Stepping into the Role of an FTO
Officer Phillip White
San Jose Police Department
Field Training Program Administrative Officer
I was seated in the passenger’s seat of the patrol car. It was 1997 and Joe Wicker would not let me drive. It was Day 1 of Field Training and we were in San Jose. “We do it the right way here,” he said. “This is my car and when I’m ready for you to drive, you’ll drive,” the senior Field Training Officer scolded.
Right out of the barn, in driving rain, as much as rain can drive in San Jose, Officer Wicker drove me to a four-car traffic accident at 3rd and William Streets. It was the morning commute, raining, and I was going to take my first report. When we arrived, Joe asked if I had a pencil, “It’s raining, pens don’t work in the rain.” Ahh, my first lesson from the seasoned senior officer and FTO. Whether taking notes, aiding in the exchange of driver information or writing a collision report (yes, we actually wrote reports back then), a good patrol officer needed a pencil to be able to write in the rain.
I got out of the car, confident in my ability to take an accident report. One of my older brothers was a San Jose cop and a motor officer, so I knew how to take accident reports. Joe stayed in the car…it was raining after all. Lesson two: Don’t get wet unless absolutely necessary. Wow, what a day, chock-full of learning points! I took the report, released everyone per policy and got back to the car to write the report. As I dipped my head to put pencil to paper, along came the deluge of water from atop the plastic cover that adorned my patrol hat, meant to keep it dry. Joe laughed as the water poured onto the report, soaking it. Lesson 3: Remove water covered hat prior to writing report. Got it.
This is where the rubber meets the road. The little things; the small training points that the veteran officer takes for granted, the ordinary citizen doesn’t have to think about on a daily basis, and the brand-new police officer in training barely has the bandwidth to even consider. I went to one traffic accident and learned a day’s worth of lessons.
Are we doing that as Field Training Officers? Are you doing that as a Field Training Officer? Yes, officer safety is paramount. Yes, tactics, firearms training, communication skills are all important. But what about the little things? Over the course of this series, I will talk about the little things that make the trainer the teacher, the teacher the role model and the role model the life-long mentor in Managing the Dynamics of the FTO/Trainee In-Field Relationship and concluding with Training is Teaching: Your Car is Your Classroom. When an officer chooses to take on the role of an FTO, that officer is choosing a professional life change that is both difficult and rewarding; a place where the rubber meets the road.