PTO, FTO, or Apple Sauce – Reconsidering the Hybrid Training Model
Written by: Lt Jessie Browning (Retired, Louisville Metro Police Dept)
An invitation to present at the annual Southeastern Field Training Officer Association (SEFTOA) conference had me dipping my toe back into the Police Training Officer pool, and – forgive the metaphor – sent me swimming in a new direction. As a PTO consultant, I never tried to convince department leaders to change from FTO to PTO but did dissuade them from implementing hybrid models. I believed most hybrids resulted from timid coordinators who shied away from the parts of PTO they considered TFC (touchy-feely crap) before they fully understood the benefits of those components. This, undoubtedly, was because I wanted to make a hybrid at my agency for that very reason. I now believe hybrid training models are not only doable, but when created and implemented in the right environment, some homegrown programs can be more effective than either PTO or FTO alone.
After 15 years on patrol, 2005 found me accepting a position as the FTEP Coordinator for my department. We switched programs six months later, throwing me into the role of PTO program designer, implementer, coordinator, instructor, and overall cheerleader. I was fortunate to be trained by two of the original PTO program creators and mentored by some of the best police leaders I ever met. We assembled a small but phenomenal team to facilitate a successful transition. Before I knew it, other agencies were calling for implementation guidance and a small training company was born.
The truth is, I did not like PTO at first. In fact, I spent the first week of my PTO training course justifying why the program would not work for us. “Trust me,” I told the Major, “we need to get rid of journaling and keep DORs.” I really thought I was onto something new here. His response was ego-checking: “So in four days you’ve come up with a better program than the one created by national police experts? Has your model been vetted? Are you prepared to legally defend it when we are sued for wrongful termination?” Of course not. So back to training I went and never had the desire to explore hybrids again. Until now.
I believe both the PTO and the FTO program can yield exceptional officers. I also believe there is a time and a place for either option to be most effective. The Police Training Officer (PTO) program began in 1999, when the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) funded a grant to a group of police leaders, researchers, and practioners to create a post-academy police training model based on community policing concepts. Every training activity, form, and evaluation supports and measures job behaviors identified by your agency with a connection to the philosophy of community policing and through adult learning strategies. There is a shift in responsibility with this program, calling for the trainee to be intensely accountable for what they learn as demonstrated though exercises and job performance. The optimal training environment will have both the trainer and the trainee understand and openly discuss emotional intelligence (EI/EQ) – which is also crucial for a successful police career – so PTO courses are steeped in EI training.
Most Field Training Officer (FTO) programs originated from the San Jose model which resulted from an emphatic need for training and performance accountability in the early 1970s. This model is typically focused on documentation of the trainee’s performance in about thirty job behaviors, and might include community oriented tasks. The model uses Daily Observation Reports (DORs), as well as Weekly and End of Phase Reports completed by the trainer who rates the trainee’s knowledge, skills and abilities on patrol. Many FTO courses also teach adult learning strategies and emotional intelligence as they relate to training and evaluating new officers and in the furtherance of successful careers.
Both programs are valuable. Every component of each program was designed to support the other components respectively. But can they be mixed together to create an effective hybrid model?
The pieces of the PTO program work together like a recipe for baking a cake. Professional bakers carefully crafted the recipe, calling for certain ingredients added at just right the time so they bake together for the desired cake. If the recipe calls for eggs, and you take out the eggs, it’s not going to taste like the cake you wanted. It will look like a cake, smell like a cake, but something will definitely be off. I borrowed this analogy from my friend and mentor, retired Chief of Police Ed Brodt, and have often used it with PTO coordinators after they removed or redefined program components, then questioned why it is not “working” for them. The original recipe of the PTO program was designed to have all the ingredients interact for a synergistic effect.
I also gave the same analogy when asked about adding components of the PTO program into an agency’s FTO model. But after talking to several FTO program leaders at the SEFTOA conference, I am considering a sequel to the cake analogy. What if, instead of eggs, you add applesauce – and you like the cake better? I think this is very possible with the FTO model.
