WRITTEN BY: Lt. Wayne South (RET)
Field Training Officers serve as gatekeepers to your agency and the law enforcement profession. They have a profound effect on their trainees and directly influence their success. Trainees will report to training with varied degrees of experience, confidence, and knowledge. Most new officers will be successful in the FTO program; however, there are a few that will not successfully complete the program. The reasons vary and below is a short list (not inclusive) of reasons I have seen officers fail the FTO program. Understanding these reasons will help your FTO’s prepare to overcome them.
- Report Writing
Report writing deficiencies are the toughest to correct. There is a lot of material to cover during a typical FTO program with most varying in length from 10 to 16 plus weeks. Simple mistakes can be corrected, but the basics taught in high school and/or college cannot be taught during a typical FTO program.
Most officers do not realize the impact a well, or poorly, written incident report can have. A well written report establishes your reputation as a professional, who conducts thorough investigations, and can convey the results of the investigation in that report. Conversely a poorly written report causes issues with your trainer, criminal cases are dismissed or pled to a lesser charge, and ultimately can lead to the trainee’s termination from the program.
- Human Interaction
In today’s technologically driven society, most of your new officers will excel with technology but may struggle with face-to-face interaction. This is a skill that may take some time for an FTO to develop in their trainee. Technology is an excellent tool, but it does not allow for an officer to read body language, listen for tone in someone’s voice, or resolve conflict. An officer who cannot interact with another person face-to-face will not be able to conduct thorough investigations, resolve conflict, or establish relationships/rapport.
Fear is a natural emotion that all new officers will experience in the training program and especially when responding to a high-risk call or confronted with a hostile individual. Fear surfaces in two forms; one, anxiety or the fear of failure and two, the fear of being injured. How the officer controls their fear and performs while experiencing fear will make the difference between success or failing out of the FTO program.
Anxiety is natural and can be overcome. The trainer should seek to pinpoint the source of anxiety and refocus their training efforts. The trainer should ask and answer the “what if” questions and ask them to visualize success.
A trainee who is afraid of being injured may hesitate to engage or not engage at all. Although not impossible, it is going to be very tough for the trainee to overcome. This fear may dimmish after their first physical confrontation.
FTO’s should seek out the “hot” calls to allow the recruit to improve their performance level while experiencing fear. Careful guidance by the FTO through this adaptive process ensures that officer safety is maintained, and the recruit can make sound decisions while under great stress.
- Agency Selection of FTO’s
Good FTO’s should be results driven, professional, ethical, fair, motivated, and excellent communicators. Bottom line is this, being a field training officer is a lot of work if you do it right. FTO’s should also have proven themselves at the agency for three to five years prior to selection. Normally this time frame provides enough information for an agency to evaluate their decision-making skills, attitude, and any disciplinary issues. Agencies should invest a lot of time, training, and money into their FTO’s or else you have the untrained training the untrained. Failure to do so could result in an FTO recommending remedial, or termination, from the training program because of their own lack of job experience and training.
- Lack of Creative Thinking
An FTO’s job is to train, educate, and guide a new officer through the FTO program. It is also the FTO’s job to let them “struggle” on a call if officer safety is not an issue. This motivates the trainee, allows the trainee to problem solve, which improves their performance level as well as their decision-making skills and confidence.
- Lack of Confidence
FTO’s should identify those areas in which the trainee is not confident. Once these areas are identified, talk to the trainee about them and then create a plan for improvement. If they are timid when talking to someone who is intoxicated and belligerent, it could be a lack of confidence in their defensive tactic’s skills. Take them to the mat room to build confidence and skill.
Role play scenarios can help a trainee build confidence in making decisions and use of force. If your agency has a video simulator, use it. Scenario training should always be positive and build on their strengths while improving their weaknesses.
- Poor Decision Making
Many times, this is a trainee’s lack of knowledge of department policies, state laws, and ordinances. This should improve with time and training, and it is incumbent on the FTO to ensure they have a good knowledge base. The FTO should constantly quiz the trainee on these topics. The key is that the FTO stay on top of this daily and document improvement.
Most officers make more decisions in one day than most people make in a week. Some decisions will have a tremendous impact on someone’s life and officers must be able to decide, live with their decision, and have the confidence (knowledge) to know it was the right decision.
This is a short list of my observations over the years. I am sure you can add many more. I believe that if your FTO’s train professional, knowledgeable, and ethical officers then they are laying the groundwork for your future FTO’s.
For more great insights, check out the Southeastern Field Training Officers Association (SEFTOA).