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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.

FTOs: Guardians at the Gates

As an FTO, see yourself as a guide and guardian at the gate.

October 17, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Photo: kolix.
Photo: kolix.

The other day I was enjoying the rerun of a classic movie "Animal House" (1978) and had to compare this to policework. No department has the secretive induction ceremonies seen in movie fraternities. So how do we welcome our youngest into the fold, and whose responsibility is this?

Working in law enforcement resembles membership in a fraternity or sorority. We train ourselves to speak of honor and the brotherhood or sisterhood of the badge. We offer the support of the group to its members when they are in harms way. We have our own language to carry on our business away from the uninitiated. We have rituals such as promotion parties and ceremonies. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the various rituals of our funerals and memorials. Our uniform carries our symbols—the shield, patches and pins. Our philosophy or dogma is set in the academy and instilled by our training and codes of conduct. 

The guardian of these sacred values is the Field Training Officer (FTO). He or she is the one that stands as the guardian at the gates leading to Copland. The FTO is the link from the academy to the realities and harshness of real-life applications. They oversee how you apply all of the principles you've been taught and determine whether you're worthy of carrying on the burden of these to the next generation.

To me, the FTO has to ensure that you are what the background investigation, testing and selection process showed you would be. Is the recruit worthy of the values they're ready to impart? Furthermore, do you have the mettle to absorb and maintain throughout your career?

The FTO will be one to set your professional and moral compass. They'll give you the bearings to navigate the troublesome waters of a career path. As one old retired FTO told me once, despite being retired, he scans the evening news and papers for his former recruits still on the job. Many of them have been on the job 20 years, and he still reviews and scrutinizes their actions. I asked him why and he replied, "I taught them right, just checking to see if they remembered everything I told them." He was a guardian at the gate!

I've said thousands of times that the FTO cadre of your department sets the pathway for the department's future. Granted, the young will muddle through, and in a few years these are the candidates for detective, sergeant, instructor school, and FTO. If they were marginal at the beginning and allowed to slip by then what will their performance be like in more lofty positions of power?

Then again, do you want the marginal to be the ones standing as the guardians at the gate in the future? The answer is obvious; you want the finest to be the FTO of today to ensure future departmental excellence. I also want the finest FTO to ensure that the values I cherish in this vocation are maintained.

Do yourself a favor, and thank your FTO for all they taught you. If you're a FTO never, ever shortchange your recruit. Be their life coach. When they survive, know it was because of your training. Be that guardian at the gate.

Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Rick @ 10/19/2011 6:42 AM

I retired from "da job" at the rank of Sgt. from a major municipal police department. However, my most rewarding and difficult assignment was the three years that I spent as an FTO. The article brought back some wonderful memories of a different time in police service. FTOs receive a special gift that is priceless; and the is the gift of sharing the excitement and new experience that is part of sharing the mission with a recruit. The joy and excitement that recruits experience is shared by and with the FTO, and that makes every day exciting and never routine. I never had a bad day and always looked forward to guiding and sharing, and we did that every day that we worked.

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