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A Rookie’s Guide to Failing Field Training

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.


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    rpd242

    over 5 years ago

    158 Comments

    LOL I think that recruit passed thru my car....

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    ThaPunisher

    over 5 years ago

    104 Comments

    Hilarious and informative.

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    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    There are some things to this article that ring true anywhere, and I agree wholeheartedly you have to "know your place" when you are new to any line of work. However, there are issues on the other side of this argument that probably should also be addressed. I would label this version of the article as "The Veterans FTO Guide to failing your Rookie."

    "Forget everything you learned at the Academy" is an all to common phrase among veteran officers to rookies. I heard this my first time out, and some of the adjunct instructors at the academy even joked about how when we "got on the job this will all go out the window." A very reassuring statement indeed to guys who need to grasp the basics of policing, and hope to survive on the streets. I am not discounting the "street" knowledge and experience of veteran officers, but if you want a rookie to succeed be supportive to him out the gate. After whatever amount of training at the academy, the last thing you want to do is destroy a "rookies" confidence by telling him he doesnt know jack. Of course he doesnt know the "job" yet, but don't belittle what he just came through. How about telling him that he has a solid foundation in which you (the FTO) will build upon to help him survive in these streets. Also, as the FTO ensure the other "salty" veterans don't put there negative influence on him especially during his FTO training.

    "Assume your "Rookie" does not know anything" - Another "police culture" issue that is often neglected from the outset. Your rookies are not all 18 year old kids out of high school wanting to play with daddies gun. Often, they come from various backgrounds, and cultures that are new to the veteran officer or there are aspects of his generation you could learn from. I read most of the comments on this post that "if you think you know everything then you need to get out of this job," which is advice for ALL - Rookie and Veteran alike. Don't assume the amount of years you have spent on the job that you have been doing it right the entire time. There are many in this profession whose type A personality often gets in the way of common sense. "treat others as you want to be treated" and do not reciprocate what has been done to you in your time. Far to often the "that's how it was done when I was a rookie" mentality often is inappropriate because these are different times. Some people are not meant to teach others the job, and if you fit this category then you should probably not be an FTO.

    "Be impressed with yourself and your new authority" - this is a result of poor FTOing, and should have been dealt with from the outset. A good FTO will give the "Rookie" the traditional "come to Jesus" briefing on day 1 before he even hits the street. The FTO's responsibility is the ensure the "rookie" understands his role, the mission of the department, and the FTO's expectations. Blame it on my military background, but the FTO should be constantly providing the recruit a "performance feedback" and correcting him when he goes astray. However, if the "rookie" does not heed the warnings of the FTO then he should be canned, but this personality should have revealed itself during the background process.

    "Be a rebel, FTO’s and supervisors really admire that" - Absolutely not. Refer to last paragraph.

    "Take every shortcut you can" - Another situation where the FTO program is vital. Now does that mean that the veteran that violates these same issues are correct? Maybe not, but practice what you preach!

    "Assume that no one will ever really want to hurt you" - No argument here. Officer safety trumps all.

    I know there will be many veteran officers who will get halfway through my post, and disagree with every single word. Be it as it may, just like Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith's post, this is just another opinion. My boss has 41 years on the job (More than most of the people on this board), and lives by the philosophy of "you can learn something from anyone." No matter whether they are two days on the job or 41 years on the job. We need to take some responsibility for some of the issues exposed in this article, and ensure our FTO's are doing there job. I love how people say "I know that guy" and " I have seen that before in my department", but no one says "this is how I fixed this problem" or "as an FTO I did this to improve my rookie." We are too quick to pass blame, but afraid to look in the mirror. Don't get me wrong, if the FTO is doing his job and the "rookie" is still a problem...fire him. I am just proposing we address both sides of the issue.

    I find it interesting that often the best trainers are the ones who refused to be an FTO for whatever reason, and often (Not always) the ones who volunteer for it have their own "egos" to be concerned with.

    Be Safe out there, and "watch your six."

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    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    I've seen several instances of this attitude in action. Awesome article and so, so true! Very good, sound, and proven advice to all.

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    jekilley1

    over 5 years ago

    58 Comments

    I gotta take this one to work and give it to one of my cubs. His attitude fit this article to a tee. I remember having to "set him straight" a couple times....

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    xekral

    over 5 years ago

    114 Comments

    This article is a hoot - and has so much to offer. A few years ago, my MPO pulled me aside and had a talk with me about what kind of "student" I was. He said, "Are you an 'A' student, or an 'F' student?" Without missing a beat, he said, "You want to be the 'F' student, the one that doesn't know and yet knows that he needs to know. The one that asks the questions, that gets the help, the one that truly learns, not the 'A' student that knows it all and doesn't need anything from anyone." That advise has helped me tremendously to become the officer that I am, and will carry me forth to make the officer that I will become.

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    Cetansapa

    over 5 years ago

    332 Comments

    LOL how true that is not only in LE, but in security too when you get someone into the "patrol division" thinking its an easy job until they start dealing with angry customers at 2am in the morning and start calling the supervisor and asking how to handle something just because they didn't listen...or the director gives back an incident report asking, "What the hell is this? Where's the event number, etc." Been there as a recruit with LBPD reserve and in security, now I'm on the other end of the coin when training....arrrrgh! I'm getting too old for this. LMBO

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    knottrying25

    over 5 years ago

    2 Comments

    Great advise, I don't care who you are, there is always something new to learn everyday. Thats what our FTOs are out there training us for. Not to make theirselves look good, but to make sure we wil make it as officers. So do yourselves a favor and listen.

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    wannbeacop

    over 5 years ago

    6 Comments

    oh, and mblvey007 is a cocky arrogant james bond wanna be...what's he doing on the street? Maybe the new guy does have something to say, but he should keep it to himself and just put his thoughts into action on his own. If it works, people will notice and then, and only then, is the appropriate time to voice his opinion, as he said earlier.

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    wannbeacop

    over 5 years ago

    6 Comments

    I always appreciate it when people who have been there and done that give us that are trying to go there and do that pointers that will help us along.

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    rhood

    over 5 years ago

    23592 Comments

    Sound advice that all new comers to the profession should take to heart. A well written , tongue in cheek, article, thank you for taking the time.

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    Anonymous

    over 5 years ago

    This is funny stuff. Word to the wise, don't piss off your FTO. I did it my first week out and had hell to pay.

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    HALindbergh

    over 5 years ago

    2 Comments

    MBlvey007,
    You sound like just the kind of person Betsy is talking about. No one is saying the experienced are above the law or invincible. Use your brain, please. If you're not willing to absorb the experiences of seniors, then please, GET OUT of this business. No one is saying you don't have ideas, but before you go off marching to your own tune, you might want to learn the rules of the road as they are, first. This advice will probably save you from a good butt-kicking, and your department from being sued.

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    MBIvey007

    over 5 years ago

    30 Comments

    Thinking a little more... you know you all "experienced officers" aren't above the law or invincible either. Don't go thinking you're all high and mighty because you've been an officer for 10, 15, 20 years. And listen to what the new guy has to say; sometimes he might have a fresh new perspective on things; maybe something new and innovative that noone's ever thought of. Everyone has an opinion and should be allowed to express it at the appropriate time.

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    MBIvey007

    over 5 years ago

    30 Comments

    Just remember you were all rookies once too...

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