CNA’s Center for Justice Research and Innovation led an internally funded initiative from October 2020 to September 2021 and conducted case studies of six agencies’ field training officer (FTO) programs. During this assessment, CNA examined common practices and policies that law enforcement agencies use within their field training, such as the qualifications an officer must have to become an FTO, and we assessed the quality and effectiveness of communication between trainers and trainees. In this resource, an agency will learn why the pairing process is important and the different range of pairing methods an agency can implement.
Field training is often described as the most important stage in an officer’s career. The time spent with a field training officer is vital to the trainee’s career development and helps shapes the culture of an agency. Thus, it is imperative that the trainer-trainee relationship is one which facilitates learning and growth. As stated in the Field Training Officer Impact Assessment: Field Guide, trainers are more often paired with a trainee based on their availability, and less often based on a formalized assessment to measure the compatibility of the trainer-trainee. While some agencies noted their pairing practices were based on availability due to a shortage of training officers, most agencies did complete an informal personality assessment conducted by those in the academy who had been working with the new recruits, prior to them being paired with their trainer. However, as one trainer stated, “…Different trainees need different styles. Some need to watch, some need to do things, and some need to hear things.” One way law enforcement agencies can enhance the learning process, the experience trainees have in their field training program, and eventually ensure quality officers are ending up on the streets is by formalizing the pairing process between their trainees and trainers.
Importance of Pairing
The period in which a trainee spends with their FTO is extremely important, because at the end, the trainee will begin operating on their own. During the time spent with the FTO, the trainee needs to learn all the relevant skills necessary to not only be by themselves, but assist their fellow officers in the case of an emergency. For a trainee to have a successful learning experience, pairing them with a trainer they are compatible with, along the lines of personality, learning style, and even culturally, is important. Research has shown that emotions and memory retention, as well as learning, are linked; thus, considering the monetary value the agency has already invested into the trainee thus far, ensuring the trainer-trainee relationship is harmonious is worthwhile to the agency.
Trainees from the case study agencies without a formalized selection process expressed confusion around how they were paired with their FTO. However, in one of the agencies that did have a formalized process, the trainees interviewed noted they were glad to be matched with trainers where their interests lie, and that the agency was responsive to the feedback placed on the assessment form. By creating a clear selection process and communicating this to the trainees, this is way that, right off the bat, agencies can help to provide structure and a sense of internal procedural justice for the trainees.
Pairing trainees with FTOs of the same race or gender is also something departments should consider to foster an environment conducive to learning, for at least one of their training phases. Interviewees from the agency case studies mentioned numerous ways they felt their gender impacted their roles in law enforcement such as: women being requires to take on extra responsibilities (e.g., conducting searches); being treated differently or dismissed by their trainer; and having to do more to prove themselves . When discussing mentoring programs in police departments and pairing considerations, Valencia (2009) addresses the importance of BIPOC and gender-specific mentoring relationships, while also clarifying the risk of individuals having to wait for an available match in order to be placed due to a potential lack of diversity in the agency.Download full report
- Document Number: IIM-2021-U-030381
- Publication Date: 10/20/2021