By Sgt. David J. Harris

As a Field Training Officers, we are required to assume many roles, sometimes referred to as the ability to “wear many hats.”  Mentor, counselor, instructor, coach and evaluator to name a few.  One of these “hats” requires training and, in my humble opinion, experience.

As we all know, FTO’s are expected to evaluate the performance of the student officer (S/O) and not the personality.  How can an FTO properly evaluate a specific performance if they do not know “why” their Student Officer did what they did or did not do?

Let’s look at one example:

You and your Student Officer receive a Domestic Violence call, where dispatch advises you that a male has pushed the female R/P (reporting person) to the floor; Aid has been declined.  Your S/O has seen you perform several DV related calls and you have reviewed each one with him/her. You decided to allow the S/O to take the lead on this call.

While en-route to the call, you review with your S/O the specifics of the call, what the S/O needs to know to determine if the call is DV related, and what actions they will take. Your S/O answers all of your questions correctly and articulates all of the elements required to establish a DV incident.

Upon arrival to the call, the scene is chaotic.  Your S/O has difficulty with gaining control of the situation. You step in and are quickly able to separate the parties and control the scene.(Any of this sounding familiar?)  You then appropriately step back and allow the S/O to continue with the investigation.  After a few minutes of questioning, you quickly determine your S/O is heading down a path of inactivity.  You noted that the S/O did not determine if there was any relationship between the male and female, and because the S/O did not “see” any obvious injuries to either party, was intending to clear the call as a “verbal DV.”  You subsequently override your S/O and complete the call.

In your evaluation of the S/O’s performance, you must ask yourself, and more importantly and the point of this article, why did the S/O do what they did.  Many times I have read DORs (Daily Observation Report) and noted this exact scenario as described.  The FTO has documented an unacceptable rating under the “Knowledge of DV” Task Element.  How did the FTO determine the S/O displayed a lack of knowledge during the incident?  In this case, the S/O was able to articulate to the FTO their understanding of DV laws and the appropriate actions while en-route to the call.  The problem arose when the S/O was confronted with the chaos.

You, the FTO need to understand the why.  During your debrief of the incident, it would be appropriate to again ask your S/O to explain the DV laws and requirements.  If they are able to do so, clearly it is not their “knowledge” of DV laws, but the ability or inability to apply the knowledge.  So why did they perform, or fail to perform as they did?  That is what you must determine.  Was it a cultural situation, where your S/O was raised in an environment where such behavior is accepted? ( I hope not). . Is there any bias on the part of the S/O? Or is it because the S/O became stressed when confronted with the chaos; they shut down and were unable to handle the call, even though they had the knowledge to do so.

Understanding “why” your S/O does or does not perform a task is critical for effective evaluation.  In this example, I think it would be an error to document the S/O’s lack of knowledge on DV related issues, rather their inability to perform due to stress, or other identifiable reasons.

Always take the time to ask those “why” questions. Understanding why your S/O does what they do or do not do will provide you a better idea of what you are evaluating, thus provide you a better picture of where to focus your efforts-and as always, evaluate performance and not personality!

I welcome your comments on this or other FTO-related topics.

Sgt. David J. Harris
Lynnwood Police Department
Director -WA-NAFTO.

Last modified: April 1, 2020