By Thomas Dworak

How do field training officers (FTOs) teach common sense? A question that often leads to a spirited discussion in my FTO courses. Within the discussion of common sense question is an all too familiar response from the class: new probationary police officers (PPO) can’t think critically. I turn it around and ask the budding FTOs, “What is your strategy for developing critical thinking and common sense in the PPO?”

While many prospective FTOs may want to “wash their hands” of a trainee without critical thinking skills, developing the trainee’s ability to think is one of the most important tasks an FTO is responsible for. The Adaptive FTOs not only understand that priority, but they also have a critical thinking and feedback process in place to grow the PPO’s critical thinking and decision-making. It is during that feedback session that the FTO/PPO can “wash” the decision-making process.

During the mid-1800s in Eastern Europe, the modern Maternity Ward was created. With the limited number of available gynecologist specialists, general practioners delivered many of the babies. But there was a high rate of mortality — much higher in fact than the age-old practice of the midwife and home delivery.

Hungarian doctor Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis conducted a study on why mortality rates were so high in maternity wards. He discovered many of the doctors were general practioners performing a variety of medical care roles: diagnosing sick people, conducting post-mortem examinations, and when necessary…rush to the maternity ward to deliver babies. What Dr. Semmelweis discovered was a lack of hygiene. To reduce the mortality rate in the delivery room, attending physicians would simply have to wash their hands more often.

So what does something as simple as washing your hands have to do with a police trainee’s decision making? Simply put, it’s “the wash.”

In the busy law enforcement environment, police officers run from call-to-call without as much as a review of the previous incident. This lack of post-incident review is detrimental the FTO/PPO training and learning process.

Many times an FTO gives feedback in the form of telling the trainee what was performed right or wrong at the end of the workday. This lack of or delay in feedback often frustrates our immediate feedback-hungry newly hired Millennial officers.


Millennials are feedback dependent, and the feedback has to be positive. They will shut down on any FTO who uses negative feedback. Understanding this, FTOs’ training philosophy and an appropriate method to deliver or draw out critique is important in achieving future success in the trainee. The Adaptive FTO feedback model uses questions to draw out from PPO answers about his/her performance. The feedback model is very effective in developing the trainee’s self-assessment of their own awareness, observations, considerations, decisions, and ultimately…performance.

One tenet of the The Adaptive FTO program is a training philosophy of Failing ForwardFailing Forward begins with the FTO recognizing (and not only accepting, but encouraging!) the PPO is going to make mistakes. The Failing Forward philosophy uses those mistakes and errors identified during the feedback session as a way to develop new learning. The FTO is giving the opportunity for the PPO to “Hot Wash” his/her hands.

These “hot wash” sessions conducted in close time proximity after the event encourage the PPO to develop the willingness and vulnerability to self-assess performance. By examining what was performed ideally or sub-optimally, the PPO develops a personal game plan for improvement.

To develop adaptive decision-makers, the “hot wash” is an important tool in the growth of the PPO. An affective and effective police training feedback session has the effect of a doctor washing hands before treating the next patient; it allows the FTO/PPO to re-enforce positive strategies while re-programing ineffective ones.

Using The Adaptive Feedback Model/Critical Thinking Evaluation “washes” the PPO so they don’t leave an incident with dirty hands (mental scars). Take a moment after every incident, citizen contact, or paper call to “hot wash” the trainee.

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The Adaptive FTO program will be in Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, Missouri and Minnesota. For more information about or to host The Adaptive FTO program contact Thom at [email protected]