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12 benefits of becoming a field training officer

An FTO’s skills sharpen and grow stronger while teaching other LEOs

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The author (kneeling) is pictured here with the last group of officers he helped field train before retiring.

Photo/Lt. Dan Marcou

The day before I turned in my equipment to retire, I made my final felony arrest while working with my final field trainee (shout out to Sergeant Casey Rossman).

I was privileged to be a career-long field training officer. I field-trained as a patrol officer, a sergeant and even after I was promoted to lieutenant. I have written in the past about the importance of a department having quality FTOs, PTOs, or whatever you want to call your trainers or new officers. Today, I would like to address the incredible personal benefits of becoming and remaining a quality field training officer.

1. You have an enthusiastic, well-trained backup officer with you at all times.

As someone who never waited to be dispatched to trouble, but instead aggressively responded to calls involving impaired drivers, drug dealers and people who would do harm to others, being a field training officer had one major benefit. Not only did I show recruits how to catch bad guys 24-7, but I always had a young officer in prime condition ready to back me up when I found what I was looking for.

2. It can nearly eliminate complacency in your approach to calls.

It is hard to slip into complacency when your partner is fresh out of the police academy. Having a new officer seated next to you is like having a battery charger hooked up to you and set on trickle charge. You will be reminded often of why you wanted to be a cop in the first place and how much fun it can be.

3. You develop a real understanding of the application of policy and case law.

When it is your job to teach others to apply case law and policy correctly, you understand their application with a depth that can’t be learned in a classroom. Teaching someone how to do it the right way will keep you doing it the right way.

4. You will hone your tactics and physical skills.

Part of the job of the field training officer is to give the new officer experience so there is a tendency to keep busy with a variety of situations that lead to arrests. Some of those arrests will require the application of defensive tactics and physical skills. Demonstrating these correctly, or seeing them performed correctly, will naturally enhance your skills and tactics.

5. You realize you’re always being watched, so you develop the tendency to try to do the right thing in the correct and most defensible way.

When you have a trainee, you know you’re constantly being watched, which is a strong inspiration to perform at your best. It becomes a habit. Also, it doesn’t take you long to conclude that the people you train will never stop watching you, which reinforces the need to show how it’s done on every call, even when you’re patrolling alone.

6. Qui Docet Discit

The motto of the former American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers was qui docet discit, a Latin phrase meaning, “who teaches, learns.”

As a field trainer, you will meet a variety of new officers. You’ll need to teach them the craft of policing and that will make you a master of your craft. Additionally, many of your recruits will bring skills, knowledge, and experience to the table that can expand your toolbox if you open your mind to the idea of learning.

7. You make a lot of friends for life.

Because of what you experience together at a formative time in the recruit’s career, there is potential to establish long-term friendships.

8. You develop leadership skills.

Great trainers lead and great leaders train. That’s undeniable.

9. Your ability to write solid reports improves.

The act of critiquing a young person’s report will mentally reinforce what constitutes a solid report, therefore you will learn to write better police reports.

10. Your testimonial skills improve.

Better reports will lead to better courtroom testimony. Testimony is all about telling what you did and why you did it. It is basically a debrief of the call. Since you will be debriefing calls in an understandable manner throughout a recruit’s training period, you will find yourself becoming extremely talented at making juries understand the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

11. You make your department better.

Initially, it might be difficult to see your impact. As the years go by, however, you’ll see the men and women you trained become honorable veteran officers and gifted departmental leaders. Some will even become great field trainers. That’s when you’ll understand your true worth to your department.

12. The extra pay is the feeling.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention extra pay. You’ll come to understand that money isn’t what keeps great field trainers training. There is definitely extra pay, but it’s not monetary.

The day will come and be repeated often, even into retirement, when a veteran officer you once trained will approach you with a new officer, a friend, or a family member. That officer will smile broadly and say, “This is the officer I was telling you about. He taught me everything I know about being a cop. I wouldn’t have made it without him.”

The feeling when you hear those words (especially in retirement) is your extra pay. It is priceless.

Next: How all cops play a role in peer-to-peer learning

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.