I recently received a question from a department's Field Training Officer program coordinator. His department just hired several new officers. Great, except these are not academy-fresh officers; these are veteran officers from other departments. What now?
FTO programs vary from department to department. This I know and am not even going to discuss. But, the question is how do you handle an officer with a few years of experience? This is where the discussion should begin.
Experience or Exposure
I know two officers who recently made lateral transfers. One was employed by a larger metro department. Within a few years, he had under his belt a variety of felonies, crime scenes, action, and the list goes on. The other was an officer for a smaller, very rural area. During his first few years of service he had not ever handled a homicide nor a sex crime.
So, how do you treat them? Should one get a pass for his action? I don't think so, for the metro officer had resources available to him on all of his calls. The rural officer often had no backup available and had to do it all. So both have experience, but one lacks some exposure to certain crimes.
The answer is that both officers, regardless of experience or exposure, need an abbreviated FTO program of some measure. What is important here is to note that they are learning the new department's culture—and to compound the matter, might also be acclimating to a new city or state culture as well. The new agency will have new policies and procedures on virtually everything they do. The spirit of the job may be the same, but you have got to learn to be successful at this new agency. The FTO program is the ramp to their new success.
There is one story I will share of an officer who transferred to another agency within the same state. Although his former and new agencies were both municipal agencies, the job descriptions varied greatly. In what was to have been an abbreviated program, this one officer was struggling so much that I recommended he go through the entire program. This turned out to be the best route for the officer.
It turned out that the officer's former department was not active, did not have an FTO program, nor did it conduct regular training. If the officer had not gone through FTO training at his new department he would have been shortchanged.
Embrace Field Training
One recommendation I have for an officer is that if you are moving to another department and you are placed in the FTO program—abbreviated or full length—welcome it. It may appear boring, but the training will ensure success. You may be able to handle a call now, but how effectively is the real question. Do not try to wrangle your way out; this is for your own good.
Especially if you will now be in a different jurisdiction with new courts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and so forth, this introductory phase will help you put names to faces. One thing that the FTO does is move you about and introduce you. This is the express lane in getting to know the right people. These are the ones who can assist you later in your new career.
So, do not fuss but accept the training. This will make your transition faster and you more efficient. And there is no shame in asking for help or assistance; that is what the FTO and the entire program are all about. They are there to maximize your job performance.
Train hard; for it is for life.