Ode to FTOs: All our teachers had teachers
The most important individual in a new officer’s life is their first Field Training Officer
I met Livingston (New Jersey) Police Officer William Kerr on November 14, 1973. The only way I can quickly explain his appearance and manner is to ask you to picture in your mind Officer Pete Malloy of the Adam 12 television show.
Bill — I can now call him by his first name — was the perfect poster image of what a police officer should look like.
Everything was polished and pressed. Every piece of equipment on his duty belt was tactically placed. He had an extremely strong command presence. Off duty, he worked out. He would run miles a day with his Doberman dogs beside him. Nobody ever out ran him in a chase.
Bill took the time to explain everything about life as a police officer. He covered every subject pertaining to a police officer’s life, duties and expectations, both on and off duty. When I wrote a report, he would play devil’s advocate to make sure each sentence was correct and each element of the crime was detailed properly.
On traffic stops he was a hands-on backup. These are just some of the positive traits I developed from him and used for the remainder of my 30-plus-year career.
Later in my career when I was tasked with supervising field training officers and developing programs for their training, I was particularly uncompromising in choosing who would be assigned this role. I demanded only the best — not interested in the officers who just wanted the extra money. In fact, the responsibilities were enormous, the hours were long, and the extra money was not really all that much.
My philosophy was that once the new officer was on his or her own, they were now my back up unit and they better be good. They must remember; in this profession we protect and serve. It is not all about catching the bank robber. It is about helping those in need of assistance and standing up to the predators of society.
As a ritual I do two things on every November 14th. I read the book Officer Down Code Three by Pierce R. Brooks and silently thank Officer Kerr for the professionalism he passed on to me.
A few days ago, I received a surprise email and follow up telephone call.
It was from Bill.
He has long since retired and is enjoying the life he has earned. We listened to each other talk about our lives, families, and careers. Had he stayed longer at Livingston Police Department he surely would have been Chief. He was pleased with my career and I could hear the smile in his voice when I thanked him for all he had done to mold the warrior I had become.
As I tell my students and trainees in every class, never forget that your teachers had teachers and we all had to take that first step. It is up to each officer to determine the quality of the path they individually walk and the positive influence they would like to exert in the community that they protect and serve.