The most joy (and most distress) I’ve experienced in my career has been as a Field Training Officer. The frustration, the feeling that they will never make it, and then that point when you see the rookie turn — they do the right thing at the crucial moment and you realize they will be great.
A deeply-invested FTO will carry pride for that young person as they move forward in their career. Their successes are their own, but their failures often strike a personal ache within those who “raised them.”
As a mother, I suppose I relate the experience to parenting — a sense of pride and deep responsibility for the man or woman who drove me around for five weeks.
Every moment where my fingers pierced the dashboard, the holes that should be in the floor from all of the times I felt brakes needed to be applied. The FTO spends much of their own time after hours trying to come up with ways to reach the rookie — ways you cannot train for, but must find to get him or her to grasp the job.
I’ve got many humorous memories of my trainees. I remember the rookie who could not seem to understand that you had to unbuckle the seat belt before you exit the car, or the one who bought me nuts to eat because she said they promoted “good moods” (hint taken).
Then there was the one who caused me to actually yell rather offensive things out loud when we approached a 90-degree turn at 65 miles per hour.
As I recall all those experiences, I have to also include the FTOs who taught me. Not only did they teach me how to be a cop, they taught me how to be an FTO...
I sat in the back of the room and kept quiet. I prayed I would perform beyond expectations and remained in awe of those who had the career I wanted.
My first FTO was an enormous man, both in stature and reputation. He was often compared to The Terminator, if not because of his strength but his haircut. He worked out and ate constantly and I thought I had better do something impressive before he killed me.
At half his height and nowhere near his physical ability, it was always my desire to get people to acknowledge me as the person in charge — because I was supposed to be!
I remember the day clearly. A motel owner, both because of his cultural background and the above mentioned descriptions, had no desire to talk to me. Though I was asking the questions, he would answer them by speaking to my FTO.
There was a slight smile on my FTO’s face, as he had gotten to know me and was just waiting for me to address the behavior.
I stepped in front of that giant, forcing the citizen to address me. With an “I don’t know why you are talking to him because I am in charge” comment, I had my moment. There was another FTO who endured countless incidents involving my propensity to drive over curbs and make frequent U-turns because I was lost.
My third spent many moments calmly asking, “What were you thinking?”
I could be such a disaster and they were so patient. Two of them have retired; I can only guess I assisted them with a few of the gray hairs.
Fortunately, I’ve been able to reconnect with them and they still laugh with me. That being said, they have also expressed pride in what I have become. Recently I was in a room with one of my FTOs and some of the young people I had trained.
All had gathered to celebrate my promotion. It was the past and the future, all at the same time. Those men trained me, and I passed along many of the things they taught me to the future of the agency. You made your mark gentlemen, and will continue to do so for many years to come.
Though I wanted to talk about the joys and distress of being an FTO, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the other “trainers” I had along the way.
We had one who only went by “Old Man” and his last name. He wore cowboy boots and carried a revolver with speed loaders, refusing to change with the times.
He was grumpy and wonderful all at once. He launched into a foot pursuit once and I recall being so shocked I ran after him, concerned his heart might give out.
As I caught him he yelled (with words not suitable for print), “Why are you running? Get the (blanket blanking)…. car!”
Oh, how I adored that man.
There were others who quietly sat back, took calls, and racked up well over the requisite 20 years on the job. Another who I am proud to call my friend, also since retired, always came on the radio in the middle of chaos with that cool, calm, Marlboro Man way about him.
He was responding with his dog, and you knew someone might get bit. They were the wonderful definition of “Old School” and tragically they are quickly disappearing.
While every generation can become disenchanted with the next, we have a tremendous responsibility to give back to our profession. Whether you are a Field Training Officer or salty old senior officer, you need to volunteer (sorry, but there isn’t a lot of money in this job) to help new ones.
We have worked hard to further policing and if the new kids mess it up, we are partially to blame.