Detective Lieutenant Barry M. Baker (ret.) is a 32 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.
The Police Field Training Officer, or FTO, is an experienced police officer trained to supervise and evaluate a new police officer. The beginning of your police career is going to be difficult, because you’re going to experience situations and circumstances that classroom scenarios can only touch upon. Since every real life experience can go in any direction, scenarios are limited in their ability to prepare you for the real deal.
Enter the police Field Training Officer — more commonly referred to as the FTO. Police departments across the country are creating their own police field training officer programs to train their new police officers. The training is conducted during their academy classroom training or post classroom training.
Rating a New Police Officer’s Abilities
In the past, every new police officer experienced the assistance of experienced officers on an informal basis. However, new officers were rarely closely supervised on a continuous basis for any length of time. Police field training officer programs were created for the express purpose of providing the brand new officer with continuous supervision, training and assistance. The goal is to acclimate the new officer during those first weeks or months on the street.
A police field training officer program also gives a police department, or training academy, a better insight on the new officer’s suitability for a police career. In this regard, the FTO is expected to honestly rate the new officer’s abilities to perform as a police officer under real life circumstances. Examples include interaction with the public; criminals; the criminal justice system, and his or her performance in crisis situations.
When you become a police officer, you’ll be on a period of probation. Most police departments require a minimum probation period of one year. During your probation, your employment can be terminated, theoretically, for just about anything. Most departments don’t like to terminate probationary officers, simply because you represent a significant financial investment. So, when a probationary officer is terminated, it usually is the result of a significant violation.
Goals of the Police Field Training Officer
A good FTO program should do two things: First, it should provide you with the training to prevent you from committing any significant violation… whether through ignorance or simple inexperience. Secondly, the FTO should be prepared to make the hard decision of honestly rating a new officer who is clearly unsuitable for police work.
For any program to perform successfully, the people running it must themselves be up to the task. Most experienced police officers don’t mind offering guidance and assistance to a new officer. However, most don’t want to do it on a full time basis. Therefore, police officers entering a police field training officer program have to want to be police Field Training Officers.
The problem is that every officer who wants to be an FTO may not be suitable for the assignment. Choosing an FTO candidate is not a problem in a police department which experiences little turnover. However, in larger departments where new hires are frequent and numerous, the selections of FTO’s become more problematic.
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