Way back when I was a young buck and just hours out of the police academy, I showed up at my first roll call and met my Field Training Officer or rather FTO. He was a medium stature individual with a weathered face. We gathered our radios and supplies. He gave me a quick tour around the facility and introduced me to a few other officers.
Out at our squad he took the keys and got in the driver’s seat. As I fumbled with all my equipment trying to find a place to stuff it and still be able to get it, he told me to sit down and told me how he was going to train me.
For the first week he would drive every day, after that I would drive every day. He said that way I would become familiar with the neighborhood and get to know the map. I never mentioned I grew up on the beat we were assigned and knew the streets, gangways, and alleys as good as he did. I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and simply say yes sir.
I was glad to be in the passenger seat. There was enough to do keeping track of the radio. He also informed me I would be doing all case reports. A good idea and I got pretty good at writing reports.
In Chicago every officer got a small booklet from the union that had the monthly police calendar with room to put in your court information. There was a street guide. The miscellaneous incident codes were inside, and you got quick at finding that page as a young PPO (Probationary Police Officer), you needed them to respond to calls that didn’t generate a case report. All you CPD guys know that 19-P says it all. (Miscellaneous incident – Other police service)
The book also had the Miranda warnings printed inside and the phrase “Miranda rights were administered to the arrestee per the preprinted card.” In court they never questioned you on the accuracy of your warnings if you had read it from the card.
This FOP book was originally designed by a group known as COP. My FTO was a main force in COP and helped design the original book. He pointed out the book was designed to be carried in your shirt pocket and he insisted that is where I carried it. Over time I added so many little cards and accident templates that it became thicker than my wallet and earned a place in my hip or jacket pocket.
After a couple weeks with this FTO he went on his annual furlough, and I got moved around a couple other FTOs. Each had their own methods and benefits. I kept my ears and eyes open and learned something from all of them. One would pull to a stop in the middle of a dark street and ask for the address.
He finally stopped when I gave him the address and he said I was wrong. I asked him to stop doing this if I proved him wrong. He drove to the corner looked at the street sign, realized his mistake and without saying a word never did it again. Perhaps it was unfair, but we were stopped in front of my girlfriend’s house, and we were parked next to her car.
My final FTO had worked for my father ten years earlier. After our first rollcall he pulled me aside and said, “I worked for your old man. He was all right. I reserve my opinion on you until the end of the watch.” We stayed good friends until he passed away last year.
While riding with each of these men we spent hours in the car with them giving me the benefit of their experience and viewpoint on police work. It would be silly to think they hadn’t seriously impacted the type of police officer I became.
Over the years I never applied for the rank of FTO although I was pressed into service as one to train fifteen PPOs. I drew from my experiences and used many of the techniques and methods I learned from. I had these recruits drive all the time. Well not quite, one was such a bad driver I was afraid he would kill us, so he drove every other day.
There was much more to training a PPO than just case reporting and procedure. One bad habit I had to break in several was the tendency to treat a traffic stop as a personal insult. I pointed out many times that it wasn’t the officer’s stop sign the violator just drove through.
I worked hard to make sure that while we might be working a one or two-man car we aren’t going home unless we all work together. You didn’t have to like the person, but you did have to back them up. After three years in my first district, I was sent to work in the Austin District. A year before I arrived, they had gone through a couple racial incidents in the district among the officers. I’m not sure what happened since I wasn’t there and, in the end, I don’t think it really mattered.
The Austin district was a busy dangerous area. Drugs and gangs ran rampant. However, I pleased to see that anytime an officer called for help everyone came with lights and sirens blaring. You might not drink in the same bar after work, but everyone backed up each other. This importance of being there for each other saved officers lives.
Of course, I taught my PPOs how to stretch a 30-minute lunch into 45 minutes when they needed it. They learned to not block other emergency vehicles at a crime scene and where to stop on a vehicle stop. They also learned which supervisors to ask for help and which to avoid.
I tried to teach them to relax and enjoy the job. See the humor and in what happens and more importantly see that the people we are helping are just working stiffs trying to make ends meet.
My question for you is this. It has been 38 years since I met my first FTO. Things have changed in society and especially on the job. If you are an FTO what is your first duty to your PPO and what do you want to teach them? How do you help them deal with public opinion? What do you see the greatest need for PPO training?
Drop me a line, leave me a message. Let’s hear what you think needs to be included in the training. How do you do it?
That’s all for today. Until next time safe. Run low and zig zag. Robert Weisskopf (Lt. CPD. Ret.)
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
Bob enjoys hearing from his readers – EMAIL
For the rest of my articles as well as links to my books you can go to www.bobweisskopf.com
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