How 'FTO shopping' can lower quality and raise liability for police agencies
FTO Shopping is either an agency’s answer to getting officers through the FTO Program, or a substandard trainee’s answer to getting through the FTO Program
Editor’s Note: This week’s PoliceOne First Person essay is from PoliceOne Member Anthony Crisp, who says that long his career path he’s worked with many successful FTO graduates. He’s also witnessed a growing number of trainees “slip through” the program, mostly by manipulating the rules. In PoliceOne "First Person" essays, our Members and Columnists candidly share their own unique view of the world. This is a platform from which individual officers can share their own personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line. If you want to share your own perspective with other P1 Members, simply send us an email with your story.
By Anthony Crisp
What is the advantage for a law enforcement agency to allow a peace officer trainee to choose their field training officer in an effort pass the training program? As a result, what is the advantage for a law enforcement agency to allow a substandard-performing police officer trainee to pass the FTO Program?
I’ve been a FTO for 11 years. Previously I was an athletic coach and trainer for 15 years. In this setting, I adhered to a set of strict guidelines. During my training, I’ve had the luxury of exceptional classes and instructors. I am proud of my FTO position. I genuinely enjoy training entry level police officers how to succeed and stay safe.
Along my career path I’ve worked with many successful FTO graduates. I’ve also witnessed a growing number of trainees “slip through” the program, mostly by manipulating the rules.
Example of FTO Shopping
Subsequent to a successful police academy graduation, a trainee enters the post academy field training program. S/he reaches the fourth phase and shortly after quits in tears from an admitted lack of competence. At this point I felt that the Field Training Officer (FTO) AND the program supervisor would or should conclude that this career wasn’t for him/her.
After rethinking their career, the trainee returns in a day wanting another chance and another FTO. After disregarding the numerous concerns of the senior FTO, the management agrees. Management does this notwithstanding the documentation by the senior FTO of the numerous officer-safety errors and substandard performance. This was also observed during traffic stop training scenarios.
How long does an employer enable this officer? What’s the value to the agency? What’s the value to the other officers assigned to work with this new officer? In short, this decision is an insult to the FTO program. This profession is not like any other job; we’re talking about protecting lives.
It is my feeling that management just incurred major liability by allowing a trainee to re-enter the FTO program, let alone select another FTO. The question arises, who is in charge of training, the agency or the applicant officer?
The job of an FTO is rewarding in many ways. The main reason is that they will mold an unproven individual into a professional police officer. They teach the “rookies” how to make their community and/ or state safe for its citizens.
Without going into detail about the differences between the San Jose Model and the Public Safety Model, an unstructured program has no balance. The more that takes place outside of the structure, the more it becomes random and arbitrary.
An FTO program can’t be judged consistently when it is random and arbitrary. The more a program is outside structure, it becomes erratic and inconsistent — not to mention a liability issue for the state, county, or city.
A police officer’s value is based on their replace ability. If a police officer cannot do the job efficiently and effectively, another trained officer is in line to prove his worth. A trainee with consistently bad officer safety errors will eventually put other officers in danger. That’s the liability.
Quality FTOs that are sharp and competent typically provide better training to elevate new police officers. They are officers that are game-changers with high skill level and competence that are few and far between. A couple of elite FTOs ascend each decade.
Ensuring High-Quality Trainees
Sometimes, for some new trainees “the wiring isn’t all there.” This leads me to look at the flip side of this situation: the trainees. The intention of the Affirmative Action groundwork in 1964 from President Lyndon B. Johnson was to take a positive (affirmative) action creating an opportunity for different people to mix together in a particular job. The founding principle of affirmative action was fairness.
Americans value diversity, but they value fairness more. This policy gave special consideration to minorities and women. It is time we stop judging people based on their race or gender and focus on their true character — the significance of this practice in law enforcement in the 21st Century has declined.
What is more important: the ability to have a more qualified and more viable officer providing safety for the public with sound option principles, or just the ability to assume no one will ever really hurt you and being impressed with yourself and your new authority?
What are the tax payers and public getting for their money regarding a properly trained peace officer that is required to provide security and protection? Is it only a warm body that takes up a position control number? The result is a sub-par employee with career problems.
If a department is willing to evolve with training new employees, they must consider a FTO’s teaching style and match them with the learning style of the trainee for the training to become more successful. Being a lead FTO before, I was the only FTO that used this method with success — creating a better learning and communication environment.
Security and leadership is paramount in this law enforcement arena. Know the assets and liability of what you decide to do going into the profession.
Different environments create different cultures, some for the worse. If this type of conduct known to management is allowed for one trainee, it must be allowed for the rest or there is culpability. I feel the genesis of this untraditional style is unnecessary.
If I were in a decision-making position to rectify the problem, one option is to recommend the trainee be extended on FTO for a minimum of ninety days. I would keep the trainee in a probationary status and evaluate the progress to make sure they were on the right track.
A second option is to have detailed documentation from the FTO and program supervisor to justify and protect the department. This would identify why a trainee was not at the acceptable level of FTO as a peace officer, or simply accept the trainee’s resignation. In the situation cited above, option two should have occurred.
I love excellence and competence. I feel that mediocrity is demeaning to law enforcement professionals.
About the Author
Anthony Crisp is a state trooper nearing 13 years with the Nevada Highway Patrol with a strong background in training and traffic enforcement. He is an instructor at three different police academies. He is the lead instructor that includes Traffic Law, Traffic Stops, Firearms, and Ethics. He is also Field Training Officer.