Military and Police

FTOs Prefer Having to Pull Student Officers Back Rather Than Having to Push Them Forward

There is a tenet my police department’s field training officers (FTO) had when I was a trainee and when I was a trainer: It’s better to have to pull a student officer back than to have to push a student officer forward.

Generally, if an FTO has to pull a student back, it shows an eagerness to do the job. As the FTO teaches the lessons, the student wants to learn, wants to get better, wants to do the job, and understands he or she will make mistakes. Some students can, of course, be too eager, which can make them reckless. But that’s not what we’re talking about. Those cases are rare and a story for another day.

By pull back, FTOs are talking about the eager student who may stop a vehicle for a petty infraction that most veteran cops would wait to see if there were additional violations before making a stop. We’re talking about a petty offense that might be worth keeping an eye on the driver, but unless the driver commits more infractions, most veteran cops wouldn’t make the stop. FTOs teach students discretion, fairness, and moderation with normally law-abiding people who commit minor infractions.

Anyway, if an FTO, instead of pulling back, has to constantly push a student officer to act, the FTO will probably also have to explain to the student what crime has been committed. When an FTO has to pull a student back, it’s often because the student officer recognizes the law-breaking, but he or she needs to learn the degrees of enforcement or officer discretion aspects of applying the law.

FTOs today tell me they constantly must push their students to act. One training officer used this cliché: “They’re scared of their own shadows.” FTOs tell me many of their students are afraid to go hands-on when necessary. In fact, they say they’re so hesitant, FTOs are not sure if some of them would use force even to save their own lives.

I don’t know how today’s FTOs can do their jobs. FTOs are supposed to train their students to become competent cops. But new police training standards (leftist indoctrination), foisted on many departments by local progressive leaders and former President Obama’s cop-hating DOJ, make the FTO’s job harder than it should be.

Are police academies putting out student officers that are not physically, mentally, or emotionally prepared for such stressful duties? At the same time, are leftist policies inhibiting FTOs from training their students in a way that will truly make them effective police officers? In many agencies, it seems so.

Many FTOs now feel the leftist leaders running their cities will not allow them to teach student officers to be law enforcers. Consider that Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and other cities with far-leftist leadership have become infamous for their arbitrary enforcement of law, sanctuary city-inspired ignoring of law, their non-enforcement of street crime, and declining to prosecute crimes committed by “homeless” criminals.

Think about it. Across America you have student police officers graduating from police academies and then going to work with training officers who are not allowed to teach them to enforce certain laws leftist leaders don’t like. How does that work? Well, it doesn’t.

As a part of my police patrol duties, I was selected to be a field training officer (FTO) and spent six years doing it. During that time, I trained many student officers. The Field Training Program (FTP) comprised various post-police academy training phases divided into first, second, third, and fourth FTO rotations.

Ideally, a student would train with three successive FTOs for a prescribed time and then return to his or her first FTO for a final observation phase. This way the student officer’s original FTO could gauge the improvements (or not) and decide if the student was ready to graduate to solo patrol.

During the final rotation the FTO wears plain clothes and intervenes only if necessary. It’s also where the FTO enjoys an inevitable chuckle. You know…the one that arises when a frantic victim dashes up to your student officer to report a crime and the student officer looks at you with an expression that says Someone should call the police.

As an FTO you see how some folks are not cut out to be cops. Some people who are otherwise intelligent, competent, and eager don’t have that “something” necessary to be a successful law enforcement professional.

In my first book, Officer, I used the following example to show what can happen to even a competent person when stress creates tunnel vision and kidnaps a student officer’s ability to function.

(Credit: Facebook/Southland)

During one shift, I had a remedial student the FTP had unplugged from his third rotation. In these circumstances, remedial students are having difficulties grasping certain aspects of the job, but the FTOs feel the student officer may need a bit more time and training. A couple weeks at most. If they improved sufficiently, they’re plugged back into their original training phase.

The student was driving, and I was in the front passenger’s seat. We were searching our district for a reported AWOL from the Army. He had no history of violence, he was just trying to avoid going back to his post.

The dispatcher put out the description: white male, 24, 6’ 6”, very thin, long black hair, wearing a long black trench coat, last seen near our location. Instructors at the academy couldn’t have written an easier training scenario.

I asked my student if he heard the description. He said he did. I asked him to repeat it. He did but only with prompts from me. As we drove up to an intersection, I looked to my right. I saw a young man standing on the sidewalk a few feet from our car waiting for the walk signal to change. Can you guess his description?

The tall, skinny, 24-year-old, white male, suspected Army absconder stood there, staring at the signal. I watched my student’s eyes as he scanned the area. It appeared he’d looked right at the suspect without seeing him.

Next, my student made a right turn and drove right in front of the tall trench coat man. As we drove north, I saw in my side-view mirror, a tall skinny, black-haired man crossing the street westbound, heading toward Chinatown.

I asked my student if he’d seen anyone waiting to cross the street at the last intersection. He looked at me as if I’d asked him to solve a complex math problem—in his head.

