So You Married a Cop

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.

Every spouse was asked to prepare a short critique on the final night of the program, including suggestions on what they might like to see added to or eliminated from the program. Some comments were expected, such as wanting to go on jail runs or responding to real alarm calls or in-progress crimes. Overwhelmingly the responses were positive. Most wanted more ride-along time with the uniformed FTOs, which was factored in when time permitted.

One controversial issue did develop during our discussion of liability issues and the need for waivers. The question: Whether background checks were going to be required of the spouses. I ll tell you that they were, per the order of our police chief, who had the final say on every participant. Although nothing ever came of it, an automatic exclusion would be a conviction for any crime (short of a traffic infraction) and/or a pending arrest for certain crimes, again at the discretion of our police chief. During the initial development stages, the idea of including the parents, fianc s or fianc es of recruits was discussed, but rejected for logistical purposes. With classroom space and the number of FTOs limited, we had to restrict the program to spouses only.

Consider Implementing a Similar Program

Police work is a very stressful job. Most career officers know how it can wear on marriages. The SOP was created to make that transition from civilian to cop a little easier on the spouses of our police recruits and would, in turn, benefit our recruits. Based on the feedback we received from the spouses after the conclusion of the program, it was a tremendous success. On the downside, I ve been told by one of our recent retirees that the SOP has become the latest victim of budget cuts and hasn t been run for the last few basic academy sessions, primarily due to manpower limitations and overtime costs.

Everyone s been forced to do more with less, but your agency might want to consider developing an SOP, albeit a shorter one, say a 24- or 16-hour program, depending on its size. Departments that haven t been bitten by the budget bug should give some thought to running one during each recruit school cycle.

Remember: Although it may not take a lot of money, staffing is going to be crucial to the success of the program. Two-page critiques, some ammunition, a little fingerprint powder and a couple of dozen certificates for the spouses were the only actual expenses. But possible OT for the FTOs, technicians, dispatchers, record clerks, range personnel, detectives, K-9 officers, juvenile investigators, first- and second-line brass to help conduct the tours and answer questions have to be factored in because, without that commitment, the four weekend-night sessions won t be a success. We found that Friday and Saturday evenings, our busiest nights, actually made the 32-hour SOP more of a success because there was very little down time for the spouses to get bored.

Remember:We didn t want to make the program compulsory for these field-training officers who were looking at 16 weeks of field training duties, with DORs and weekly evaluations being required for their recruits upon their release from the academy. To task them with another assignment, with civilians wanting explanations about their jobs, seemed a little cruel. Much to our surprise, when we polled the volunteer FTOs who did participate, they also gave it rave reviews. One said it made his job easier because his spouse had a better understanding of what his job involves.

Sample Spousal Orientation Program

Day 1: Friday

Introduction Department Organization/Structure Tour of Department Facilities

6:30-8:30 p.m. Hiring/Selection Process

8:45-9:45 p.m. A Day at the Academy

10-10:30 p.m. Waiver/Liability Forms

Day 2: Saturday

Patrol Division

6:30-6:45 p.m. Roll Call

7-10 p.m. Ride-alongs

10:15-10:30 p.m. Debriefing/Q&A

Day 3: Friday

Communications Unit/Records Division

6:30-7:30 p.m. Telephone System (9-1-1 & non-emergency lines)

7:45-8:45 p.m. Dispatcher

9-10 p.m. Records Division

10:15-10:30 p.m. Debriefing/Q&A

Day 4: Saturday


6:30-7:30 p.m. Safety Briefing/Range Rules

7:45-8:30 p.m. Penal Law/Force Policy

8:45-9:45 p.m. Shoot, Don t Shoot

9:45-10:15 p.m. Marksmanship & Demo

10:15-10:30 p.m. Debriefing/Q&A

Day 5: Friday

Detective & Juvenile Units

6:30-6:45 p.m. Roll Call/Inspection

7-8:45 p.m. CID Solvability Factors, Identi-Kit/Composites & Ride-Along

9-10 p.m. Juvenile Crimes/Diversion, Child Investigative Tools/Procedures & Ride-along

10:15-10:30 p.m. Debriefing/Q&A

Day 6: Saturday

CSI & Evidence Tech Unit

6:30-8:30 p.m. Latent Print Development Methods

8:45-10 p.m. Tool Mark/Tire Casting & Ballistics

10:15-10:30 p.m. Debriefing/Q&A

Day 7: Friday

Tactical Unit/Training Unit

6:45-8:45 p.m. Defensive Tactics/Batons, Pepper Spray/Taser Demos

9-10:15 p.m. SWAT Equipment, Bomb Squad, Air Unit/Motorcycle Unit & Arson Unit equipment

10:15-10:30 p.m. Debriefing/Q&A

Day 8: Saturday

Auxiliary Units

6:45-8:45 p.m. K-9 Demonstration, Psych Services/Chaplaincy Programs

9-10 p.m. Citizens Police Academy Program, Critiques & Certificates

10-10:30 p.m. Social & Refreshments


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