So, your boss just told you you’re going to be a Field Training Officer.
Let me handicap some of the thoughts that may be going through your head; or at the very least some of thoughts that went through my head.
- “Who me? Are you sure you got the right guy?”
- “Wow, they must be pretty hard up if they need me to do this.”
- “Maybe I should start considering a transfer to another agency, I don’t know if I want to be part of this one if I am the best they can come up with.”
Some of that is meant to be funny but there is an element of truth to it as well.
YOU TALKIN’ TO ME ??
Even though I volunteered to be a Field Training Officer, I was still a bit surprised when I was chosen.
When you really start to think about the job of being a Field Training Officer, it can be a bit of a daunting task. You are now responsible for transitioning a fresh (and hopefully enthusiastic) new police officer into someone who can survive on the street.
You will be the main point of transition from the theory of the academy to the reality of policing. In the short missive that follows, I hope to offer a little guidance from someone who has been through it a few times with some mild success.
These words are not meant to serve as a replacement for formal training. Nor, can this missive replace instructor development classes which you might attend.
This is simply some practical advice.
EVERY COP-SHOP HAS ITS OWN FLAVORS OF FTO
I understand that Field Training programs differ from state to state and department to department. Some are very formal and regimented; others not so much (mine was an informal style).
First and foremost, you need to do realistic and honest self-assessment.
I have no doubt that you are the most professional and tactically proficient police officer that has ever been. However, knowing how to do something does not mean you can teach someone else how to do it.
Teaching even in a one-on-one student / teacher ratio requires a specific skill set and temperament that not everyone can claim as their own. Each person was given – and developed – their own unique set of skills.
That’s the beauty of your strengths: it takes all kinds of cops to make a police department successful.
Training officers who will in-turn become Field Training Officers is a whole discipline unto itself, which is a different story for another time.
— OH, FOR SOME PATIENCE
A good starting point when teaching others is extra patience. In addition, the ability to clearly communicate with your students is vital.
On a bad day, it can seem almost impossible to explain a concept that is simple to you – when the student just isn’t catching on. The experience is even worse if the item being taught is one that that you believe to be very basic.
One of the most valuable lessons of the importance of patience I learned from the second trainee I had.
We were a few weeks into training and as this was my second time around, so I was feeling confident that I knew what I was doing. We had a traffic stop and I was showing my guy how to use the in-car computer to run the warrant and vehicle checks.
The system we had at the time required paging through multiple screens with useless information on them. With experience, a user learned where to look and could move past the excess stuff in less than a second.
I was moving through the recent inquiry results at the speed of someone who at that point had done thousands of traffic stops. Luckily, he stopped me and asked if we could go back and go through all this again because he was not understanding what he was looking at.
I am glad he did, I came to realize that for the last few weeks I had been hurrying through some steps that had become second nature to me but were all brand new for him.
THE TURTLE IS TOPS
That brings me to my next piece of advice whenever possible, slow down!
As much as time allows, explain to your recruit what you are doing and why.
I found that discussing each incident after the fact and doing a quick debriefing was very helpful to both the teacher AND the student.
While you have your trainee with you, one of the most important ways in which you will be teaching them is by your example. That means you must sharpen up your tactics.
I am as guilty as anyone and letting things slide and taking shortcuts. It is vitally important however, that you show your new officer the right way to do things.
SEND BAD HABITS PACKING
You want to do all that you can to discourage bad habits from developing.
I believe this advice applies not just to your tactics but to your whole bearing:
- Your appearance
- Your uniform
- How you present yourself to the world
Make sure you have all your equipment, wear your vest and make a conscious effort to be a professional police officer – in your actions and your appearance.
Lastly, try to relax and enjoy the time.
IT CAN BE FUN, IF YOU ALLOW IT TO HAPPEN
I have found field training to be one of the more enjoyable challenges I have had in my career. Have a game plan going in, but try to tailor your instruction to the strengths and weaknesses of each trainee.
I know this was brief and like I said in the beginning this is not meant to supplant formal training. Rather, it just some practical advice and some things that worked for me.
To be sure, there will be some highs – like when your trainee handles themselves like a veteran. Over time you can see them become a respected member of the department.
There will be some lows, like the first time your trainee must practice their emergency driving in the real world. REMEMBER TO BUCKLE UP!
With each trainee I had there was a unique challenge to work through. By successfully navigating that challenge, I came away with a real sense of accomplishment.
It is an important job. Do it well.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
Check out this recent article:
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