Keeping records in check

     No department can afford to be without some kind of field training program. And while a majority of departments use a type of these programs, not all of them agree on which training — the Field Training Officer (FTO) model or Police Training Officer (PTO) model — is the best fit.

     The FTO model aims at helping post-academy recruits transition to single-officer assignments in a patrol division. It is often referred to as the "San Jose Model," after the first FTO training program at San Jose (California) Police Department in the 1970s.

     Using PTO models, recruits learn skills in community-based policing and problem solving. This model, the "Reno Model," originated at the Reno Police Department in Nevada and was meant to be a replacement for the FTO program, but today operates as an alternative training program. Regardless of which field training is selected, one thing all agencies can agree on is the need to automate how training records are documented, tracked and updated.

Training types

     Typically, the training officers receive from the academy is too minimal to prepare them for real-life work in the field, which is why many agencies immediately enroll new recruits in FTO or PTO programs. These programs are often intense and rigidly structured, rendering manual documentation of completed tasks almost impossible. Fortunately, several software packages are now available to electronically manage these aspects.

     Unlike most field training software makers, Crown Pointe Technologies Inc. of Portland, Oregon, offers software packages for both field training models. According to Charles Lowry, president of Crown Pointe Technologies, even though thousands of agencies design their field training to follow the San Jose FTO model, they ultimately customize training to suit their organization's needs.

     The FTO model is comprised of training tactics, documentations and forms that evaluate a recruit's performance. By the end of the program, recruits must complete skills mastery checklists.

     The PTO model lets officers apply specific skills to their daily performance, and includes a neighborhood familiarization project to teach recruits how to deal effectively with crime and other community issues.

     Although FTO models are more widely used, the PTO model is gaining popularity due to its emphasis on self-evaluation and problem-solving skills.

Self-evaluation

     According to PTO Officer Ben Harvey, one of the intents of the problem-based PTO software is to allow for self-evaluation and reflection among trainees. "Crown Pointe's software causes the recruit to start at the first core competency and write about it. Then it kicks you to the next one."

     Crown Pointe Technologies' PTO system supports six types of PTO documents in a fully automated format, including: Coaching and Training Report, Daily Journal, Neighborhood Portfolio Exercise, Problem-Based Learning Exercises, Mid-Term Evaluation Report and Final Evaluation Report. It will soon offer a Web-based version of both its FTO and PTO systems as well.

     Corvallis (Oregon) Police Lt. Todd Bailey, PTO program manager, appreciates how the software enables him to quickly scan the status of any category of a recruit's progress.

     "I like that I can pull up [information] any time and know where that recruit's at," says Bailey. "I like that I can read recruits' comments [because] self-assessment is critical. If they can't self-evaluate, recruits are going to struggle in this career."

A holistic approach

     According to Richmond (California) Police Sgt. Roger Buhlis, it's important that PTO recruits understand their role in the community in a more holistic mode. Buhlis helped form the nationwide Police Society for Problem-Based Learning (PSPBL). In 2003 PSPBL launched the PTO model with a small band of pilot police agencies, of which the Reno PD and Richmond PD were founding members. This pilot project also included police departments in Lowell, Massachusetts; Savannah, Georgia; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina.

     "Officers need to understand problem solving and collaboration with business owners, residents, public defenders — whoever they can learn from," says Buhlis, a 22-year law enforcement veteran and his department's police training program supervisor.

     "You don't learn community policing by responding call to call," continues Buhlis. "You have to build a database of resources and know what's going on in the community as a whole, so you can respond to long-term problems effectively."

     Buhlis agrees that automating PTO programs can only benefit law enforcement field training and says information sharing among PTOs through special software is critical, especially given the highly interactive nature of the training process.

     "If the PTO can log onto a software program on a mobile data computer and access training information, he will have a better understanding of what the trainee has accomplished and what his weaknesses and strengths are," Buhlis says. "Automating this documentation will show you whether the trainee is engaged in the community and learning from the program."

Web-based versions

     Some agencies favor FTO and PTO programs where scoring is more descriptive and qualitative (not strictly numerical), and there is some degree of problem solving in place. Thin Blue Software Inc. of Jacksonville, Florida, plans to offer a version of its FTO software program that will track both types. The company's FTO package, Training Applications for Law Enforcement Agencies (TAFLEA), builds classes to logically group recruits together, and offers officer safety violation documentation, an early warning detection system for potential problem recruits, and automatic database synchronization between workstations and the database server.

     Mark Prinzy, Blue Line Software's president and a former Jacksonville Sheriff's Office deputy, says TAFLEA differs from other FTO software in that it is applications-based rather than Web-based, "because some police departments want the ability to create information offline," explains Prinzy. "If you're offline, you have no way to create reports and work."

     Perhaps. But Web-based FTO versions are gaining traction, so that recruits and evaluators can check on selected categories (unless password-protected) any time and anywhere with online access.

Tracking trends

     The AutomateD Observation Reports and Evaluations (ADORE) software from MdE Inc. of Baltimore, Maryland, has been available since 1999 and serves primarily FTO-model users, although MdE Inc. claims the software is adaptable for either an FTO or PTO program.

     MdE Inc.'s president, Lisa Reaver, says ADORE's aim is to help departments understand their field training program's components. Automatic trends tracking, for instance, is common to many FTO software solutions.

     "If you're seeing a trend that says the last several groups of new police officers are coming in weak in interpersonal skills, at the beginning of field training this could be addressed," says Reaver. "Or, better yet, take this information back to the academy and tell them this is something you're consistently seeing with new trainees."

     Trending is a feature that ADORE user John Yettevich, a field training supervisor with the Deer Park (Texas) Police Department especially values. "If there's a problem with a recruit's training, I can bring up a bar chart and a 'roll-up' report that shows every Daily Operations Report on one page," says Yettevich.

     Liability risk is also considered. "You can handle credibility and liability issues better when new recruits are being trained properly and it is being documented," explains Charles Knoll, executive director of the National Association of Field Training Officers (NAFTO). Knoll, who teaches FTO programs, finds this to be a paramount advantage of the software.

Customization

     Allowance for customization is made once a training software program is adopted. The Florida Office of Agriculture Law Enforcement is a good example. Officers joining this agency must possess regular state academy training, plus become well-versed in the regulatory functions of the Department of Agriculture. Therefore, the department's FTO program has 150 separate tasks that officers must accomplish during training.

     The department chose Crown Pointe Technologies' Field Training System to automate and track a range of training documents.

     The system has custom rating tables that tell trainers the date when an objective was explained to the recruit, the date the recruit was able to verbalize it back, and the date the recruit met the objective.

     Gina Averett, training assistant in the Florida Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement, says the system is easy to operate and allows for extensive data mining. "Most of our officers are hundreds of miles away," he adds. "Yet, the training captain can look at their records anytime and call officers' supervisors to look at the records together, compare notes and discuss an officer's progress or lack of progress."

     Not only does this save the agency time and paperwork, but it's also protected. "The secure part of it comes from the software allowing us to set permission levels," says Averett. "The training report, once created, is very secure."

     Bob Galvin, a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, writes on topics related to law enforcement software and technology. He can be reached at rsgpr@msn.com.

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