Training is Teaching: Your Car is Your Classroom

Officer Phillip White

San Jose Police Department

Field Training Program Administrative Officer


FTO Dave Anaya took me out on the road for the night, a Midnight Shift in Field Training.  He wasn’t much senior to me and was younger but he had been on for at least three years and certainly new more than I did.  My regular Field Training Officer was off for the night and Dave was available on my FTO Team.  District King (the “Old” District King-Downtown San Jose and all of the residential and commercial areas east to Highway 101) was a big district-seven beats and as a Field Training District, often was stacked with eight or nine patrol cars, with at least five of those being FTO-Trainee teams.  It was pouring this night, which again was unusual for San Jose but we made the most of it.

Dave asked me what I wanted to do.  I was halfway through my 3rd Rotation and close to going solo.  I said, “I don’t want to get wet unless absolutely necessary,” a lesson I had learned from my first FTO.  Dave laughed and directed me to the West (4th Street) Garage at San Jose State University.  My training night began with a detailed overview and quizzing on the entirety of the Rook Book, our 16 Weeks of policy, procedure, laws and codes training information required to be completed along with the field work.  We would handle an occasional call for service and would go back to the garage to write the report, but for the most part, the city was quiet.

After a couple of hours of thoroughly covering the information in the Rook Book and taking calls for service, Dave called another recruit car to the garage and had me set up a vehicle stop scenario.  The other recruit and I practiced a number of approaches on the car.  We worked on stop techniques for the next few hours, constantly debriefing with the FTOs and adjusting as we switched off as the primary officer.  The FTOs switched off as role player and evaluator and would provide us with feedback.  Closer to the end of the night, FTO Anaya arranged for me to sit along in our dispatch center to watch and listen to those professionals.  Not only did he expand my experiential knowledge in radio operations, but he opened me up to new resources in the event I needed them in the future.  I was exposed to a number of teaching models that related to a number of learning styles.  Dave used visual and auditory methods in the studying and quizzing aspect, visual, auditor, tactile and kinesthetic in the car stop scenarios and auditory and visual in the communications/dispatch training experience.

So often, we as FTOs, forget that we have the opportunity to actually teach.  Not unlike traditional classroom teachers, we have a classroom ourselves, our police car.  It is imperative that we understand adult learning styles and the ways in which we individually take in and process information.  Trainees are not all the same.  We have to use every resource and training aid at our disposal to provide the best possible training in a teaching environment.  It is important to rely on other FTOs’ knowledge and experience, scenario-based training, table top and worksheet exercises as well as verbal or written quizzing and testing to expand upon the FTO curriculum.  In a single night with Dave Anaya, I had gone through the Rook Book more in-depth than I had over the course of the previous rotation on Swing Shift.  Additionally, we had the time, opportunity and man-power to work together in training on vehicle stops and tactics with another recruit team.

We rely way too much on training solely at calls for service and in activities experienced throughout the regular course of the day.  We allow our trainees to work through a call, sometimes with assistance, sometimes without and then we debrief.  Yes, this is important to the training cycle and learning process.  And some days, like most while I was on Swing Shift, are just busy and there will be no time to conduct training or delve into in-depth teaching.  But I contend that this single-pronged training model is not conducive to developing a complete police officer.

Your car is your classroom; it is a place where one-on-one teaching and learning takes place – learning the basics and intricacies of the job as well as your agency’s culture.  Understanding the adult learner, developing creative ways to instruct and present the information and enlisting others’ expertise will likely make the information more interesting and lasting for the recruit officer and make the training more rewarding and satisfying for you at the place where the rubber meets the road.