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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).

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.

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I Can't Stand My FTO!

Getting along and learning are hard work.

June 06, 2012  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

You've got the job, passed the police academy, and entered the field-training segment of your new career. Yes, you're on the career path of your dreams. But what should you do if you can't stand your FTO?

This can be a problem on several fronts, so let's talk about this before it gets out of hand.

The role of the Field Training Officer (FTO) is more or less defined as that of a one-on-one supervisor and trainer. They're the direct connection between graduates of the academy and self-actuated functioning police officers. The FTO has a defined mission to be the trainer, evaluator, supervisor, confessor, and many other roles.

Most departments don't have an articulated job description for the FTO. All too often, it's clumped into the "other assigned duties as directed" category. This can be a legal issue in several ways. For instance, if the recruit doesn't meet the departmental standards, the FTO may not have the authority to evaluate, recommend, and directly comment to the training or personnel files. Ideally, the FTO program should be codified within departmental procedures to strengthen the FTO and the program itself.

The FTO is a one-on-one supervisor of the recruit and may have the toughest job in Policeland. We all need breathing space; I don't like having someone standing over my shoulder. There's something about driving down the road with a person next to you who's evaluating your every move. You may feel like you're reliving your teenage DMV test.

While you're writing, your FTO is watching or criticizing every word selection and sometimes you want to scream. I hope you can fully understand the direct supervision of the dangerous and critical tasks you perform. We operate several dangerous instruments and safety must never be compromised. Sometimes the pressure of staying under the direct and all-seeing eye of the FTO creates a self-imposed drama within recruits.

There's a reason for this. If you can't perform under controlled pressure, how will you handle real-world pressures? If you can't stand the FTO asking you why you wrote a report in a particular way, how will you defend this to the sergeant, the district attorney, or under cross examination on the stand?

I often equate the constant eye of a trainer with learning to tie your shoes or riding a bike as a youth. You think you know how and want to show the trainer that you can, but you can't avoid the glaring frustration of attempting a skill you have yet to master. We all need space, but in order to proceed, the FTO must verify that he or she has explained and demonstrated a task and you've performed it.

Asking the FTO for a "do over" may sound simple enough. Just remember that the next time you need to perform this skill in the real street environment you may not be afforded any "do overs."

An FTO must also be the all-knowing prophet or confessor for your police career. Stop and think. Who taught you certain methods of performing police tasks? More than likely, it was the FTO who reaffirmed that you were performing as taught in the academy. The FTO was also likely directing you to get your skills up to required departmental performance standards.

The FTO will also be the one to help you over the phobias, hang-ups, and uncertainties of police life. Every recruit I've ever trained has always asked the "how do you handle this, if…" question. The FTO must grasp your skill level before responding. This is a difficult task and takes years to develop.

Before you decide that you can't stand your FTO, step back and view his or her role in your world as well as in the department. Learn to get along. Understand that there is a method to an FTO's madness. Before you know it, you'll be requesting FTO School. You see, good FTOs also produce good FTOs for the future. Drive on and train hard. 

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