So You Married a Cop - Leadership -

So You Married a Cop

Spousal orientation programs make the transition easier for new recruits & their significant others



Dave Grossi | From the December 2009 Issue Thursday, December 10, 2009

Field Training Officer (FTO) programs have been around for decades; the San Jose, Calif., model is probably the most recognizable. Ranging from 14-16 weeks, most FTO programs focus on recruits fresh out of the academy, letting them learn the ropes with an experienced officer on the street, as well as how to follow the paper trail at their agencies.

Back when yours truly had a head full of dark brown hair, my police chief approved an innovative Spousal Orientation Program (SOP) for the husbands and wives of our new recruits. The SOP is really an abbreviated San Jose-type FTO program, in which spouses of recruits participate in a 32-hour program of police orientation. The eight, four-hour ride-alongs paired spouses with volunteer FTOs and covered just a portion of the material the recruits were being exposed to: traffic stops, traffic management, delayed and on-scene traffic accident investigation, crime reports everything short of alarm calls, pursuits and man with a gun calls.

The purpose of the program was to educate spouses of new officers about the nature of police work. The genesis for the program was our FTO coordinator, a graduate-student sergeant who often heard from our recruits that their spouses had no real knowledge of the nature of the job their spouses were entering. His idea wasn t to develop a mini-academy for the spouses, but to orient and familiarize them with what their marriage partners would be doing after graduation.

After bouncing the idea off his boss and getting the go-ahead from the chief s office, he consulted with the unit heads from virtually every bureau and drew up a tentative schedule that provided for eight four-hour sessions from 6:30-10:30 p.m. (or 7:30-11:30 p.m., depending on the time of year) for four Fridays and Saturdays. The FTOs selected for the pilot program (all volunteers) had input into the types of calls they would or wouldn t respond to with their riders. Evening hours were chosen so as to not conflict with child care.

Modifications were made as needed, but the first Friday began with a welcome introduction by the on-duty watch commander and included a tour of our facilities and vehicles. Department structure, a brief talk by each of the different bureau heads or their representative, and waiver and liability forms (similar to those executed by chaplains and police explorers) were all completed that first night. The following days included attendance at a roll call and ride-alongs with the patrol division and exposure to almost all aspects of police work.

The Syllabus

Regardless of the evening s assignment, most spousal sessions started with a shortened, modified roll call and included viewing a stand-up inspection. When assigned to the patrol division (where virtually all of their spouses would start their respective careers) they participated in the vehicle check-out procedure and learned how to work the radio, the emergency equipment and what the different 10 codes meant.

The SOP also included exposure to the type of work performed by our juvenile unit investigators, who worked in an entirely different area of the public safety building. They were briefed on child abuse/neglect cases and taught the intricacies involved in questioning juveniles. General assignment CID detectives spoke on solvability factors and how crimes were followed up, and gave a demonstration on the use of the Identi-Kit for making composite drawings of suspects.

Time permitting, participants went out on the street with plainclothes investigators from each bureau. Evidence technicians did their CSI magic. One four-hour shift was split between the communications unit and the records division, where the spouses observed how telephone calls are received and how radio dispatches are handled and arrests processed. They were shown how all incoming calls (both 9-1-1 and non-emergency) were taken, prioritized and passed on to the dispatcher for assignment, and what happens when the officers are through with their reports and where the different copies go (e.g., data processing, court, DA's office). The clerks remained mindful that confidentiality and data integrity must always be maintained.

Just about every detail of law enforcement operations was explained, with the exceptions being internal affairs, vice/narcotics and other undercover units, and the K-9 unit although the spouses did experience the olfactory and take-down capabilities of our four-legged members.

As range master, I had the pleasure of running many of the spouses through an abbreviated shoot/don t shoot and marksmanship program, in which our firearms staff had the opportunity to address the why can t you just shoot them in the arm or leg question with firsthand experience using silhouette targets. The entire four-hour shift was spent with the firearms/range unit, with the spouses undergoing a range safety lecture, discussion of the New York State Penal Law regarding use of deadly force, as well as our department policy regarding firearms. Classroom lectures addressed safe firearms handling and home weapons storage (complete with a slide presentation).

Following the judgmental shooting and marksmanship exercise, along with a lengthy Q&A session, the spouses were treated to a demonstration of trick shooting that included simultaneous two-gun, two-target shooting; bullet splitting and hitting two targets at the same time; and some over-the-shoulder shooting with a handheld mirror.

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Dave Grossi

Dave Grossi is a retired police lieutenant from upstate New York now residing in southwest Florida.


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