Why the quality of Your Field Training Program Can Possibly Save Your Department part 2 of 3

A three-part series on the state of law enforcement field training, recent reports, and responses

Phillip White

(Part 2 of 3)

In November 2022, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), as a primary cog in the law enforcement policy-making machine, released a report directly relating to training new officers. In Transforming Police Recruit Training: 40 Guiding Principles, PERF lays out directives and considerations regarding training new officers in both the academy and in field training. In some respects, law enforcement agencies have little to no control on what goes on in a police academy. But, the way we train people has a tremendous impact on employee quality, satisfaction, and retention. Sheriff Mike Chitwood of the Volusia County (FL) Sheriff’s Office stated, “You have one chance to train somebody correctly – one chance. You have one chance to build the culture of your organization” (PERF, 2022).

In its report, PERF develops “40 Guiding Principles,” seven of which directly pertain to field training, emphasizing the importance of field training in employee and organizational success, stating, “Field training may be the most significant factor in educating new officers and setting them on a trajectory for success” (PERF, 2022). The report goes on to say, “Police agencies need to discard their antiquated thinking about field training and embrace a new approach.” Throughout the FTO related principles, the PERF report identifies best practices and their expected results. The following is a summary of the seven FTO-related principles and responses.

Guiding Principle #34: Academy and FTO should develop in tandem. Response: This may be difficult to achieve with state-run or regional academies. Maintaining communication with academies that are training your people is essential.

Guiding Principle #35: Agencies should centralize field training. Response: For the sake of consistency in training, it is imperative to centralize FTO and have a dedicated coordinator or as a training supervisor’s single collateral duty.

Guiding Principle #36: Formal FTO application process and incentives. Response: Getting the right people to train new officers is essential. Realistically though, who you must choose from may vary based on department size and officer experience. Incentives, however moderate, have the potential of being impactful on retaining quality trainers.

Guiding Principle #37: FTO refreshers or updates. Response: This is an imperative. As the San Jose FTO Model has evolved in the past 50 years, so must FTOs evolve and respond to new teaching and training methodologies, taking into consideration what is being taught in the academy.

Guiding Principle #38: Agencies should monitor, evaluate, and re-train FTOs. Response: As policies, laws, and trainees change, FTOs must meet that change. FTOs, if not by state law or police commissions, by their departments, should be required to re-qualify or be re-certified as FTOs every three years, through a nationally certified FTO course.

Guiding Principle #39: Develop a systematic means of training and evaluation for recruit officers. Response: The San Jose FTO Model was developed on consistency and objectivity through the application of the 30 Standardized Evaluation Guidelines and the 1 through 7 rating scale. It is a proven method of training and evaluation as it is nationally and internationally recognized and used.

Guiding Principle #40: Recruit trainee feedback and focus groups after training is complete. Response: While this may seem unattainable or not of use, obtaining feedback is an essential way to self-evaluate, re-assess, and adjust organizational methods in every aspect of the private and public sector.

Development, maintenance, and application of a robust and successful field training program can be overwhelming. In Part Three, I will provide suggestions on how Granite State Police Career Counseling and its Field Training Administration Consulting can help your department come into compliance with PERF’s training recommendations and get out in front of the police reform that is surely coming.

Police Executive research Forum. (2022 November). Transforming Police Recruit Training: 40 Guiding Principles. ISBN: 978-1-934485-67-5

(Phillip White is GSPCC’s Operations Manager, Instructor and is the San Jose (CA) Police Department’s Field Training Program Administrative Officer and POST Certified Coordinator.)