It was the first time he patrolled on his own.
He has officially moved past his training phase.
If you didn’t recall, he started this police position last December.
9 months ago.
I don’t know about you, but there aren’t many jobs that I know of that don’t let you out on your own for 9 months after you start.
Since there are a lot of people out there in the world (media) saying that police officers need more training, I thought I would shed some light on Tom’s training process.
(Disclaimer, I am speaking from our experience. Many departments will have similar structures but their timeline may be shorter/longer depending on size and demands of their officers. It also will look vastly different if they are hired with a police academy under their belt.)
Let’s start from the beginning.
Tom started working PD a week before Christmas in 2014. He had about 2 weeks of HR and administrative training. He also did some ride-alongs with other officers at this time. During this time, he went through some hand-gun retention training and taser facilitation from his department.
From January to April, he was in the Academy. The Academy he went through was an independent course that certifies officers in Missouri; so several different departments and individuals around the state attend here. The Academy is set up like a school where they are typically in class from 9-5, Monday-Friday. There were also many (many) nights that they did scenarios as well. So it was well beyond 40 hours a week most weeks. The academy is mixed between an actual classroom setting and situational training.
There is nothing that is just a lecture or just experiential learning. Everything had a classroom component before you did hands on training. For example, defensive driving had a whole classroom portion that talks about all the physics of the turns and the mechanics of the vehicle before they ever get to the range. This way the officers have a foundation before they have the experience. So they spent about 12 hours of classroom time talking about it, and then another 12 hours out on an airport tarmac actually driving a car through an obstacle course.
- constitutional law
- criminal law
- traffic law
- driving while intoxicated
- hand guns and shot guns
- pepper-spray (everyone gets sprayed)
- control defense tactics (hand-to-hand)
- investigations: homicide, rape, burglary, etc.
- building searches
- use of force and justification
Again, this is not an exhaustive list because the class is 4 months long, and I am not writing out the curriculum for you. I don’t have time for that here! It is hard to do justice to all of it because of nature of content.
Edit: As someone pointed out, the concern is often that they are not trained on diversity issues. I assure you that human differences was not only it’s own topic, they discussed how to work with various groups and individual identities during every lecture and practical application. On each topic there were points made on how culture and group dynamics will impact how you handle the situation. They are constantly making observations and assessing how best to approach the community to help serve resolutions and leave the community better and safer. They receive constant training on mental issues, diversity, bias, equality, etc. It is interwoven into every broader training session because they are always dealing with people’s identities no matter what the situation may be. They are constantly challenged to be counselors, negotiators, problem-solvers, and more, so yes they do talk and are trained about diversity issues. On the daily.
There were regular exams throughout the Academy, approximately one a week. Tom said they were harder than any college course that he took. (And he has a degree in Criminal Law.) You had to receive an 80% or you failed. If you fail the test, you could take one retake, and the tests were not the same. You have to pass the retake or you are done. And you are only allowed to do two retakes in the entire course. And done means that you are kicked out of the academy. So academically you had to be pretty sound.
Those were the in-class assessments. There were also exams on the practicals. You could only miss so much out of each exercise. The practicals are meant to imitate real life scenarios and environments constantly throwing different variables and you had to complete certain objectives to pass. For example, they brought in community member volunteers, got them drunk, and practiced field sobriety testing.
As I stated, the Academy lasted 4 months. You are essentially trying to pack the equivalent of a college degree into four months.
For Tom’s academy, many of them were not paid to be there. Only 5 out of the 36 were already hired. So they were working a job that they weren’t getting paid for. Actually, they had to pay to complete. And since many weeks were 50-60 hours, it made it difficult to do anything outside of it to cover those costs. (People did though!)
There are other academies that are longer, and there are others that are shorter. Some are put on by the state, and some are put on by individual departments.
Two days after he graduated, Tom was commissioned as an officer, however he entered his probationary phase with the department. He was assigned a Field Training Officer (FTO) who is responsible for Tom’s training on the “streets.”
He was with his FTO from late April until just this last weekend.
The first couple days or week, you are just observing that officer. After those first few days, the new officer (Tom) is running the calls and the FTO is assisting. The whole point of FTO is for them to slowly phase out the instruction. So by this last week, Tom was ready to be out on his own.
During this time, the new officer is handling real calls, driving the car, and interacting with the community based on his training and instruction from his FTO.
During the last few months, Tom also shadowed other areas of the department besides street patrol.
He spent a week with the traffic unit. This unit specifically deals with traffic enforcement and accident investigation.
He spent a week with detectives. As Tom described it, he spent a week detecting things. In all seriousness, he did interviews following a shooting that happened in town. So he worked with the team to find out more details and track down leads.
Lastly, he spent a week with the Community Action Team. This is group who is trying to be more proactive with police work. There is not a real mission description; they deal with whatever is the pressing issue and try to proactively look for solutions within the community.
With his FTO, Tom had daily checks. There was this big binder of things they had to go over. His performance was reviewed daily. There was a report done at the end of each shift on how he was doing. Again, he had to meet certain markers throughout the process, otherwise your FTO period could be extended (or you could get fired).
Now Tom is officially on his own, however, he is still on probation until December. You are on probation for your first year after being hired.
Canine officers and SWAT go through even more individualized training. For his department, you have to be an officer so many years with positive annual reviews before you can be eligible for an interview for those positions.
This is just what new officers typically go through. Outside of this and his now normal work-week, there is more training for all officers on the force. They have an in-service at least once a month. There are 4 weapons qualifications annually. There are also open trainings available every month that are optional.
You can also look outside the department for training and request funding for those. These are generally more specialty things that an individual wants to do. If the whole department needs the training, generally the department will bring it to the officers in house.
As Tom’s FTO said to him, “You always have to be a student of the game.” You learn tons of stuff every day. At the end of every day, you will be better. You can learn everything you want in a classroom, however, there is still so much to learn on the streets and in your own car. The training is designed to show you if cop life is for you or not. Tom’s academy lost 5 people, and more than half the class still do not have a law enforcement job. It’s hard to make this an actual career because of the demands.
The training for police is completely overwhelming. But it has to be because the situations they deal with are overwhelming. They learn how to be calm and level-headed when everything around them is chaos. (It makes it kind of obnoxious now because Tom is even more of a cool cat when I am freaking out. My things seem pretty less dramatic after dealing with a community member who thought someone had broken into their house to place flies on their flytrap. True story.)
So this is just a brief look at the training. It is about as summarized and condensed as I could make it but still show the complexity and length of it. I hope that this shows that there is actually a lot that goes into training officers, and no subject is off the table. I wish that the community realizes that while they have a better part of a year in training, there are just some situations and skills that cannot be taught in a training setting. Could there be more training, well absolutely. I think every human being could say that about any job (or about being a human being). From my perspective, almost a year’s worth of training (and a college degree for most people) is pretty substantial to get an officer started. I just want people to look at all sides of the issue instead of just trusting media headlines.
If you have any questions about the training, please don’t hesitate to ask. Tom is pretty open about everything.