President Thomas Jefferson once stated that "Nobody can acquire honor by doing what is wrong." He must have been thinking about the FTO program. I want current Field Training Officers and those FTOs of the future to recall this quote someday. You have a distinct honor bestowed upon you. The FTO can directly and indirectly change the direction of the police department's future.
The basis of this column was a reader who contacted me the other day. He was an officer who was being sent to the FTO training program. He was tapped by his supervisors for the task and he did not know why. At first, I thought he just did not get it, but I found out he was confused at best.
I fully understand that having a young officer with you and having to teach him or her really cramps one's style. But, I asked the question of him, why did your supervisors pick you from the others? What elements do you possess that others do not have? Could it be that you are intelligent, have a good work ethic, or just plain excel as an officer. No supervisor worth his stripes would ever select a non-performer to become an FTO.
So I told him an old Army story of mine (Hooah!). In my MP Company, the operations sergeant assigned the new MPs to their barracks assignments. I had a Sp4 MP who consistently had new MP privates assigned to his room. Soon thereafter they were reassigned. Now, the Sp4 did not seem to mind, but I asked of the crusty old operations sergeant why this was done. He told me if you place a fresh private with a "strike troop" (top performer) you will get two strike troops. You can't place a fresh private with a non-performing individual.
Then it hit me: the concept of performance through association. I told my future FTO on the phone that he was the one that his supervisors wanted the new officers around. They would excel through their association with him and not through osmosis but under his tutelage.
Was I playing my caller on the phone? Not really; just making him look into the mirror. What most FTO candidates do not understand is the honor it is to be the ones who set the performance standards for the future of their department.
I had a wily old chief of police once tell me that the success of his department comes from his trainers. In his interviews for promotion he would ask the question, "Who were your FTOs?" He told me that he had a couple of FTOs that had made a greater impact on the direction and success of the department than his commanders. Now that's the impact of good trainers!
As I pull out the old Army story and casual conversation with a chief, it is apparent that the honor of being the trainer who influences the young is sorely underestimated. By the way, the officer on the phone now should have the title of FTO and I bet he will make some awesome young officers.
If you get the honor to become an FTO, take it, cherish it, and make yourself proud. For, one day someone will inquire of your student, "Who was your FTO?" Do not let your name be lost on your fellow officers. Create your own legacy and a better department.