Becoming an officer | NevadaAppeal.com

Becoming an officer

Carson City Deputies Jonathan Stone and Matt Smith pose in front of their patrol car. Stone is training to be a patrol deputy with the Sheriff's Department and Smith is his Field Training Officer for the first phase of training.
Taylor Pettaway |

From the time a deputy is first hired on with Carson City Sheriff’s Office or Nevada Highway Patrol, it could be almost a year and a half before they get to be on the streets as a patrol officer.

New patrol officers for both agencies are required to go through a Field Training Officer program, which is designed to teach officers the experience and training that they will need to patrol the streets.

There are a number of models that law enforcement agencies use across the country for training procedures, though the basic model is similar. Most training models consist of four phases, where the trainee will ride with a FTO deputy to learn all aspects of the job from NRS codes to appearance with the public. The key is to build trainees into a patrol position.

For the NHP, trainees use a model known as the DPS model, that is taught more as an adult teaching model. This is mean to help trainees figure out the mistakes that they make instead of having someone constantly critique them.

“This has trainees work through with a self-evaluation so they can talk about and figure out what mistakes they made or what they could do better in the next situation,” said NHP Lt. Tom Lawson. “But it also has the trainers interject if a trainee doesn’t catch all f the mistakes so you correct the behavior. You see what mistakes you made instead of someone tell you what they are, it is more self-actualization.”

NHP’s program is about 15 weeks of training, and each trainee will most likely have a different FTO trooper at each phase of the training. The point is to shift the responsibility from the trainer to the trainee; where at the beginning the trainee will most likely be watching the older deputy perform duties more, to the trainee handling most calls. The final phase is where the trainee takes over the whole responsibility to make sure the deputy is able to handle the responsibility of a solo trooper.

“This is important because it gives trainees the opportunity to operate in the field and put their academy training into practice while being mentored by someone who knows this,” Lawson said. “It is sometimes difficult to show what you know with just knowledge from the academy with question and answers, but to put that knowledge into practice can be difficult and you will have someone with you helping and that can make it a lot easier, plus you get immediate feedback.”

Though the Sheriff’s Office uses a different model than NHP, the basic structure is the same. The FTO deputies use the San Jose model, which is more of a building block structure where the trainee rides with a FTO deputy every day and are critiqued and evaluated for a number of criteria.

“Everything is scrutinized by their FTO and we expose the trainee to as much activity as possible so the trainer can be there to help,” said Craig Lowe, Carson City Sheriff’s Office Sgt. in charge of the FTO program.

The Sheriff’s Office follows a similar structure to NHP where there are four stages of training. The trainee will work on all three shifts: graveyard, day and swing with a different officer before moving onto the solo phase. At this last phase, it is expected that the trainee should be able to handle all responsibilities of a patrol deputy.

“We are basically making sure that you have grown from someone who is learning the basics of law enforcement to the more advanced part to someone who is grown into being a full deputy and you are able to handle the responsibilities of a full deputy and at that point we are just makings sure, as an observer, you can handle that,” said Matt Smith, Carson City FTO deputy.

“The program is designed to continue to develop and it’s not to weed someone out,” Smith said. “It’s to train and develop someone so we can make sure and get them all the knowledge and skills that they need to be a successful officer and at the same time you are being an officer, but also treat the public and treat them with respect.”

The trainee will switch FTOs for each shift of their training, so that they can get experience with different officers and different styles of training, which is supposed to help shape the trainee.

The Sheriff’s Office training can take anywhere from 12 to 15 weeks for training, however, to be able to work as a patrol deputy.

“It is in the best interest of the community and officer that he (or she) gets the full program no matter what,” said Sheriff Ken Furlong.

“We want to give that extensive training and give them the skills to have that vast knowledge of the law and apply that,” Furlong said.

All deputies that start with the Carson City Sheriff’s Office are put on detention duty when they are first hired. From there, they can take the necessary training and applications to try to be a patrol deputy.

Jonathan Stone is one to the two Carson City deputies going through the patrol FTO program currently, and is training under Smith to become a patrol deputy. Previously, Stone had been working in the jail, but he said that he wants to do more in the Sheriff’s Office.

“I want to expand my career here and transfer to other divisions and the only way to do that is through patrol,” Stone said. “It is the spear to other divisions so it opens up detectives, K9, SWAT, narcotics, FTO, traffic. It is the best position to be in to further your career.”

While completing the training, the deputies are critiqued on nearly 30 different criteria per day, including: punctuality, criminal statues and procedures, driving skills, field performance, investigative skills and officer safety.

“It’s stressful at times, but at the same time it is beneficial and you can see how it will be beneficial for you in the long run,” said Stone. “Critiquing me and making those changes to have that knowledge to better handle those calls in the future. This is the time to make those mistakes, than making them later on as I progress in my career.”

At the end of each day, the FTO and trainee will sit down and discuss what happened at each call that day and what went well or not so well, Lowe said.

“You are in training and we expect you to mess up,” Lowe said. “But we want to make sure you are making a decision and as long as it isn’t unethical, immoral or dangerous, it is okay. We will teach you about what to do better next time.”

Lowe said the training is designed to be intensive and broad so that the trainee can cover a lot of situations in training. For deputies like Stone, getting the wide exposure during training is one of the best parts of the program.

“The exposure is great and watching how my FTO handles calls and how other deputies handle call and I can take certain strengths from each deputy and compile my own and hopefully that will help me be a better deputy in the long run,” Stone said.

Each trainee is paired with a FTO based on the availability of the FTO, as well as who would pair well personality-wise.

“We want them to be successful,” Lowe said. “It starts with the black and white of who is available and then we have a say in who would work well with this person, so that they can get the best fit.”

To become a FTO, deputies need to apply and the sergeants will look for the deputies who are exceptional in the department, and will usually have high evaluations, have a minimum of three years on patrol and are productive and are a part of extra duties such as K9, motors or instructors. From there, the FTOs had to go through a minimum of 40 hours of FTO school before they get a trainee.

“I think that is my favorite part of the job is to see someone go from raw, not having much knowledge and having that deer in the headlight look, to a person that you can see him in a car by himself and you know he will be able to handle anything he has to go to,” Smith said. “I love to see that aspect because you are kind of like a sculptor where you are sculpting a finished product. You do get that proud feeling as an FTO because you are always going to have that bond with them you spend a few weeks and quite a bit of time with that person.”

The Sheriff’s Office program has a total of seven active FTO trainers and two trainees in the rotation at the moment. If a trainee doesn’t pass the FTO program, they will be reassigned to the detention center. Currently, NHP does not have any FTOs.