FTO – Field Training Officer. Now you might have some other name for it, but regardless of what you call this is a critical position in every organization. It is also a position that is often under appreciated in agencies. The FTO is the ‘training officer’ responsible for the critical transition phase from basic academy to the street. This training phase is where the new officer learns how to apply the skills, tactics and knowledge they learned during training to the dynamic environment of the street.
As realistic as we strive to make training through the use of scenarios and other reality based training initiatives, training is always an artificial environment. The street is not. The street is real and the street is where FTO’s must help facilitate that integration for new officers. FTO’s should be an extension of the training academy. In order for them to perform in that capacity they must know what is taught in the academy and should themselves have a high degree of competence and confidence as well as a desire to mentor new officers.
Trainers plant the seeds of the core values of the organization and tend to those seeds for the length of the academy. That responsibility is then passed on to the FTO’s who are responsible for that continued nourishment of those seeds for a number of months.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you recognize and acknowledge the power and influence of the FTO?
- Do FTO’s understand the responsibility and accountability that comes with that power?
- Do you give the appropriate importance and attention to their selection, training and supervision. When I talk about training I am not simply referring to putting them through the FTO course. Beyond the FTO course they should get additional training in control tactics, officer safety, tactical communication and the law. They also need to receive ongoing training and feedback.
- Do you afford the proper care and attention necessary to the selection, training and supervision of those that will oversee the FTO’s.
An FTO can make or break a new officer. A good FTO can keep them on the path towards being a competent and confident law enforcement professional. An inappropriate FTO they can destroy their confidence or start them on the path to being a cancerous, whining, snivelling malcontent.
So, do you have a solid FTO program in your agency or do you have a ride along program where new officers get put with whoever is without a partner? If it is the latter then my challenge to you is what are you going to to to change it?