The Police

C. Field Training

Most departments provide training after completion of the academy through a field training officer (FTO) model. Although recruits should have been exposed to a number of real-life experiences during academy training, those were created for training or role-play scenarios and are conducted in an artificial atmosphere. Field training is meant to bridge the gap between the protected environment of the academy and the isolated, open danger of the street. The new officer, or “rookie,” is paired with a more experienced police officer(s) for a period of time, usually several months.

It is the field training officer’s job to teach the young rookie how to survive and how to become a good police officer. Field training programs are often divided into several phases. Although agencies vary the length and scope of their field training, all programs should include introductory, training, and evaluation phases. The introductory phase is structured to teach the rookie officer about the agency’s policies, procedures, and local laws and ordinances. Departmental customs and practices are also communicated at this time. During the training and evaluation phases, the young officer is gradually introduced to complex tasks that require involved and complicated decisions. The young officer will have to interpret and translate into action what was learned in the academy and the field. The field training officer then evaluates the decisions and actions made by the recruit. Eventually, the successful trainee will be able to handle calls without assistance from the field training officer.

There exists a long-standing concern in policing that each rookie is told by an experienced officer to forget what was learned at the academy and to just watch and learn how things are done right. As Van Maanen (1978) described, “The newcomer is quickly bombarded with ‘street wise’ patrolmen assuring him that the police academy was simply an experience that all officers endure and has little, if anything, to do with real police work” (p. 300). This unfortunate message is that the formal training received at the academy is irrelevant or unrealistic. It is hoped that field training officers are selected and trained to make sure these types of counterproductive messages do not occur. After an officer has passed the probationary period, he or she may think training is over. However, most states and many departments require refresher courses, training on new issues, and other sorts of in-service training.

D. In-Service Training

Many states have now mandated in-service training for police in the same way lawyers and teachers must continue their education. In-service training is designed to provide officers with new skills and changes in laws, policies, or procedures. Also, since many skills learned at the academy or while in field training are perishable, in-service training can restore an officer’s skills. Some agencies send officers to lengthy management schools or specialized trainings. It is hard to believe that some agencies still do not train veteran officers aggressively. Police work is constantly changing, and remaining a good police officer is different from the process of becoming one.

If conducted properly, in-service training can provide a critical component to the agency’s training scheme. There must be training for supervisors and managers, communication specialists and investigators, as well as street officers. In other words, patrol officers need certain skills and those on specialized assignments need others. Some skills, such as those used in the control of persons, emergency vehicle operations, and other high-risk activities, need more frequent and in-depth training than those engaged in more routine tasks. Officers must not only be provided with proper information, but they must also be given the opportunity to ask “What if ” questions of the instructor. Further, officers must pass an examination before it can be assumed that they know the information and are competent to put it into practice in real-world situations.

The Internet is providing a new forum for training police officers. Many departments are creating home pages that provide information about the agency and the community served. There are also many police “chat rooms,” which allow officers to share information and have discussions about many topics and issues. Innovative trainers can take advantage of these technological advancements for the improvement of their officers’ knowledge and experience.

The expense of training is one of the important issues many departments must consider. Not only is it costly to evaluate needs, to plan and to provide for training, but it is also very expensive to remove officers from the streets to be trained. In the short term, the expenses are great, but in the long term, the training and its related costs will pay off. Once selected and trained, there are many recruits who enter into police work only to realize that the work, schedule, and rewards are not what they anticipated. In addition, administrators will learn that some of the citizens they recruit and even train are not able to perform the required task appropriately. Other reasons officers do not make careers in policing include family influences, “burn out,” and better-paying job offers.

After officers have negotiated successfully their initial training, most are assigned to the patrol function and, as a result, have the most contact with the public. There are multiple methods of patrol, including automobile, foot, horse, motorcycle, bicycle, and boat. Each type serves a different function, promotes different relationships, and creates different problems. In any case, these officers are now prepared to police independently and to interact with citizens on their own.

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