I told him our suspect was standing on the corner three feet from our car at the intersection behind us and that he drove right past him. I asked my student what he wanted to do. He asked-said: “Go back and find him?” I said, “Good idea.”

My student drove around the block and located the suspect still headed west, now under an I-5 freeway overpass. He stopped his car about 20 feet from the suspect. Still white-knuckling the steering wheel, my student officer sat and stared at the suspect.

I suggested he get on the PA and tell the suspect to stop and walk to the car. This way he would know if the suspect planned to run or cooperate. This way, if he ran, we’d still be in our car rather than on foot.

He got on the PA and told the suspect, “Stop!”

The suspect stopped, turned, and looked at us.

I pushed my student, and asked, “Now what?”

He got this part himself. He picked up the mic and said, “Come here.”

Fortunately, rather than run, the suspect ambled over to the patrol car with his hands open and out from his sides. Unfortunately, my student remained in the driver’s seat, gripping the steering wheel as if he were kneading pretzel dough, while still clutching the mic. I pushed again and asked him what he planned to do next. Again, I got the math problem expression.

“Let radio know that you found your suspect?” I pushed.

Still, nothing.

Now, I was afraid the suspect would eventually take up my student officer on his tacit invitation to run away—I would have. As I got out of the car, I got on my mic and let the dispatcher know what we had.

I told the suspect to put his hands on the hood of my car, cuffed him, then patted him down. My student followed, a moment later, having finally gotten out of the car. Yeah, that moment was pretty much when I decided that no additional training would be necessary. My student officer had finished his training but not in a good way.

The student officer was an otherwise competent young man who just couldn’t get a handle on doing the job in the time he needed to for an urban environment. I say this because sometime later a small police agency, much more his speed, hired him. He eventually became a successful deputy, serving a larger sheriff’s office.

From my perspective, new officer training is also a tough subject because of the dichotomy the de-policing phenomenon places on FTOs and their student officers. Leftist governments have placed FTOs in a position where they have to train their students to avoid certain patrol activities that could get them into trouble. Duties like enforcing blatant jaywalking or littering.

When these minor enforcement actions deteriorate into uses-of-force, leftist city administrations too often side with the violator over the officer. And local media headline “Cop beats up jaywalker.”

Combine that with how timid some police academies are making student officers, at the direction of leftist state officials, and it makes it tough for FTOs and new students alike to teach properly or learn correctly.

Today’s FTOs say there is so much emphasis in the academy on lawsuits; students are just not sure what to do. Add to that the general negativity toward cops they see on TV almost daily, the injustices they see done against their fellow officers, and FTOs have their work cut out for them.

(Credit: Facebook/End of Watch)

Experienced cops tell me that very few veterans with any real time on will even serve as FTOs anymore. So, the department selects less experienced officers with as few as three years on the department. So, now you have already timid officers, whose academy training made them hesitant, training hesitant student officers who were trained in the academy to be timid. Have I got that right?

I resigned from being an FTO back in the early 2000s. Even at that time, post-WTO riots, the state academy was getting so leftist “touchy-feely,” I felt I couldn’t teach my student officers how to do the job the way a cop should do it. I was getting students who’d spent lots of time learning about “cultural diversity” and “social justice,” but they couldn’t handle the radio, write a decent report, find a location on a map, or properly handcuff a suspect.

It was at this point I wrote an article for the police union newspaper titled, Soup on the Badge. It was a reference to a new part of police training that included student officers serving transients food at soup kitchens. Nothing wrong with volunteering at soup kitchens, but these student officers were not volunteers.

Why were they sent to soup kitchens to help transient adults? Why weren’t they also sent to schools to teach the NRA’s Eddie Eagle gun safety classes to students? Many students live in neighborhoods known for guns and gang activity. It wouldn’t be uncommon for a kid to come across a gun. Isn’t the one as important as the other? Nope! Because one is a leftist concern and the other is not.

Bottom line: FTOs and veteran cops are telling me that new cops, as hard as they are to find these days, are timid and more hesitant than rookie officers in the past. I know that in Seattle, there has been a call by the leftist city government over the past several years to “get rid of the dinosaurs” and to hire people who “reflect our community and our values.”

A veteran friend told me his sergeant, who had fewer years on than he had, actually called him a “dinosaur.”

I think we understand well by now what the left means by its values. Ignoring laws they don’t like, failing to call for increased prosecutions of criminals who use guns illegally while calling for increased prosecutions of law-abiding citizens who possess guns in self-defense.

In the neo-socialist Democrat party, the rule of law no longer applies, they’ve replaced equal justice with social justice, and they’re replacing real cops with squishy facsimiles who are hesitant to enforce the law but eager to file official complaints against other officers who they feel offended them or think violated a policy.

I’ve heard from some veteran FTOs that they even have to worry if a student officer will interpret some of their “dinosaur” techniques as policy or law violations and file a complaint. How can any FTO teach or student officer learn when FTOs are not allowed to teach and student officers are not allowed to learn?

Seems, the only pushing and pulling that’s going on now is leftist governments pushing out experienced, veteran officers and instead pulling in people who “represent the virtue-signaling city’s values.”

God help the poor citizens.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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