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Brian Willis

Brian Willis

Brian Willis is a retired officer, trainer and author who now serves as deputy executive director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

FTO Generational Gap

You can out-date yourself by using references to pop culture and technology.

February 07, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Atari 2600 gaming system. Photo via Flickr (moparx).

This is for the Field Training Officer (FTO), police trainer, and often supervisors who have a generational disconnect with the recruits. I understand that we are into Generation Y, or the Millennial Generation, and that they're not usually on the same wavelength as their supervisors.

I'm not making jest of any generation, but the differences are there, and we sometimes do not pay particular attention to the gaps in communication. Watch for the gaps, try to fill in but don't fall into them.

Every generation has its TV icons to hold onto (Then: "Adam-12"), and as time passes so do the iconic standards (Now: "NYPD Blue"). Most of us have television or cinema stars to represent a virtue or action (Sheriff Andy Taylor). When we use them as an analogy, we may lose the recruit, provided they do not watch TV Land or other stations playing nostalgia cinema. This holds true of music genres as well — believe me, don't let the recruit pick the radio station in the patrol car.

I recall trainers who revert to giving training analogies from their favorite shows (such as "Hill Street Blues" or "Car 54, Where Are You?"). These generational gaps can affect how we interact. Our vernacularis different as well ("dig it"). If you don't believe me, just listen to the recruits on break. If you can understand them great; if you have to listen closely to get a handle on what's being said you are so not with it.

Don't think you'll be able to set back your clock and readjust your "cool level" to theirs; it's not going to happen. If you have given an analogy and had to explain it, you have committed a faux pas. Face it. There are generational icons that we still use that many don't understand.

For instance, most departments have strict, nearly draconian rules against the use of tobacco. The trainer will still use the term "smoke break" and wander off to the break room. This holds true with other devices or industry standards. Few of today's recruits will know what an Edsel was. Technology analogies can be problematic as well. When we train on interactive training weapons systems, I'm still trying to conquer the Atari machine.

Our communication medias have changed as well. Most of the seasoned trainers recall that every department had an internal memo pad. This form was to notify somebody along the chain of command of information and even admit to sins. Now we have e-mails to replace a formalized memo. Soon, we will Tweet or Skype them. I can see an FTO telling the recruit to give him or her a directive to respond to you by filling out a memo on a Form #49, and the recruit is lost. They know how to e-mail you on the Intranet but what is a Form #49?

FTOs and trainers, this is not a nostalgic reminder that recruits are younger and you're older. When you train or interact with one of your generation, you're in a comfort zone. Bring on the youngsters and you have to train harder and smarter. They are more technologically advanced, grasp ideas rapidly and are overall a great group for the future.

If the conversation has a gap in it, check the message from the sender before confusing the receiver. You'll end up being Francis Muldoon, and the recruit won't be Gunther Toody. FTOs, check your ego before heading to training that's still a fun and worthwhile duty.

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

dennis tate @ 2/9/2011 8:45 AM

Excellent points. One more: the technologically advanced generation has zero to very little experience dealing with life when the technology (that we grew up without) fails.

Teaching principles and procedures in terms of people and positions can provide important background knowledge to help them make decisions, prioritize information, and respond appropriately in circumstances when technology has failed or is inadequate to the situation for whatever reason.

Relationships, regulations, rational thinking, and core values provide a grounding basis for acting, reacting, and reporting in unexpected circumstances regardless of the technology used to support deciding and reporting.

mtarte @ 2/9/2011 11:25 AM

Good article and as Dennis pointed out, this generation has little if any experience not using technology for some of the most mundane things. I am retired now and teach at a local community college. The breadth of knowledge on all things technical is amazing. The lack of depth of knowledge on life is frightening. We need to, as educators, both in and out of the job, is to introduce this generation to pencils and papers. Not because it is the way things used to be done, but so they know how to actually hand write a report or take notes or pencil a diagram when the technology fails at a critical moment. If we don't, their failure is ultimately our fault. They don't know any better and if we don't show them, how will they ever find out?

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