"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.