Some of the reader comments, both here and on our Facebook page, regarding the recent officer involved shooting in Arlington, TX have tried to place an undue amount of blame on the Field Training Officer (FTO), Cpl. Wiggins, who was training Officer Miller. I don’t know how long the training program is for Arlington PD, or when Officer Miller started it, but all accounts say that Officer Miller had been hired in September 2014 and was nearing the end of his field training.
I was an FTO for a number of years, and I still fill in that role from time to time when FTO’s take time off and their trainees need someone to ride with, so I do have a little personal knowledge on the subject matter.
Here are a few things to consider when we are talking about this subject. By the time a trainee reaches field training, they have met certain requirements.
- They are over the age of 18 (21 in some states) and are legally an adult
- They have completed a full police academy and are, legally speaking, a full peace officer
- They have passed the background check and are presumably not a convicted criminal
- They have passed a psychological exam and are presumably not a psychotic nut job
- They found the station, their locker, the briefing room and their FTO, so they can apparently follow simple instructions
Considering all of the above, it is reasonable to assume that a person in training, even a fresh trainee right out of the academy, can follow simple directions. As trainees continue through the program, and especially as they near the end of their training, it becomes reasonable to assume that they can handle more complex tasks without immediate supervision. To remotely suggest that an FTO has to keep their trainee under constant supervision, and is responsible for their every action, is insane.
Here are some examples of common tasks given to trainees on a daily basis, which are often times completed without any supervision whatsoever.
- “Go over there and take that person’s statement.”
- “Go stuff this bad guy in the back seat.”
- “Book this evidence.”
- “Snatch that guy up and cuff him.”
- “Fill out the booking paperwork for the arrest.”
- “Go over to that side of the building and establish a perimeter spot.”
Some of the comments, some even made my people purporting to be field training officers (FTO) themselves, saying that the FTO was at fault because he allowed his trainee to leave his side, or that he screwed up because he was not constantly monitoring his trainee, made me remember a term about parents that don’t give their kids any room to make mistakes, to learn on their own: Helicopter Parents
Their comments make me want to coin a new term: the Helicopter FTO
I thank God that I did not have any Helicopter FTOs as I went through the training program, although to be honest, I can think of a few I have known over the years. Not surprisingly, they were the FTO the trainees did not want to get. Trainees cannot learn when they are under constant, microscopic supervision. No one can. That is not how adults learn, and a patrol trainee is an adult.
So, unless the FTO gave the trainee bad instructions, such as “go over to that open door, enter by yourself and go snatch dude up,” or unless he sat there watching his trainee going into the building solo, and decided to watch and see how it would play out (which we know by the account of the incident, that is not remotely what happened since he ran to catch up and was there with his Taser out when the shooting occurred), then the FTO is not responsible for the actions of the trainee.
Please don’t take this as me bashing Officer Miller. That is not my intent, not remotely. Trainees make mistakes, hell, FTO’s make mistakes. We all do. That is part of being human. But, to try and assign blame to the FTO for a series of mistakes his trainee made in a matter of a minutes, if not seconds, is the same thing as say, blaming a cop for shooting a bad guy who is beating him to near unconsciousness and trying to take his gun. It is blame shifting, and it has absolutely no place in society, let alone in law enforcement.
On a related side note, during my time as an FTO, I had a number of trainees who seemed to have the ability to magically disappear at a moments notice. I know many other FTOs have encountered the same thing, because a number of us have jokingly discussed putting a cow bell on our trainees so that we could keep track of them. So, in addition the the Helicopter FTO, we can have the Cowbell Trainee.