We do not always get to pick the duties we fill as law enforcers, but I believe they are all important. I recently had an officer complain to me about his training assignment for a basic academy class. He was tasked with training the class about forensics, but wanted only to teach defensive tactics to the cadets. He felt his talents were being wasted on a less important topic, and he let everyone know about it.
I have fallen into such a trap myself in the past. My first assignment as an instructor was training a class of one. My agency was filling several positions and some great cops had put in for the openings. I was not one of them. I had recently left my position as a criminal investigator with another agency where I loved working. That agency had a residency requirement. My family was placed in harm’s way and we had to relocate. I had just settled back into being a road patrol officer and did not want to worry about watching over a new recruit, but Sgt Hilton had a different viewpoint.
The sergeant called me into his office and told me he wanted someone with a diverse law enforcement background to serve as the shift’s next FTO. I gave him my perspective on the officers who had applied for the position. He informed me he had already made his selection. I realized why I was in his office. I respectfully told him I was not interested in filling the duties of an FTO, but I appreciated his confidence in my abilities. I explained that I had no desire or passion for the position. The person responsible for preparing the next generation of law enforcers should be passionate. He agreed and thanked me for being honest. I went back on patrol.
The next day, I was called in to Chief Eldredge’s office. I had taken over the responsibilities of the department’s Forensics Unit. I was expecting to hear the chief’s decision on some of my recent equipment and training requests. I was wrong again. The Chief asked me who I thought he should select to fill the FTO position for my shift, and for the other shifts.
After we discussed the candidates I thought were best suited for the positions, he advised me I would be going to FTO training the following week. I was speechless at first, a rare instance if you ask my wife. Then I told him about my previous conversation with Sergeant Hilton. He explained he already talked with Hilton and that is why he was selecting me. He said “you may not want the responsibility but you realize how important it is to ‘want it,’ and do it well. Along with your police experience, that is what I am looking for in an FTO.”
I actually argued with him at first but the chief was not the same person as the sergeant. He was not going to thank me for being honest and let me settle back into my comfort zone. Eldredge had served with several agencies during his three decades in law enforcement, was chief at two of them, and had also served as a Marine. He was not requesting me to fill the FTO position as Hilton tried to.
He told me “You can volunteer to be one of my frontline instructors, and FTO, or I can order you to volunteer. Either way you are volunteering before you leave the office.” I wasn’t happy when I left, but I always had a deep respect for Eldredge as a chief and human being. Not because he shoved his weight around but because he looked for the best people to fill important positions and then inspired them to do it well.
I still wasn’t happy as I sat through the first day of the FTO class, but I knew it was important to do it well. I was going to do it well even if it wasn’t fitting into my life plans at that point.
I quickly realized that I was training my replacements. These officers would be responsible for serving and protecting my family. I wanted them to do it well. It can take an extra commitment and sacrifice from an officer to fill the role of an FTO. Without sacrifice, there can be no justice. Without justice there can be no society. None of that can be possible without law enforcement officers, FTOs, and police instructors.
From the first officer I trained to the last, I truly enjoyed the experience. It made me a better police officer. As I worked hard to make their time with me effective and meaningful, I developed my passion for training. We need trainers who will passionately serve to build the guardians of tomorrow, and help them to understand the importance of their commitment.
The FTO must find methods to successfully mix classroom training along with experience-based techniques to create worthy protectors for our society. They are great candidates to select from to fulfill future instructor positions of all types – even if it is against their will at first.
Richard Neil is LET’s Police Training Contributor. He is the author of “Police Instructor: Deliver Dynamic Presentations, Create Engaging Slides, & Increase Active Learning.” He is a retired city cop, and instructs for several of Ohio’s criminal justice training academies. He can be contacted through his website that is dedicated to law
enforcement training resources – www.LEOtrainer.com.