After field training: How to take advantage of hidden learning opportunities
After your initial training, it can seem like you are not seeing or learning nearly as much
Most of us have a story to share about our field training officer jumping somebody else’s call. Imagine, a code or incident is called out on the radio. The closest officer moves to respond, but before they can, your FTO jumps up and says, “We’re going!”
Live situations are valuable training opportunities for new officers, and a good FTO will make sure to take advantage of them. But what happens when that new recruit graduates FTO and is suddenly the greenest member on a team? All of a sudden, those opportunities are gone, snatched up by more seasoned teammates.
After your initial training, it can seem like you are not seeing or learning nearly as much. If you begin to feel this way, look for these “hidden” opportunities to gain experience.
Instead of waiting for a particular kind of incident to occur to find out how to respond to it, make use of your facility’s documentation. Every significant event should be documented in a written report that is available for your review.
Reviewing past reports can be nearly as useful as direct experience, since you should be able to read about how the incident started, how it was handled and what actions were taken afterward. When you encounter a similar situation, you now have a roadmap for how it has been responded to in the past. Reading reports will also bolster your writing skills.
The same principle applies to video review. Thanks to advancing technology and federal grants, most facilities are fortunate enough to have surveillance cameras covering at least their highest traffic areas. The footage from these cameras is not only for live monitoring and evidence purposes, but can also be a powerful training tool.
Especially suited to use of force review, video recordings allow you to recognize pre-assault indicators and identify weaknesses in officer safety, and you can use pause and playback features to further break down the incident. Major incident video should be saved and made available for analysis.
Make time to talk to your more experienced colleagues. Training officers and supervisors have a wealth of knowledge and are often eager to share it. Just because you are no longer in the formal training phase of your career does not mean that the job of an FTO is finished. Asking questions and listening to stories from these veteran officers will allow you to see through their eyes, and you will learn to respond to incidents in a mature and reasonable way.
When you are reviewing videos or reports, reach out to the people involved. They will be able to clarify things for you if you are missing a piece of documentation or don’t understand some facet of the incident. This combination of seeing, reading and hearing about a situation should give you a nearly complete picture of how things happened, and you will be better prepared to encounter it in the future.
Just because you don’t have much experience doesn’t mean you can’t become involved in the decision-making process early in your career. Volunteering for lateral duties and making suggestions will allow you to start dialogues with your supervisors and administrative staff.
Extra responsibilities such as conducting disciplinary hearings, taking care of equipment, or learning to operate different software will open doors to a variety of experiences. Anything that puts you in more direct contact with offenders will especially raise your chances of seeing and learning more about this profession.
Don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard. If you become aware of some new piece of gear or a policy that another facility has adopted, bring it up to your supervisors. If your agency does not implement your suggestion, you should at least get a detailed explanation why. The more you can learn about how your facility operates and why will benefit you and your decision-making skills.
You don’t have to wait for things to happen around you to gain valuable experience. Review what has happened in your facility in the past, strike up conversations with old-timers and put yourself out there to progress your agency. Taking a proactive role in your professional development will benefit you, your team and ultimately, your community.