Field Training Officer Program (FTO)

Written by: Law Enforcement Contributors

So, you’ve either finished your academy, or you can see the light at the end of the tunnel (assuming it’s not an oncoming train.)  You may be thinking that you made it, you have the job and all of the good and bad that will come with it for the next 20 -30 years.

  Think again.  Having graduated your academy is merely the 1st step in what hopefully will be a long and rewarding career for you.  In most – not all agencies, you may be assigned to an FTO (Field Training Officer) program.  This is where you’ll be assigned to a series (ideally) of senior officers over different shifts to be trained in your agency’s internal procedures,  critical job tasks and actual street work.

 One of the country’s first, best, and well known FTO Programs is called “The San Jose” model.  The following paragraph was swiped directly from their website at:      http://www.sjpd.org/bfo/FieldTraining/home.html

Reason Behind The FTO Program:

 “The purpose of the Field Training and Evaluation Program (FTO) is to train new officers so that each is prepared to function as a solo beat officer at the conclusion of their training cycle.  The training cycle consists of 17 weeks of intensive on-the-job training and daily performance evaluations. Training is conducted and staffed by field training officers and sergeants on a 24-hour basis. “

 While the San Jose model is clearly one of the best, there are others.  Unfortunately they are as numerous as the law enforcement agencies that run them.  I wish I could tell you how your agency will run the program, assuming they have one, but obviously, I can’t.  The best thing you can  do is ask,  ahead of time.  I can, however, give you my own experience.  The following is the way not to do things.

First Hand Experience:

 When I first came on I was assigned to 1 partner.  Your 1st partner could normally last 2 years, and sometime during that time-usually after 12 months- your partner would write out a quick “3-liner” (a short narrative report, usually 1 or 2 paragraphs), that said “this guy -or girl- was capable of performing the duties of a police officer.”  Period.  No formal training, for you or your senior partner.  You basically just “shadowed” the guy and did what you were told, and if you did something wrong, you got a butt chewing and moved on.

 We rotated shifts every 7 days, and you followed your partner.  If he was off, the Sgt would stick you with whomever he was pissed off  with at the moment, and you got a “fresh” perspective. (Or as I was told by one guy who was bout to be made a Sgt., “you do anything to screw me up tonight, and you’d better go back to the Philippines or Korea, or wherever it was you served, ’cause that’s the only place in the world where I won’t be able to choke your chicken!”)

 This procedure was done this way because that’s the way it always was done, and you’ll learn that in most – not all – agencies, that’s why you do things that don’t make any sense.  Because that’s the way it’s always been done.  Cops hate change.

 Jump ahead 10 years and I was a Sgt. Working for a Lieutenant in Professional Standards and Training.  The Lt., was actually my 1st partner, and we were a team again. He was a smart guy who knew the way we were doing things was begging for a lawsuit and worse.

 We checked with a dozen other agencies and then went to a 5 day class on FTO Training using the San Jose model.  We spent 6 months creating a program and attempting to train senior officers.  That’s where we hit the 1st stumbling block.

 One of the basic ideas is that you don’t force senior officers to become the trainers.  You look for volunteers who want to do it, not have to do it.  You’re also supposed to throw them a “bone” for all of the extra work and responsibility that they have to be involved in.  We couldn’t give them any extra $$$ – my agency and town cried poverty for 25 years, even though they were one of the richest towns in the state, and contract negotiations would have had to be considered.  So we suggested non cash benefits such as 1st choice at elective training,  specific medals / stripes for the uniform, etc.

 No.

 Deputy Chief Tin-man (so called, because he was considered heartless, and whenever he entered a room someone banged a metal desk or chair), said he’d assign the trainers, and they’d do it without compensation, because some trained them, and it was their turn to train someone else.  The difference was that the FTO’s spent a good 30 minutes of paperwork extra per day, and after the time period was over, they’d be reassigned to do it again after 3  months.

 Rather than stay with 1 partner, we had the trainees switch partners every month, at the same time they’d go to a new shift with a new Sgt. and crew.  By this time we had steady shifts of 6 months in length.  Each trainer filled out a DOR (Daily Observation Report)  that contained 15 critical tasks rated between 1 – 7, with 1 being poor and 7 outstanding.  The recruit was reviewed daily.  In addition. Both the FTO and the recruit had a handbook explaining every detail of the program.  At the end of 3 months, they’d go back to their original partner and be tested on a series of critical job related tasks such as pursuit driving or firearm safety or use of force and a dozen other tasks.  The 3 FTO’s would then sit down with the FTO supervisor (me), and decide pass / fail / or recycle for another month.  At least that was the way it was supposed to be.

What actually happened was that since none of the FTO’s were volunteers, none of them really wanted to do it.  They especially didn’t want to do it when they saw the extra work involved.  The program was supposed to save time, a completed 13 week cycle instead of 12 months, and everything documented, both to show that the recruit was actually trained on  tested and passed  every critical task, and as part of due process (fundamental fairness) should the recruit bomb out even after re-training.  Tin-man insisted that the time period still be between 6 – 12 months, which meant the FTO’s were often doing it for a year without a break or bone, and even those who were actually trying to do the right thing were burned out after the first 6 months.  In addition, the Sgts. were ticked off because they got extra paperwork and had to utilize the FTO/recruit car as a 1 person car rather than a 2 person, which meant extra calls for everyone on the shift.  All this managed to do was piss off everyone on the shift.  All 3 shifts.

 I wish I could say that things gradually improved, but this went on for  years, no matter what my Lt and I tried to do.  I eventually got promoted and went on to other things, and as a Lt I tried my best to incorporate what I knew was the right thing as far as the program was concerned.  God only knows how long things would have stayed the same, until 9/11 hit us and suddenly someone upstairs (in the department, not the heavens),  decided that perhaps the way things were being done might not be so smart.  Someone could get hurt, or worse, sued.

 Things gradually improved, but by that time I was retired.  I hope your FTO experience is better.

 Stay safe & may God bless you & yours.