In 1983 I joined the Chicago Police Department. The first six months were spent in the police academy where we learned how to look pretty in our nice new uniforms. We were sent to the districts shortly before the 4th of July. There we were assigned Filed Training Officers (FTO) who would handle on the job training for the next nine weeks.
Much has changed in those thirty-six years but the key factor that remains is an experienced officer passes along his or her experience while you learn to be safe on the street. Just a beginning driver is required to be accompanied by a licensed driver, a probationary police officer (PPO) needs someone to ensure he doesn’t get killed or kill someone else.
THE LUCK OF THE DRAW – GOOD OR BAD
If the PPO is fortunate, they’re assigned to a qualified and experienced veteran with a good work ethic and high morals. Sadly, that isn’t always the case. In Chicago, the FTOs were often the officers no one else would work with or were only doing it for the FTO pay.
I was fortunate. I was placed with a hard-working, experienced police officer who took his assignment seriously. He worked hard to ensure I learned. I was with him for about five weeks and then was assigned to two other FTOs. Those two remained my friends for many years after we parted.
One of them has passed away, but I am still friends with his family. I stay in touch with the other via Facebook, even though we are half a country away. I know that if I asked, he would be there to help me out in a flash.
SUDDENLY, I’M IN THE HOT SEAT
After several years had passed, I was asked to train an officer. I tried to use the techniques I remembered from when I was a PPO. The first two days I drove the entire tour and did everything while my rookie watched. I wanted the PPO to get more comfortable and see how things are done.
After that, the PPO drove every day. The PPO answered every radio call and wrote every report. I was always there and listening to ensure it was handled correctly and I stood ready to take up the slack, should the PPO get stymied.
I hated not driving, but I was supposed to teach them – not partner with them. They learned the streets, the paperwork, and the people. I trained about a dozen PPOs and there was only one with whom I broke the driving rule. I let him drive every other day. I knew that would be the only way I might survive our time together. His driving scared me.
For the most part, my PPOs were good officers and after these many years, I have seen them excel and move up the ranks. It is always nice to see a new officer succeed after you got them off on the right foot. Of course, there were a couple … oh well, never mind. I like to think that they weren’t my fault.
I know that many years after my PPO training, I would look back and recall something my FTOs taught me. It might be a tactical technique for searching a home, a psychological method to calm someone, or how to get an extra 15 minutes on my lunch break, when I needed it.
The Chicago Police Department has never really treated the FTO position with the respect it should have. Occasionally, they change the program and rename the job. I think it is still Patrol Specialist (PS).
They pay lip service to the job and say how important it is but when it comes right down to it, they simply dump more paper-work on the training officer. Worse, then try everything to keep him from earning the extra pay that’s supposed to come with the job.
The department says they want good FTOs, but they don’t do anything to make it worthwhile.
Ask any seasoned veteran who trained him, and he will be ready with many stories. They don’t always love their FTO, but they learned something from each one of them. It might be something good or it might be something criminal.
I think more than anything the FTO helps set an attitude that the PPO carries with for the rest of their career. Sure, other things will influence the officer.
I suggest that if you think back, if your training officer showed you the proper way to approach a car with occupants on a midnight traffic stop, you probably do just the same thing now. You may have fine-tuned it and polished your technique but, at its core, is the method your FTO taught you. If he taught you poorly, you had to learn it the hard way on your own.
If you have made it to retirement safely, take a moment to remember your FTO. While you only spent a small portion of your career those officers – be they a Saint or a Sinner (S.O.B.) – they had a great impact on your life.
Thank you Danny G, Dick C, and Bobby P.
Stay safe my brothers and sisters, run low and zigzag.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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