Training in the Era of De-Policing: FTOs Facing (and Overcoming) Challenges

Despite the challenges FTOs face today, Dan Greene—Executive Director of the National Association of Field Training Officers (NAFTO)—remains optimistic about where the profession is going, and how well FTOs are adjusting to the ever-changing landscape.

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It's no great mystery or well-kept secret that crime is rampant and rising in some places in the United States.

According to a study released in January by the Council on Criminal Justice, the number of 2021 homicides in the cities studied was 5% greater than in 2020 and 44% greater than in 2019. In fact, at least 16 U.S. cities set new homicide records last year. Aggravated and gun assault rates were also up in 2021. Burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle thefts also increased last year.

It's also no great mystery or well-kept secret that the rise in crime can be directly correlated to efforts in many places to "defund"—or "reimagine"—the police. This movement had begun shortly after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, in August 2014, but accelerated exponentially after the in-custody death of George Floyd in May 2020.

The defund police movement dominated the 2020 election cycle, and swept many of its political allies into office.

Now, however, some elected leaders—as well as their staffs, spokespeople, and supporters—have begun to back away from their previous public stances in support of the so-called defunding the police movement, which in turn directly led to the phenomena of de-policing in cities across America.

The mayors of many of the nation's largest cities—such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, and others—are now reversing course, making proclamations and drafting proposals to "refund" the police.

Some observers have called these efforts "cheap political stunts" meant to blunt critics who point out that crime in those cities has risen dramatically since the defunding/de-policing began. Some critics correctly spotlight the fact that money is not really the primary problem anymore—it's people, and their time.

Time is a Zero-Sum Equation

Time may be money, but money is not necessarily time (unless you're talking about hourly rates for lawyers or prostitutes, then money actually is time), and defunding/de-policing led directly to a significant exodus of people from the police force.

Many officers who could have—and otherwise would have—stayed on the job for years beyond their earliest possible retirement date left as soon as the countdown clock hit zero. Others who were much younger and many years from retirement simply left the profession altogether.

Add to that retention problem the fact that many young people look at the fact that a police officer can be jailed or sued in civil court for simply performing their job within the law and agency policy and are staying away in large numbers.

These intersecting realities have had adverse effects on one of the most impactful, influential, and important roles within any law enforcement organization—the field training officer.

"Staffing across the nation is plummeting. FTO supervisors I hear from nationwide have been told to shrink their FTO program—their field training program—to make sure they can get people out onto the streets," says Dan Greene, executive director of the National Association of Field Training Officers (NAFTO).

Add to the fact that there are—at least in some places—fewer FTOs to do the job of cultivating the next generation of law enforcement professionals, those FTOs who do remain are sometimes being asked to shorten the duration of a rookie's training.

The consequence of that could be putting someone out on patrol who hasn't had the optimal amount of FTO training, potentially leading to yet another "lawful but awful" incident further exacerbating the problem of anti-police rhetoric.

"Defunding police departments has had unintended consequences of putting a lesser prepared and lesser trained and lesser equipped police officer in the field," Greene says.

Rose Colored Glasses Half Full

Ironically, within the defund/de-police movement is a constant call for more training. Greene says that this has occasionally had a positive effect on FTO programs, but only really resolves half the problem.

"In an interesting way, in some places across the country, the defunding movement has actually helped training units with funding," Greene explains. "They say, 'We don't want to give you the funding, but we want you to be better trained.'"

Greene adds, "You can't have it both ways, but sometimes you might be able to reapply some funds from one thing to another. For most everyone, it's robbing Peter to pay Paul—you're taking funding away from another part of your police department and putting into training—but some training units nationwide have benefited with budget and maybe a little bit of manpower."

Greene hastens to say, however, that even if the funding for training—and trainers—is present, the agency may not have the available manpower so take people from their regular assignments to attend training beyond the most basic requirements in an FTO program.

"We want training in CIT—working with people who are in crisis, working with people who are in the mental health community, working with any other type of special needs group," Greene says. "You can get that type of training and CIT schools. Let's say budget is there to send 10 people to CIT School. Where's the time? You'll say, 'I could have sent 10 people to this class, but I'm only sending two because I can't afford to lower my staffing any more than it already is'."

This leads to a frustrating paradox.

"Everyone wants highly trained people to work the streets—the police most of all," Greene says. "At the same time, we can't send people to training."

It's Darkest Before the Dawn

Despite the challenges FTOs face today, Greene remains optimistic about where the profession is going, and how well FTOs are adjusting to the ever-changing landscape.

"I really honestly believe that police departments nationwide—our honorable profession and culture of policing, of law enforcement—continuously is in a state of reform," Greene says. "I personally have never felt like we needed any outside pressure to reform. Even under the spotlight, young men and women—the younger generation of Americans—are stepping up to serve. So, yeah, I'm still encouraged."

Greene concludes, "The question is, 'How do we end up with negative outcomes?' One explanation we've got to avoid is lack of training."

To ensure the next generation of police officers Greene speaks of is well trained, is the challenge facing the FTOs his organization—NAFTO—represents.

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