Training Program Holds Officers Accountable

Article excerpt

Juvenile detention centers, like all types of correctional facilities, often do not have resources to train newly hired officers to an adequate level before putting them on the frontline to supervise residents. This unfortunate reality places a large burden on other staff and supervisors, and exposes the operating agency to substantial liability. Also, it is unfair to the new officer to be expected to perform a task with a certain degree of skill or accuracy when he or she has not been given the proper training. Low performance evaluations, disgruntled employees and higher turnover can be attributed to lack of, or improper, training. The Southwest Idaho Juvenile Detention Center (SWIJDC) has developed a remedy with its Field Training Officer (FTO) program.

Historically, juvenile facilities have smaller training budgets than their adult counterparts, and pre-service academies such as those for sheriffs' deputies are rare in the juvenile arena. Many officers in the field of juvenile detention or corrections can attest to the fact that their initial training involved a facility tour, issuance of keys, and an assignment to "watch the kids." Hopefully, facilities have evolved beyond practices such as these, especially considering liability due to a lack of training is an issue that worries all managers. The SWIJDC also realizes that simply having a supervisor show a trainee what to do one time and expecting him or her to perform like a veteran is an unrealistic practice.

SWIJDC Director Steve Jett reports that in an effort to better achieve the center's goals, Training Coordinator Sean Brown refined the training program to enable new trainees to learn the operations by a "crawl, walk and run" method. There are many programs that go straight to "run," and admittedly the center used to have such a training program, but experience shows that this concept does not work well. Brown also recognized that the center, which expanded from 20 employees to more than 40 after a major renovation in 2000, needed a program that not only reduced liability, but made sure that team supervisors can call upon even the newest graduate of the FTO program to tackle almost any part of the center's operation.

After successfully completing the hiring process, which includes video-based ergometrics testing, physical ability testing and three interviews, SWIJDC new hires make a commitment to the 13-week detailed training program at the center as well as the three-week residential academy at the Idaho Peace Officers Standards and Training facility (POST). Trainees are coupled with an FTO, who guides them and scrutinizes their every move, word and decision. (Supervisors are not used as FTOs, which allows them to concentrate on their regular responsibilities.) Through this program, trainees prove their ability to work on their own in a safe, competent and productive manner. Debriefings occur daily at the end of the shift between the FTO and the trainee, and the events of the day are analyzed and discussed. Areas in which remediation is needed are targeted for more training, and trainees are commended for their accomplishments throughout the day. …