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Is it time to rethink our Field Training Officer Program?
June 22, 2017, 12:24 PM

Over the past twenty plus years of training Field Training Officer’s and building FTO programs; I have come to a realization why so many trainers and administrators are frustrated with their programs. 

First let’s define what we want:  “Our Field Training Officer Program is designed and purposed to train and produce the best product possible.  By drawing on the skills of their trainers the trainee will develop and refine the best from the best.”  Our motives are all similar to this; Right? 


Trainers blame their frustration on “them” (the administration) for second guessing their recommendations or endlessly extending the program until the trainee finally passes.  The Administration blames their frustration on their FTO’s.  They think the FTO’s are both lazy and producing an inferior product or overly critical and think no one is worthy.  Administrators are confused as the background looked great and the hiring interview was flawless, so how can they be wrong, it must be the FTO’s and/or the program.

In short FTO programs fail for two reasons and two reasons only: First; the FTO’s have become disillusioned, frustrated, and/or burned out causing them to quit caring and are now just pencil whipping the paperwork or they’ve digressed into “Survival of the Fittest” and there are very few who do.  Two; the administration has lost confidence in their program and recommendations from their FTO’s so they keep extending trainees and moving them to new trainers until they find someone that will sign off on passing them, after all they interviewed great.

This is a very vicious cycle and no one is happy with the results.  We inevitably end up with an officer, who is now off of probation, and has reoccurring issues to address, or does something worthy of termination during FTO and while on probation, but now we’re stuck with them.  You probably don’t have to think about this very long before “that guy” pops into your head? 

So how do we change it?  Our program has been around for decades?  Well you’re not still driving decades old cars or using decades old computers are you?  Then why are we using a training program that was designed decades ago?


Regardless of the program you currently use it probably has these elements:  A daily scoring mechanism, usually 1-7, and a minimum score has to be maintained for the trainee to remain in the program from phase to phase; A documentation area for “Most Acceptable” and “Least Acceptable”; Performance Categories numbering into the 30’s, and; Requirements for a failing score for the day if a “safety” error is made.  Or the opposite end of that scale where the FTO does seemly endless writing about the training day, exhausting the FTO.  Does this sound familiar?

Let me ask a few questions for you to ponder as you read: 

  1. Why do we score someone when we are not ready to turn them loose yet?

Most of you probably answered with “we must have a way to monitor their progression and retention of their learning”.

  1. When you went school did you not get to learn the material before you were tested and given a score?

Grading someone from day one requires a false passing score for them to continue as little has been taught.  This also tends to make our trainers operate in a “Critiquing” mindset instead of a “Training” mindset.

  1. At what point do we transition from the false scores to the real scores?

Does the trainee understand this?Do the trainers understand this?Is this addressed in an SOG?

  1. How would we monitor progress without a grade?

Might I suggest articulable documentation related to the performance category and tracking the categories and their frequency of mention?


Trainees, our personnel, departments, our citizens are all different from days gone by.  They think differently, learn differently, and respond to decision making differently.  So logic would dictate that our training programs must also evolve.

We have all been to that training where we talked about the different generations and their perceptions, learning styles, etc.  In our world of everybody makes the team, gets to play, gets a trophy, graduates, etc. would it not seem necessary and logical to address this new group with a learning environment that is more suited to their needs?  

The KEY is a willingness to say or maybe admit “this isn’t working anymore”.

I have witnessed this transformation of training time and time again with agencies across the country, big and small, (law enforcement, communications, corrections, fire).  As of this writing, Dallas TX PD is in the final approval process for adoption of these key elements: separating Evaluation from Training; condensing the number of performance categories; easily and succinctly tracking all activity and relating specific documentation to the categories in which errors are made; articulating immediate remedial training along with the trainee’s response.  All while addressing the specific liability and other needs of the agency.  Programs of this nature have avoided legal challenges for over twenty years due to the method of documentation along with other checks and balances. 

FTO’s call it “a truly common sense approach to training” and Administrator’s like it due to the thoroughness of the documentation which thoroughly supports retention or termination decisions and provides proven bullet proof liability protection.

With a little effort and some retooling we can proclaim “Our Field Training Officer Program is designed and purposed to train and produce the best product possible”.

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