5 core principles upon which to build your FTO program

By Graham Tinius & Dan Greene  |   May 27, 2015

With the availability of social media and information outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and so many others that this Gen X cop can’t remember or pronounce, the idea of what is “trending” has become very popular. I even hear some of my favorite commentators on radio and television come back from commercial breaks with, “Let’s go to Joe to see what’s trending this afternoon in the world of sports.”

Trendy things are thought of as fashionable or current in influence. It’s synonymous with popular, of the moment, and modern. Trendy can also be flighty in today’s fast-paced culture. What’s trendy today is old news soon.

Likewise, law enforcement is subject to trends. As time goes by, sap gloves give way to pepper spray, pepper spray is overtaken by the electronic control device and who knows what trendy contraption is in store for us next!

But, a warning to all field training officers and field training supervisors nationwide: Trendy police tactics should not be the foundation of your training program. Young officers should surely be knowledgeable and informed about current topics, tactics and techniques. But your FTO program needs to be built upon five time-tested standards in law enforcement training.

National Standards
First, let’s start with the eight standards set in place by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA):

    • Duration of at least four weeks;
    • Selection process for FTOs;
    • Supervision of FTOs;
    • In-service training for FTOs;
    • Rotation of OITs through different FTOs;
    • Guidelines for evaluating OITs;
    • Written responsibilities of FTOs and Program; and
    • Job-related training to newly promoted personnel.

Be sure your program is rooted in concepts and philosophies that are nationally accepted. The eight standards above have been tested and proven beneficial over time. Not to mention, experienced and seasoned law enforcement professionals with CALEA endorse them.

Baseline For Evaluation
Second, ensure that your trainees are evaluated on a “first day solo” standard. In other words, to graduate your program, the trainee needs to exhibit acceptable performance on a regular basis. The same level of performance you would expect from a capable young officer the first day they are released from training.

What does that look? Well, it can be difficult to spell out. But it is not the FTOs’ level of performance or a detective’s level of performance. It looks more like an officer who is still learning, continues to progress, will need regular coaching and mentoring, but has a solid foundation to improve upon.

Performance vs. Personality
Performance, not personality, is what a good FTO focuses on while evaluating a young officer’s daily work product.

Take a look at case law such as Fadhl v. County of San Francisco and Bell vs. Clackamas County. In both cases, FTOs made costly errors in training and documentation when they spoke directly to their trainee’s character and not their performance. In both cases, the agencies lost the subsequent law suits and both the agency and the trainers had to pay out to the plaintiff.

Sufficient Documentation

If the FTO is asked to document performance rather than personality, that written word becomes another key element to the structure of any field training program. It doesn’t matter if your agency uses the San Jose Model or a PTO/Reno Model or a modified program of either. The written documentation put into the daily evaluation is crucial.

“Central tendency” is a common documentation error that describes the tendency some FTOs have when they put minimal effort into their written evaluation. Ratings gravitate toward the magic number 4, meeting minimal standards, to avoid a lengthy explanation of performance. A trainee’s Daily Observation Report needs to be detailed and thorough.

Bottom line: A properly written summary of a rookie’s training can minimize litigation, increase program efficiency, and increase administration support.

Basic and Ongoing Field Training School
Finally, since your agency is following CALEA recommendations and your program has a valid selection process, your training program likely consists of exceptional officers. Quality training units attract the “cream of the crop” to serve. Newly assigned FTOs bring solid tactics and techniques to their new assignment. However, they likely don’t have much training or experience with the skills that make good police officers into good trainers.

Each new FTO should receive training in the fields of leadership, adult learning and how to author a credible evaluation. As the FTO gains experience they should receive continued training in topics such as ethics, advanced liability concepts, motivation and influence, and mentoring. Functional, effective, and defensible training programs continually train their trainers.

All things considered, what’s trendy is often fun, fresh and interesting. We all have an interest in keeping up with technology and police tactics. The new trends in policing are often topics and concerns that are vital to your agency at the moment. Yet, they’re likely forgotten as quickly as they were realized.

What’s trendy will at times find its way into your training. But the foundation of your program should be built on solid teaching mechanisms that are proven to stand the test of time and produce success.

As always, stay safe and enjoy your FTO experience.