Field Training and Evaluation Programs (FTEP) are the foundations that police agencies use to build quality, career police officers. When a recruit officer is teamed up with motivated, knowledgeable field training officers, that recruit stands a very good chance of becoming a motivated, knowledgeable officer also.
The often overlooked benefit of a quality FTEP program is the high morale displayed by the FTOs will rub off on the recruit. Believe it or not, recruits who are exposed to positive, motivated FTOs, are more likely to stay with that agency for their career.
So what happens if the recruit officer is paired with FTOs that have low morale? Recruit officers normally emulate the behaviors displayed by their mentors and FTOs. The recruit wants to fit in and be part of the team. If everyone else is complaining, they are likely to pick up that attitude. A poor attitude translates to an officer who makes bad cases, gets more internal affairs complaints, and is more likely to leave for another agency.
I’ve seen the real benefits of a positive FTEP. Unfortunately, I have also seen the results of a FTEP with bad morale. It ain’t purty, fellas.
There can be a lot of different reasons why FTOs can develop poor morale and bad attitudes. It can come from administrative issues, improper selection of FTOs, or poor leadership in the FTEP itself. However, one issue I have seen time and time again –that never seems to be addressed– is plain old burn-out.
Sometimes a department is hiring so many new officers that an FTO always has a recruit in the car. A lot of times, the best FTOs get the worst recruits. The same FTOs often get recruits that are in remedial training; recruits that need extra help to do the job or find the door.
All FTOs can get burned-out. The best FTOs tend to be abused and do get burned-out.
With burn-out comes poor attitude and low morale. From there, the quality of training declines sharply, and suddenly the best FTOs are providing sub-standard training. All FTOs deserve down-time. Field training officers need time without recruits to clear their heads and re-focus their own police skills.
My own department is having some morale problems in the field training program. Some of it is a leadership issue. However, most of it is they are just plain tired. Most of the FTOs have been hammered for 18+ months with no significant down time between recruits. Most of the training officers are still in the program only because of the extra pay, not because they still want to do it.
If you are having morale problems in your FTEP, take a look at your FTOs. Are they just burned-out? Would a rest let some of them recharge?
To give FTOs a quality rest between recruits, the program may have to increase the number of officers that are assigned to it. I know some police administrators will claim they cannot afford to expand the training program. But, knowing the benefits a quality program can provide, can they afford not to expand the program?