New officers seek the approval of their newfound peers when they spend time with their trainer. On more than one occasion, I’ve had a trainee jump into the car at the beginning of a shift and quickly buckle their seatbelt. After a few minutes, they glance over while I’m still trying to get my computer started and pre-shift paperwork organized. I’ve seen them take note of the fact that I’m not wearing my seatbelt yet, and with a childlike awkwardness, slide their hand down to the buckle, release it, and move it slowly toward the top of the door frame.
As Field Training Officers, we need to remember that we are always teaching, whether we mean to or not. As the guardians of the future of law enforcement, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we are preparing our trainees to face every danger presented to them, even when that danger is themselves.
Socialization, the teaching of culture, is a powerful concept with two key points. The first is that socialization happens. The second is that in law enforcement, FTOs have more influence on culture than anyone else. Most FTOs underestimate the impact of socialization and the resulting messages that are conveyed, especially non-verbally. It’s imperative that we are walking the walk, and not just when we have a trainee in the car with us. The Field Training Unit should be the standard of the agency.
In much the same way that the public is always watching us, we must assume our trainee is watching and turning into us. Personally, I always discuss the five tenets of Below 100 with my trainees. More importantly, I live them. Instead of asking, “What are you going to do next?” I ask, “What’s important now?” I share specific moments in my career where I became complacent, and—luckily—walked away to talk about it. (Like the time I responded to my 10,000th alarm call in the same industrial complex, and, being sure it was false I took a straight approach to the business mentally prepared to pull on the locked door, turn around, and leave. As I rounded the entryway, I was met with a large hole in the window and falling pieces of glass on my boots. I back-pedaled so quickly I nearly tripped, and I’m still thankful that I can share that story personally, rather than through an obituary.)
Exposing our mistakes and discussing our failures can make us feel vulnerable. But vulnerability builds trust, and developing trust is how we become leaders. Knowing your FTO is human supports the belief that you can make it too. Complacency kills, and my trainees know that because I remind them of it constantly.
Unfortunately, some FTOs forget the importance of setting an example. Being complacent in the way we teach or the things we train can kill as well. Trainees have a natural tendency to drop in performance when released on their own. No longer under the watchful eye of their trainer, they relax and begin taking shortcuts. This is why we always strive to train at 100%. Why is this so important? As soon as released, the other socialization influence hits these officers: their new teammates. Unfortunately, at times, that can be a detriment to their career in law enforcement.
However, complacency doesn’t end there. Being complacent in our documentation, our remedial training, and our evaluations and feedback can kill as well. As an FTO, you need to have the courage to speak with your trainees honestly. Providing honest, fair, and detailed evaluations is at the core of our profession. Short-changing someone on proper skills evaluations is a form of complacency, and allowing a trainee who doesn’t meet the standard to graduate due to poor documentation could cost them their life.
I’m passionate about Below 100 because I know it works. As FTOs, we promise to do everything in our power to prepare trainees for a long and safe career. Below 100 can help us live up to that promise with words and behavior.
Graham Tinius is a police officer with the Chandler (Ariz.) Police Department. He has a degree in evidence technology from Phoenix College and began his career as a crime scene technician with the Chandler PD in 2001. In 2004, he was hired as an officer and was promoted to Field Training Officer in 2007. In 2009, Tinius assisted in rewriting the Field Training Program at Chandler PD. He is the recipient of a Meritorious Service Award, as well as a Unit Citation Award for his work in redesigning the Field Training Program and its implementation within the department. Tinius Joined NAFTO in 2009. In 2012, he was elected as State President for AZNAFTO, and launched a campaign to re-introduce regional FTO schools through the state of Arizona. Working with AZPOST and NAFTO, Tinius has instructed hundreds of FTOs in basic, refresher, advanced FTO and FTO management schools.