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Insight from WFPD: What happens once a West Fargo Police Officer gets hired?

It's sad to say, but only 20 years ago or so a lot of new police officers were only given a couple of days of training. Usually an older, seasoned officer from the same shift did the training, and then you were handed the keys to a squad car and told to start patrolling the streets. In some small towns in North Dakota this is still occurring due to lack of time and personnel to do the training.

In West Fargo, each and every new patrol officer that gets hired, no matter if they have had no previous patrol experience or if they've had five years of experience, has to complete the FTO Program or Field Training Officer Program. A recruit will already have completed his or her police academy training before they are hired with the West Fargo Police Department.

Today, with all the sophisticated equipment that police officers are expected to use in their daily duties and with all the new streets being added to our city, it is no longer feasible to hand a new recruit a set of keys to a squad car and tell them to go start patrolling the streets. What once was a five to six-week program started and run solely by Lieutenant Duane Sall, has become a twelve-week program that has four phases. The department is also able to train the new recruits from a pool of eight FTO officers which is run by the FTO Supervisor.

The West Fargo Police Department's FTO program closely resembles the Kaminsky Program or what was once called the San Jose Model, consisting of four different phases to be completed by the new recruit before he or she is allowed to become a solo patrol officer. In this article I will briefly explain what each phase consists of and how the new recruit is evaluated by his or her FTO.

Phase one is four weeks, during which the recruit is given several days to sit alongside a dispatcher, to see what it is like to take emergency calls from the public and to see how those calls are distributed to our patrol staff. This is usually quite the eyeopener for a new recruit if he or she has never had any exposure to a dispatch center before. Next, the recruit attends a week of defensive tactics and weapons training before being assigned to his primary FTO officer. The first few days, he or she has to read word for word the police department's policies and procedures. This may seem very boring but is probably the most vital information the new recruit must absorb and remember to perform his/her duties correctly. Once the FTO believes the new recruit has adequately learned the policies and procedures, they move on to the next step, which is to learn all the streets of West Fargo. This becomes quite a challenge with all the growth and expansion and a lot of the new streets now having names rather than numbers.

Once the recruit has learned the streets and is able to get from point A to point B using the quickest route, that ends the first phase of training. In phase two, which is three weeks long, the recruit is assigned a new FTO officer and tasks become more difficult. The recruit observes his or her FTO officer to learn how an officer gathers information for a report, marking the beginning of report writing, which may be the most important facet an officer needs to do well if he or she is going to succeed as a police officer. Police officers get called to all different kinds of situations which require reports. These reports are used not only by officers when testifying in court, but also by the prosecuting attorneys to decide if there are adequate elements of the crime in order to charge the suspect. That is why so much time is spent in this phase, to arrive at a good report.

Phase three lasts three weeks, during which time the recruit learns the correct way to make traffic stops, where officer safety always comes first. During a traffic stop, the recruit has to be able to observe a violation occurring and then find a safe place to make the stop, all the while calling into dispatch the location of the stop and the license plate number of the vehicle. Then the recruit informs the driver the reason for the stop and asks for three items of information, driver's license, vehicle registration card and proof of insurance on the vehicle, verifying that everything is valid and current. At this point many things can happen; however, on a typical stop that doesn't lead to an arrest, the officer either gives the driver a verbal warning for the violation, a written warning or a citation.

Phase three ties everything together during the entire time in the FTO program in preparation for the final phase.

Phase four is the final phase of the program, lasting one week. The new recruit acts as a solo patrol officer, expected to make all the decisions they would normally make on their own. All the while, the recruit is evaluated by the FTO officer who is dressed in plain clothes so when they are out in public, people are more apt to deal with the officer in uniform. If the recruit is able to respond to the requirements of this week satisfactorily, he has completed the graded portion of the FTO program. The final week of the program is spent in investigations, consisting of an overview of the department and different aspects of that job and the tools necessary to perform their duties as a patrol officer.

This is a very stressful twelve weeks for the new recruit. They are given new information every day and have to be able to remember everything learned and put it to use in different situations they encounter on the job. They are also graded every day by their FTO officer with a tool called the Daily Observation report or D.O.R., containing thirty-two different areas that the recruit's performance is graded on.

Training has come a long way over the years, and hopefully for the better. With equipment and technology always changing and the city always growing, the challenges for new recruits will continue to increase. That is why it is so very important to have a top quality Field Training Program such as that in West Fargo.

For more information, contact the West Fargo Police Department at 701-433-5500.