just the criminal element.
Once you have identified the areas that need to be updated and injected into your training program, it is time to create the framework that each of your FTO’s will use to have a consistent and defendable FTO program. Develop your program with a consistent building block design where each week of training builds upon the other and covers all the elements, such as have-to-know and need-to-know policies, investigative techniques, technology, community awareness, and first and foremost promotes officer safety. Allow your FTO’s the time to slow down and train your OIT’s properly so that when the OIT’s are solo-capable, he/she will have a strong foundation to stand upon as they move forward in their career, and the department gets an officer who not only understands why they are policing the way they are, but how to understand the community and how the community views them.
An effective FTO program takes regular evaluation and updating to ensure that you have the best trained employees on the street working intelligently, safely and compassionately. By doing the evaluation of the FTO program, it will increase the overall quality of the police product that your agency provides.
By Sgt. Jeff Chapman
Executive Director, NAFTO