A Rookie’s Guide to Failing Field Training
Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith
“Forget everything you learned in the academy”
At least one veteran officer is going to say this to you as you begin your FTO program. And you know what? They’re probably right! All those weeks you spent in your criminal justice degree program learning about tactics, law, procedure, ethics, human behavior, report writing, firearms and traffic stop procedures from that dedicated cadre of police trainers? Forget it all! Those guys are working at the academy for gosh sakes; what can they possibly know about “real” police work. If they are “real” cops, why aren’t they working the street? You’ve completed the academy and you’re now a fully commissioned officer, its time to move into the real world and forget all that recruit nonsense.
Assume you know much more than your trainer
After all, you just got out of the academy. Your brain is full of the latest tactical updates, current case law, new crime trends, and officer survival statistics. Your FTO? Probably one of those old, out of touch guys or gals who aren’t up on all the latest knowledge like you are. No doubt they will appreciate you correcting them and interrupting them, especially in front of their peers or the supervisors. After all, you’re just trying to help them out. You’re the new generation, you know it all; your FTO can barely tap out a text, won’t play “Grand Theft Auto IV,” has no idea what Twitter is and doesn’t even have a MySpace page.
Be impressed with yourself and your new authority
And make sure everyone else is too. It’s a phenomenon we call “badge heavy.” You now have the legal authority (not to mention the means) to take a life. You look awesome in your uniform, and you can tell that wherever you go, people are watching you because lets face it, they’re impressed. That elderly woman whose car got burglarized? Tell her “just the facts, ma’am” and take the report; you certainly don’t have the time or the inclination to reassure her about the safety of her neighborhood or listen to stories about her grandson in the Marines. And that little kid in the coffee shop who is trying to get your attention? You’re a criminal justice rule enforcer, not a PR guy; it’s embarrassing when your FTO chats with old people and kids and hands out those stupid little “junior officer” stickers. You’re not here to be nice to people, you’re here to protect them or arrest them, but that’s as far as it goes. Show a little attitude, a little hubris; your FTO will appreciate that, and so will the community.
Be a rebel, FTO’s and supervisors really admire that
Learn your general orders and local ordinances only so you can argue their validity with your trainer and the brass. Roll your eyes when your FTO corrects you about something you don’t think is important, and all that studying he wants you to do on your own time? Blow that off unless you’re promised some overtime pay. Tell jokes in roll call and make sure you engage in witty banter with all the senior officers. And don’t get too excited about following the chain of command. I’m sure the chief or the sheriff will appreciate it if you take the time to stop in uninvited and give him some pointers on how to improve operations at the agency. No doubt your experience as the assistant night manager of the “Pizza Pit” when you were in college has given you valuable business insight that should be shared.
Take every shortcut you can
Some of the senior officers on your new department appear to have a way to circumvent almost every procedure. If they can get away with it, why can’t you? Why should you have to study and memorize general orders just because your FTO tells you to? You can just figure out how to look them up when you need to once you’re out on solo patrol. Why should you learn the geography of your jurisdiction and how to read a map, isn’t that what GPS and navigation systems are for? Why should you bother to write long, involved police reports like your FTO is insisting on? It’s not like you’re going to forget the details of these calls you’re going on and the arrests you’re making. And why clean your gun after every session in the range? After all, it’s just going to get dirty again the next time you fire it. Figuring out how to do things the easy way is one of best ways to get noticed around the agency; go for it!
Assume that no one will ever really want to hurt you
All that talk about officer safety and survival doesn’t really apply to you. You work in a decent area and no one on your agency has even been involved in a shooting since you were in high school! Why should you read those Chuck Remsburg books, attend a Dave Smith class, or practice your repetitions in front of the mirror? It’s not like you’re in a big urban area where there’s any real danger, and if you are, that’s what back up is for, right? All that officer survival stuff is for the truly paranoid; your job is to look good, drive fast, collect a paycheck, push people around and impress the opposite sex, isn’t it? If you’re not sure, just ask your FTO, he or she’ll will be happy to set you straight.