Field training programs have been a successful part of training new officers in many police agencies for more than 25 years. But, how does the model work for training and evaluating officers with prior experience?
Fundamentally, the “job” is the same wherever you may work. The hardest thing to teach a rookie police officer is how to deal with people in a professional and safe manner. Many programs are geared to push the new officer into a lot of contact situations in an effort to develop these skills.
However, most lateral transfers already know how to interact with people. Generally, a lateral police officer’s safety skills and ability to establish rapport or to spot deception are good. Certainly they should be better than a rookie officer fresh out of the academy.
So, are the traditional field training systems doing a disservice to the lateral officer and his or her department? Perhaps.
For an officer with more than two years of experience, perhaps the training should focus on the policies and procedures. The officer is having to overcome all of the procedures that have been second nature to him or her for years. So, instead of working with a clean slate, the FTO will have to erase the old stuff, and then teach the new.
An experienced officer may be unlikely to ask a lot of questions about the new departments procedures for fear of developing a poor reputation. Therefore, the FTO must probe for the officer’s weaknesses and make sure the appropriate training is done.
This does not mean that the program should ignore training and evaluating the officer in areas such as officer safety and investigative skills. We have all known an officer that would do more harm than good when they show up on your call. The last thing you want to do is hire “that guy” and not catch it in the field training when they can still be retrained or weeded out. But, I believe these types of officers will be readily apparent and the focus of the program should be on the policies and procedures.
David Lemmer of the Deerfield, IL Police Department wrote an excellent article on his agency’s experience with field training lateral entry officers. (update: The article has since been taken offline. If I can find another copy, I will link to it.)
Overall, Lemmer writes that his department’s experiences were positive but they did discover several pitfalls. For example, Lemmer notes that lateral hires are often resistant to changing to new policies and procedures. He states that the resistance to change is proportional to the number of years of experience the lateral hire has.
Lemmer also said that hiring an officer with more experience than the FTOs can also present a problem. While, ultimately, the extensive experience of the new officer will benefit the department, it can make an odd dynamic in the FTO-trainee relationship. This may hinder the FTO from adequately instructing or evaluating the new hire.
As Lemmer indicates in his work, lateral hires are a valuable resource for departments. They offer an upfront savings in training money and time. More importantly, they bring “instant experience” to the department and can immediately begin to contribute at the same level it might normally take a recruit several years to reach.