Inside SJPD sjpd Field training program (FTO) - from the academy to the street

People often mention FTO when discussing the subject of police recruit training. Although, FTO stands for “field training officer,” it refers to the “Field Training Program.” Recruit officers go through FTO after they attend the SJPD Academy. The San Jose Police Department (SJPD) FTO consists of the following phases: the field training and a final probation period. SJPD’s program has been replicated by other police departments worldwide and is the standard for recruit training.

Why did the SJPD develop FTO and why has it become the model for law enforcement agencies around the world?

Before the 1970s, there was no official FTO program to be a police officer. New officers received little formal on-the-job training. Usually, after a two-week orientation, a new officer was assigned to a senior officer for training in the daily tasks of being a police officer. At the end of the training, the new officer was left to “sink or swim” in performing police officer duties. To exacerbate the situation, there was no effective employee evaluation system. This state of affairs culminated to a series of events that forever changed police recruit training.

In 1969, the SJPD hired a young and energetic officer. He loved police work and was well liked by his peers and officers. However, it became apparent that he was naïve, had a temperament unsuited for police work and was deficient in certain skills. Yet, due to the lack of documentation and an “improvement needed” assessment by the then-official rating system, there was insufficient justification to terminate the young officer.

The following spring, while traveling at excessive speed during a non-emergency, the young officer ran a red light at a major intersection, colliding with another vehicle and killing a young passenger. The tragedy precipitated a change in the department’s philosophy towards recruit officer training.

SJPD Lieutenant Robert L. Allen, who served in the military and had been a staff member of the California Military Academy, developed a proposal for training and evaluating recruit officers. His proposal was shelved by a deputy chief before it reached the SJPD Chief of Police.

In September 1971, an incident involving the shooting of a motorist after a traffic stop again called into question the training of SJPD officers. Then Chief of Police Robert Murphy explored ways to overcome training deficiencies. He was made aware of Lieutenant Allen’s proposal. During this period, Dr. Michael D. Roberts, Ph.D., was hired by the City of San Jose as Director of Psychological Services. Chief Murphy assigned Dr. Roberts to work with now-Captain Allen to rework and fine tune a Recruit Training and Management Program.

In 1972, the San Jose Police Department had its first group of FTO officers.

Besides the development of the “Key Elements of a Successful FTO Program,” Dr. Roberts and Captain Allen convinced Chief Murphy that responsibility and authority to evaluate had to be placed at the lowest level possible. Having police officers make employment decisions on recruit officers was a new and radical concept in the early 1970s.

By spring 1972, the FTO Program became a distinct unit in the SJPD. Lieutenant Bill Mallett became the first program administrator, assisted by two FTO sergeants. Together, they appointed twelve officers to serve as the first Field Training Officers. The FTOs discovered that professional and personal commitment as well as objectivity were absolutely necessary to fulfill the roles of trainer and evaluator.

During the first year of the FTO program, forty-two field training officers wrote 3,500 daily observation reports (DOR) for a total of 125 recruit officers. In the summer of 1973, major refinements were made to the SJPD FTO program. Officer Doug Zwemke, who had a Master’s Degree in Psychology, worked with Dr. Roberts to identify specific behavioral traits that delineated the difference between a successful and unsuccessful police officer. Officer Zwemke read each of the 3,500 DORs and extracted 10,000 behavioral descriptions. Officer Zwemke condensed these descriptions into thirty-one behavioral traits that the SJPD deemed necessary for a successful police officer to possess. DORs and weekly observation reports were updated to incorporate the thirty-one traits. For the first time, a valid job task analysis for the police officer position had been developed.

A seven point scale was introduced for evaluating the recruits in each of the thirty-one traits: 1 signifed “unacceptable” and 7 signified “superior.”) To improve the accuracy of an officer’s performance rating, Sergeant Glen Kaminsky and Sergeant Tom Perez developed guidelines for each rating catagory.

By fall 1973, the SJPD FTO program received national recognition by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for its contribution to police science and technology.

In 1974, the success of the SJPD FTO program prompted the California State Legislature to adopt the “San Jose Model” as the standard for the state’s field training program. In the ensuing years, the SJPD FTO model was adopted nationwide and then worldwide by law enforcement agencies.

“The motto of the FTO program has been a 'commitment to excellence.' I’d like to see it changed to a ‘commitment to training excellence’ ... We’re here to ensure the success of every recruit we get. I want every recruit that comes in here to be a solo beat officer. If they don’t become a solo beat officer, it’s not the recruits that failed. It’s us as trainers in Field Training Program that failed because we weren’t able to train that person to become a solo beat officer. I want this to be a program of success that focuses less on evaluation and more on the training. ” — Lieutenant Jason Herr, Field Training Program Administrator

The SJPD FTO continues refining and updating its program. The most significant change in recent months is the advance in technology using field training software. The amount of paperwork generated by the recruits, field training officers and FTO sergeants is enormous. Dealing with a deluge of written documents and the task of storing them has challenged FTO programs.

Fortunately, field training software has been developed in recent years to address the problem of working in a paper-based system. And, because of the worldwide acceptance of the SJPD FTO model, most of the available software conforms to the SJPD standard.

The SJPD FTO program uses Law Enforcement Field Training Application (LEFTA) software to eliminate the mountain of paperwork and data entry that distracts from the main goal of successfully training SJPD officers.

SJPD’s current Field Training Program Administrator, Lieutenant Jason Herr, chose Law Enforcement Field Training Application (LEFTA), which is based on the SJPD FTO model. Now the recruits, field training officers, FTO sergeants and administrators can enter and view information quickly without the tedium of shuffling through reams of paper and data entry.

In addition to the technological changes in the FTO program, the Department has made a concerted effort to promote consistency among the field training officers—to eliminate biases and to adhere to standardized guidelines. To initiate this effort, Lieutenant Herr had FTO-veteran Sergeant Joseph Stewart give daily observation report training.

And with the need for more SJPD officers, the SJPD FTO has emphasized the training component of the program. The goal is to make sure the recruits successfully become officers who meet the high standards of the SJPD.

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SJPD San Jose Police Department
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Credits:

Curt Fukuda and Brook Dain

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