Probationary Release: It’s Not Easy!

Over the course of the last seven years managing our Field Training Unit, I’ve been forced to make a multitude of difficult decisions.  Luckily, it’s what I have trained myself to do. I cross my fingers most every day and hope that training and experience has helped me make the right decision. I recently made yet another difficult decision. That decision was to recommend a Probationary Release for one of our new Officers in Training. This was the fifth time in my tenure as the unit leader that I had to make such a recommendation, and I took note that the training and experience I’ve had on this topic did not make it any easier to handle such a bleak decision.

I realize that my job as the FTO Sergeant is to make these troubling decisions easy for my command to support.  You see, the trouble and turmoil should be on the FTO and the FTO Sergeant.  When the dust settles and it is time for the department’s leadership to make the final verdict, the hard work is done. Your training officers and you have had numerous meetings, impromptu discussions in the field and you have read countless pages of evaluations to help make up your mind.

Personally, this process and decision you need to make weighs heavy on your heart. As it should! Professionally, you eventually see the light and find peace in the fact that your decision was the right decision for the organization. Considering my own experiences and the stories I have heard from fellow FTO supervisors over the years, I feel that there are three things you can do to make sure that you have in deed come to the right decision. Three things to consider to be confident that you have done the right thing both personally and professionally.

Start with a “Success First” state of mind. Each and every training officer in your unit should always consider the new officer’s success their primary goal. “Success First” should be the culture of your program. The field training chain of command, unit supervisor and the FTO work each day to ensure success for our young, aspiring police officers. If “Success First” is truly the culture of your program, the times when you decide that success is not obtainable, become pills that are easier to swallow.  Stephen Covey teaches in his “7 Habits for Law Enforcement” class that Win-Win is always the motive.  However, he warns that it is not always the outcome. Graduating your Officers in Training is the desired Win-Win.  But, that cannot always be the outcome.

Documentation! We can’t have a discussion about such a serious topic without talking about proper documentation. Remember what’s on the line here. This young man or woman will suddenly be without a pay check and benefits, your agency may be exposed to a grievance or lawsuit, or your chain of command may turn down your recommendation based on a lack of documentation. When does proper, detailed documentation begin? Week one!

During times like these, it’s good practice for an FTO supervisor to read the last four weeks of an officer’s evaluations and compare them to the first four weeks of evaluations. If your documentation in the early weeks is detailed enough, you should see common themes as you compare Week 1 to Week 10. You should see similar noted deficiencies in Week 3 when compared to Week 15. The similarities in that officer’s struggles noted in both Week 4 and Week 14 will prove to you a failure to respond to training. Command staff nation-wide take this topic seriously, (as they should). Your documentation should help make their decision easier.

Finally, communication is key. I’m not just talking about keeping your chain posted on the troubled officer(s) in training (OIT).  I’m talking about continuous communication with Lieutenants and above in regard to the progress of all your Officers in Training. It goes without saying; a struggling OIT should not catch your command by surprise. That is clear. The unit supervisor should be providing regular updates on the OIT that appears to be “on the bubble”. But don’t forget to share the rest of the story concerning the success and progress of your other OITs and the unit as a whole.  This helps reassure your command staff that their Field Training Unit is a positive place to train. Chiefs and Commanders love to hear about successful training, hard-working FTOs and the creativity of your unit when the “bubble” employees are saved by resourceful training. When the time comes to present them with that recommendation to release an officer, those aforementioned success stories will reassure command that their FTO unit has done all they can do for this employee. Knowing this fact, their decision to support your recommendation is just a little bit easier to make.

Sgt. Dan Greene
Chandler Police Department, AZ
FTO & NAFTO Trainer

Daniel Greene is a Sergeant with the Chandler Police Department in Chandler, AZ.  Dan is presently the Field Training Sergeant. Chandler Police Department employs over 320 police officers.  Read more about Dan.