FTOs & Compartmentalization
The pros and cons of training officers in small, discrete incrementsBy Graham Tinius and Daniel Greene | Oct 16, 2015
Compartmentalization. Geez, that’s a long word! It’s a real tongue-twister even when typing it. I’ve looked up some synonyms and can hopefully avoid writing that word repeatedly for the rest of this article.
But not only is compartmentalization hard to type, it’s been difficult to explain and practice in the world of field training. Field training programs around the country are hearing this word a lot lately. Specifically in response to the president’s Report on 21st Century Policing and the recommendations it makes in conjunction to field training within law enforcement. The task force was assembled to discuss, debate and identify a number of topics that have become critical to law enforcement culture. The discussion covered topics such as public trust, policing in a democracy, effective delivery of police services, and training.
Below is an excerpt taken directly from the task force final report in regard to recommendations made for field training.
5.13 recommendation: The U.S. Department of Justice should support the development and implementation of improved Field Training Officer programs.
This is critical in terms of changing officer culture. Field Training Officers impart the organizational culture to the newest members. The most common current program, known as the San Jose Model, is more than 40 years old and is not based on current research knowledge of adult learning modalities. In many ways it even conflicts with innovative training strategies that encourage problem-based learning and support organizational procedural justice.
5.13.1 Action Item: The U.S. Department of Justice should support the development of broad Field Training Program standards and training strategies that address changing police culture and organizational procedural justice issues that agencies can adopt and customize to local needs.
A potential model for this is the Police Training Officer program developed by the COPS Office in collaboration with PERF and the Reno (Nevada) Police Department. This problem-based learning strategy used adult learning theory and problem solving tools to encourage new officers to think with a proactive mindset, enabling the identification of and solution to problems within their communities.
5.13.2 Action Item: The U.S. Department of Justice should provide funding to incentivize agencies to update their Field Training Programs in accordance with the new standards.
In not so many words, the final report seems to support the PTO (Reno) Model for field training. That leads us back to compartmentalization. This PTO training model incorporates compartmentalized training and learning. Certain aspects of our job are broken down into primary rating categories and then broken down once more into phases.
During each phase, specific job tasks are taught and demonstrated to the student officer. The student officer then gets the chance to perform those tasks. Once those tasks are performed to standard the student officer moves on to the next phase, moving from one compartment to another until the student officer graduates the program.
If problems arise and the new officer has trouble grasping concepts or tactics, he or she may not move on to that next phase of training until they show proficiency. The purpose of this article was not necessarily to detail or debate the fundamentals of the Reno Model. What we really want to discuss is the pros and cons of compartmentalized learning.
PRO: Most adults learn well this way. Isolating one or two job tasks and having the chance to learn from an FTO and then perform the task to satisfaction is a clean way to train. By having the trainee focus on one single area of the job, we remove distractions that could affect the learning process. This can be structured learning presented in a more organized manner. This approach can often optimize retention and create a sense of accomplishment.
CON: Structured learning and an organized approach to training is not always realistic training. The job of a police officer is rarely structured and organized. We don’t have the opportunity to remove the ever-present distractions of police work. Confusion and disorder is a better way to describe the day-today work atmosphere of a patrol officer. When the new officer is first asked to multi-task, coordinate, and facilitate a sloppy and bloody crime scene, they can fail easily. Now that the new officer is either in late stages of training or a post graduate of your program, they are forced to handle these situations without the guidance of an FTO. Compartmentalized training does not always teach the new officer how to keep all the plates spinning at the same time.
PRO: This can be motivational and a quick way to build confidence as the student officer takes small steps through training. The new officer is given the opportunity to experience victories in training as the tasks become more and more difficult.
CON: Again, when compared to what waits for them after graduation, what this could mean to the new officer is a very real and rapidly deflated balloon. When the young officer is fresh out of training they can often feel as if they are out on an island. The confidence and motivation they may have felt during training is vulnerable to the real world that asks every police officer to work through stress. If your training environment did not prep them for stress, the streets will deliver it in loads.
PRO: When we categorize our training and offer it to student officers in a more manageable way, we can also optimize our ability to observe and evaluate. That we are asking the new officer to do a little less and perform less job tasks at one time means that our observations are that much easier to make. The evaluation of their performance is more precise and subsequent documentation is more manageable.
CON: A pure Reno Model training program would require the training car to focus on very specific job duties. Maybe in Phase 1 the training car focuses on nothing but patrol-level investigations. Then in Phase 2 we focus on emergency calls for service and in-progress crimes. Phase 3 involves a rotation through detectives for exposure to more complicated investigations. All the while the student officer is also asked to work a community based problem and find resolution.
All of these things are important to some degree and deserve to be taught during the FTO experience. However, if the training car is dedicated to do nothing but those things during those phases it goes without saying that another patrol car somewhere else if picking up the slack. Many agencies don’t have the staffing that this would system would require.
Compartmentalized training provides a lot of learning and teaching benefits. But such a system will come with some unintended consequences. If you have considered the possibility of incorporating some compartmentalized training to your FTO program be sure to think through some of the above pros and cons. Surely there are others to consider as well. The culture and priorities of each individual agency would no doubt create more concerns.
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