The field training problem with police recruitment

So I promised yesterday to talk about the Field Training Officer (FTO) problem. Here’s the story. Once Police Officer Trainees complete Oakland’s police academy, they cannot immediately begin working patrol positions. Instead, they have to complete a four month long field training program, where they work with an FTO. The Council asked the police department last fall about the possibility of running concurrent academies in order to more quickly fill vacant positions in the police force, and in response, the department explained that doing so would not place more officers on the street, due to the limits of the field training program. This is what the report (PDF!) said:

In a best case scenario, OPD can maintain 50 Field Training Officers (FTO) who can accommodate 30 to 35 trainees at a time for the 15 week field training program. OPD can run three 15 week field training cycles for a total potential output of 90 to 105 officers at the maximum. If OPD were to graduate either a larger academy class or two classes simultaneously, there would be police officers who could not begin field training due to the lack of FTOs. These officers would have to be assigned desk duties under the direct supervision of a veteran police officer until such time as an FTO is available for assignment.

The report went on the explain that the department anticipates a reduced number of available FTOs once the 12 hour shifts were implemented:

The FTO Coordinator has spoken with numerous FTOs concerning the training program and the impact the proposed change to 12 hour shifts might have. The coordinator stated a significant number of FTOs have indicated they would no longer be willing to serve as FTOs and/or could not guarantee the same high quality training. Many FTOs already spend one to two hours after their regularly assigned shift to assist trainee officers complete reports and other paperwork. They would be unwilling to work any additional hours after a 12 hour shift. With the profile of OPD’s officers become younger and younger, it is harder to find enough FTOs to meet the qualification matrix requirements established in the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). As Council is aware, OPD cannot compromise or change the NSA mandated minimum qualifications for appointment as an FTO. To do so may compromise the quality of training the officer-in-training would receive.

So you can imagine how odd I found it concurrent academies were a key component of the accelerated hiring strategy the Mayor and the police department released their only three months later, even though their report (PDF!) actually acknowledged that the FTO situation had grown even more dire:

Once POTs gradudate from the Basic Academy, these new officers then participate in a 16-week field training program, working on the street of Oakland side-by-side with Field Training Officers (FTOs). In recent years, OPD has been challenged by an insufficient number of FTOs. Without enough FTOs in place to train all the new academy graduates, OPD cannot get new officers trained and on the streets in an expeditious manner. Currently, OPD has about 30 FTOs in place.

The plan requested funding for dual academies twice this year, one beginning in May and the other in August. I raised the question of an FTO shortage on this blog before the strategy was released and after.

When the plan came before the City Council on March 4 of this year, Desley Brooks grilled Chief Tucker about the FTO problem, and Tucker acknowledged that they did not have enough FTOs to train the police they expect to hire – in fact, they would need 90 FTOs to implement their plan, and currently had only 36. He told the Council that the department’s plan was to remove officers from traffic, crime reduction teams, and investigation. He explained that this would mean the crime reduction teams would be disbanded for a period, and that the officers removed from crime reduction teams, traffic, and investigation would be absent from those positions for a period of eight months. Tucker was very clear that this was going to be the result of the proposed recruiting plan. You can watch the entire conversation below:

The “accelerated hiring strategy” proposed by Mayor Ron Dellums and Chief Tucker and the $7.7 million it cost was poorly thought out and irresponsible, and the FTO issue is a key example of that. But when people get upset next year about not having any crime reduction teams (assuming the department is able to fill those academies, something I’m skeptical of), it’s important to remember to spread the blame around fairly. Every single member of the City Council witnessed this discussion and was fully aware of the FTO problem and then voted to fund the department’s proposal anyway. They are equally culpable for any problems it creates.

7 thoughts on “The field training problem with police recruitment

  1. ac

    A police officer I know is completely structuring his entire career around not being an FTO, since he’s done it before and finds completely unsafe and insulting the department’s attitude that NO one should be fired, regardless of safety concerns or capabilities.

  2. Ken O.

    Just like we cannot have bad teachers tenured, we cannot have bad cops never fired. What happened to ACCOUNTABILITY?

    Just because we have a totally understaffed police department without enough manpower, does not mean we should drop standards way down.

    Of course, as a devils advocate, I would be like Donald Rumsfeld and say we can only play with the team we have, not the unknown team we don’t have.

    Good on you for fairly spreading the blame around. I think Oakland residents need to read more newspapers and blogs and get a clue.

  3. ConcernedOakFF

    Wee can and do lower standards for, then hire, then are forced to bend rules to help, and then don’t fire Police Officers, Firefighters and Paramedics that are well below industry standards, as well as below standards for all surrounding agencies.

    How safe does that make you feel?

    I could tell some stories……but you probably wouldn’t even believe them.

  4. James H. Robinson

    On one hand, we have people who claim to be desperate for work. On the other hand, we have a shortage of police, nurses, firefighters, etc. Too bad we can’t seem to find a solution where both sides gain.

  5. HM

    I agree with your comments that the City Council is to blame. However I think it is only in part, as the plan did not originate with them and the Mayor’s office put overwhelming pressure through constituent’s groups on all members of the C.C.

    In speaking with members of OPD they have been concerned for some time about the higher
    proportion of “green” officers that a rush to hire brings. And I’ve heard mentioned that the
    Chief at one point in the public discussion (though I don’t know where) said “This is not MY
    plan”. In other words this is the plan of our Mayor, and any errors in it’s creation are a result
    of his detachment from daily policy decisions. (Though that doesn’t explain the presence of his advisors).

    Of course it is also possible they knew about this all along and simply made a political decision that doing the hiring in the time frame of one year was the magic number, all policy implications aside.

    This leaves the Mayor, City Council and OPD with three decisions:
    –Either change the stated hiring policy and prolong the period to beyond one year, -or-
    –Leave policy as is and the delay will happen on it’s own, -or-
    –Bight the bullet and temporarily cut these other divisions, to resume once hiring goals are accomplished.

    PS. OPD has also told the Public Safety Commission they are looking at temporarily cutting the gang units…

  6. jif

    Here is something that has not yet been discussed – some of those officers being taken away from their specialized assignments have not worked in patrol for years! A lot has changed since those officers last worked patrol and, realistically, they should go through a mini FTO period to be brought up to speed. It is unlikely that will happen. What is more likely to happen is that they will teach these nascent officers how things got done 10, 15, 20 years ago. The honest thing to do would be to tell Dellums, the CC and the citizens that OPD can not safely and effectively put 803 officers on the street by years end.

    As for lowered standards, you bet! I am personally aware of a few officers who were ushered through FTO and passed despite their obvious inability to safely do the job. I hope the city has bags full of money ready to hand over to the widows and children of any officer killed as a result of one of these train wrecks being passed through the FTO program.

  7. ConcernedOakFF

    Here is another little known fact:

    Some FTO’s are being assigned within WEEKS of finishing Probation (the time period that an Officer is considered “in Training”)

    Others are being pressured in two directions. One from the Department to become FTO’s, another from inside the Department trying to stop brand new officers from training Brand New Officers….