How Academies and FTO Programs Can Work Together to Train Officers More Effectively

How Academies and FTO Programs Can Work Together to Train Officers More Effectively

In a time when many law enforcement agencies are prioritizing hiring to overcome critical staffing challenges, there is a corresponding focus on training effectiveness and efficiencies at both agencies and academies. 

This was the focus of a recent webinar presented by Vector Solutions in collaboration with the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) and the National Association of Field Training Officers (NAFTO). The discussion was moderated by ret. Sgt. Doug Kazensky, current Solutions Engineer at Vector Solutions and featured panelists Dianne Beer-Maxwell, Project Manager at IADLEST, Sgt. Dan Greene, of Chandler Police Department in Arizona and Executive Director at NAFTO, and Ofc. Graham Tinius, of Sandy Police Department in Utah and Training Coordinator at NAFTO. 


Boost Knowledge Retention With Integrated Curriculum  

At its most foundational level, learning is all about how well information is retained and a student’s ability to apply that knowledge effectively. Determining the best way to impart knowledge for maximum retention and comprehension is a question instructors have struggled with from time immemorial. 

To tackle this conundrum and its application to law enforcement training, IADLEST undertook a research project supported by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). The study, called Academy Innovations, was undertaken to develop evidence-based training methods for law enforcement and set out to determine whether the way concepts are taught and the frequency in which they are taught impacts long-term information retention. 

“As we all know, the traditional instructional delivery is in a classroom, there’s an instructor at the front, and there’s talking by the instructor. We take our test, we move on, and we never talk about that content again. It’s very siloed in structure,” she said. 

With an integrated curriculum, a concept is taught and revisited throughout the course of a police academy, FTO/PTO, or in-service training program, offering additional context and opportunities to reinforce topics identified as top competencies.  

According to Dianne, students who were taught using the integrated curriculum approach experienced less knowledge drop off over time and were identified as having retained more information at the end of the 90-day academy than their counterparts who were taught using the traditional approach.  

To put this into practice: 

  1. Identify top competencies. These are the skills and knowledge that you have found to be the most important pieces of your curriculum. 
  2. Infuse lessons on the top competencies throughout your program. In the IADLEST study, students were exposed to additional lessons on specified competencies every 30 days that built upon the concepts shared in the initial lesson.  

Sgt. Greene said he uses a similar instructional method in his position at Chandler PD as the Advanced Training Sergeant.  

“We take these core competencies and space their learning throughout the year,” he said. “Last year was incident command, so throughout the entire year we taught it as a theme. Every time we got together, we had some sort of retrieval practice so we could go back in time and retrieve previously learned information about those competencies.” 


Aligning FTO To Academy  

After graduating, new officers arrive at their agencies with their brains already full to the brim with what they learned at the academy. Often, agencies look to the academy to provide foundational knowledge and then teach the specifics of their department through FTO. But, if you don’t know what your recruits are learning in the academy, how can you effectively reinforce it and build upon it?  

According to Sgt. Greene, the more familiar an FTO is with what is being taught at the academy, the more effective they can be when new officers come back from the academy and start field training with their agencies. 

There’s a variety of ways this practical knowledge can be obtained, from FTOs participating at the academy as role players or instructors, getting their hands on academy syllabuses, or just building a relationship with academy instructors. The important part, he said, is knowing exactly what is being taught, how it’s being taught, and when.  

To further align FTO programs and academies, Dianne posed the idea of developing FTO advisory groups at academies to allow FTOs to share their knowledge and perspective based on what they’re seeing in the field.  

Though this may not be possible for all agencies, especially those who send recruits to state-run academies, Sgt. Greene said there are always work-arounds. 

“Chandler Police Department sends our recruits to a blended academy owned by another agency,” he said. “In our training unit, we have a sergeant and a recruit training officer responsible for being that direct connection to the academy so we’re synchronized.”  


Leverage E-Learning  

Online learning, or e-learning, has become a major component of adult learning in the last several years. As stated by moderator ret. Sgt. Kazensky, it’s here to stay and now we need to ask ourselves, “how can we leverage it to be a successful part of our training program?” 

As part of the Academy Innovations study, IADLEST also examined the efficacy of online training for law enforcement students. According to Dianne, a portion of the students who received the integrated curriculum also received online learning.  

“One of the things that become evident in the study, is that we could teach the same amount of content in a fraction of the time when it was self-paced,” she said. “If the in-person class was receiving eight hours of instruction, the self-paced online group could complete the content in two hours…and the test scores were not statistically different [between the two groups.]” 

Certain topics will be more applicable to online learning than others, but by utilizing technology in the areas it is the most effective, instructors can save time and even reapply that saved time to more practical exercises, Dianne said. 

Ofc. Tinius added that online learning can also be utilized to follow up on in-person instruction. 

“If you have an agency-wide training, why not follow up six weeks or three months later with a 15-minute web-based lecture or scenario with a short test…to have your entire agency think about that information and apply it,” he said. 


Evaluate Your Training Materials And Your Instructors 

Too often recruits and new officers are being taught with materials that haven’t changed in a decade or even more. As said by Ofc. Tinius, all law enforcement training should be expected to be valuable, contemporary, and research driven. 

“We see time and time again these legacy PowerPoints. They were created in 1996 by a guy who retired shortly after and have been passed down continuously,” he said. 

Instead of just using what already exists and occasionally updating it, Ofc. Tinius recommends utilizing evidence-based peer-reviewed sources and continuously updating, evaluating, and recreating training content to be up to date with new and evolving best practices in law enforcement. 

He also recommends including evaluations for every class. 

“There are agencies that have their own instructors teaching their own people and they don’t do evaluations,” he said. “The only time you see an evaluation is when an outside company comes in…it may not be the fault of your training staff, but they may not be addressing topics your staff want to learn about, or maybe they’re not teaching it in a way that makes sense.” 

When evaluations are done, it’s equally important to sit down and read them and make determinations about areas of improvement based on that feedback, he said. 


To support law enforcement training at your agency, Vector Solutions offers more than 250 hours of online, video-based content, including courses certified by the IADLEST National Certification ProgramTM on topics such as use of force, constitutional law, and core competencies of leadership.  

Learn more about our course offerings and Vector Solutions’ industry-leading training management system and FTO/PTO solution

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