Here’s the thing. The PTO program works best when agencies subscribe to a true community policing philosophy. What is that? The COPS Office definition has always included development and sustainment in the following areas for the purposes of crime prevention, reduction, and control:
- Organizational Transformation
- Problem Solving
- Community Partnerships
These are not mere words nor policies left for a select few to follow. For a department to be truly aligned with this definition, they allow the philosophy to guide every day policing. If an agency is not committed to this mission, the foundation for the PTO program will crumble. Some PTO components then become abstract theories, ultimately changed so they match the department’s true practices, or removed completely because they were never really relevant to their officers. For example, agencies might throw out journals and replace them with DORs, swap Coaching and Training Reports for WORs, or turn the Neighborhood Portfolio Exercises into a product for trainees to update rather than an exercise to learn about their community. Other modifications can occur when coordinators lack the development or support to sustain the program, such as maintaining an outdated Matrix, avoiding Learning Activity Packages, and turning Problem Based Learning Exercises into pass/fail scenarios. Any of this situations interrupt the intended synergy of the PTO program as a whole.
Misfires also happen when agencies implement the PTO program as a catalyst for their organizational transformation – hoping new recruits will latch onto these strategies and breed community policing department wide. But recruits rarely respond to the “do as I say and not as I do” rule, especially with conflicting missions. For successful implementation, an agency should be well on their way to embracing the COP philosophy; supported by their policies and evident in their operations. Absent this foundation, the program is more likely to diminish little by little until the department goes back to the FTO program.
When they return to FTO, the same pitfalls may exist as before. FTO models can provide solid evaluative components to document a trainee’s performance, but only if the methods are implemented and managed appropriately. For example, if an agency does not base the Standardized Evaluation Guidelines on written procedures etched by current law, the legal protection sought from these evaluations is negated. Chief’s struggle to terminate nonresponsive trainees because of inconsistent ratings, which are their sole source of verifiable reference. FTOs become frustrated and burnt out from redundant reports and feel unsupported in their recommendations. And police leaders expect more field training related to community policing than shown by simple check marks on evaluations.
How can an agency improve their FTO program if they are not fully prepared to move to the PTO program? Applesauce instead of eggs.
Prior to transitioning to the PTO model, I suggest agency leaders and program coordinators attend a full PTO course for the purpose of evaluating their agency’s community policing foundation through the lens of the program’s components. This analysis may lead to additional organizational changes to support the PTO program, or it may reveal the PTO program is not a good fit for you. Good PTO training will give you these answers. If you determine the program as a whole is not right for your agency, you will now be in a better position to modify your FTO program with community policing training components which have been in place for over two decades.
I would like to stress I am not advocating PTO, FTO, nor a hybrid model. I am not an expert in your department, so I will stick to what I know based on experience, consultations, and conversations. If you are inclined to tweak your training recipe, may I suggest the following:
Know all the rules of the game before you modify the play. Know how both programs function as they were originally designed. Do not eliminate or change a component of either program without fully understanding its purpose and how that omission or change impacts other components in the program.
Do not change anything to make anyone more comfortable. Learning happens outside the comfort zone. Training should be challenging for everyone. Don’t fall for excuses.
Seek legal advice. Maybe the Chief isn’t worried about it. Will that be the same answer from the Mayor if a group of young officers are in a high-profile incident? The FTO and PTO programs have been tested in trials and scrutinized by legal experts. Vet your homegrown program with your legal experts, HR executives, EEOC experts, etc. to test its defensibility against internal and external litigations.
Build a sustainable program. Will the changes outlast the person making the suggestion? Changes to your program should be rare. Today’s trainees are the tomorrow’s trainers.
Be strategic. Build a program to address confirmed needs in your agency. Evaluate whether or not the components are addressing those needs. Hold people accountable to the program you have in place before you make modifications. New forms or projects may not be the right answer.
Network. Someone else has tried your recipe before. I promise.
I am grateful to be a part of SEFTOA and look forward to learning more new answers to old questions at next year’s conference. Who knows, maybe a little applesauce cake will be on the menu.
Jessie is also a board member of SEFTOA. If you’d like to learn more, just tap this link!