Frisco takes different approach to cop training
summit daily news
FRISCO – For more than 40 years, police departments all over the country – and Summit County – have used the same training program for new officers.
But when Chief Tom Wickman took over in Frisco in 2003, he decided to try something different.
“We try to reduce anxiety and get the person to begin to learn not only what policing’s about, but also about themselves,” Wickman said. “If I’m in an environment where I feel supported and the environment is such that I can learn, I’m going to be a better police officer.”
It’s called the Police Training Officer (PTO) Program. Developed in 1999, the program takes a qualitative approach to evaluating new officers and emphasizes developing peer-based relationships between trainers and trainees and encouraging officers to journal during the process.
Training is an issue of key importance for many law enforcement agencies, not only because it can impact the caliber and expertise of officers on the job, but because a single policemen’s training represents a sizable investment of time and money for the department. Both the newer and original training programs take more than three months to complete and can cost the department amounts comparable to a new officer’s starting yearly salary.
The traditional training model, known as the Field Training Officer (FTO) program pairs trainees with various veteran officers for 14 weeks. As the new officer advances through the program, essentially moving from a citizen riding along with an officer to being the officer with the trainer riding along, he or she is evaluated daily on a number of competencies on an ascending scale of one to seven.
While the training program has been used nationally for more than 40 years, is currently upheld by local agencies and has been defended in court, Wickman said, for him, it fell short.
“It’s the partnership between the trainer and trainee and it is the importance of daily journaling,” Wickman said of the PTO program. “It’s written (evaluation, rather than) a number scale. If you know your police department and (trainer) are supporting you and creating an environment where you can learn, I think that’s a good combination.”
The PTO program evaluates officers weekly, rather than daily, reducing trainee anxiety, Wickman said, and focuses heavily on developing problem solving and community profiling skills.
“Right off the bat … you’re sitting across the table working on a problem,” Wickman said. “Instead of (an instructor saying), ‘you should do this,’ the PTO will say, ‘how should we approach this?’ Life is solving one problem after the next and that’s what we get paid to do so we should be pretty good at it.”
PTO training is also more flexible than the traditional model, allowing for remedial training as needed and for tailoring to individual departments’ needs or changes in police tactics or standards.
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