An essential training program for new Chicago police officers is getting mostly positive reviews after decades of neglect and mismanagement.
The field training program, which pairs veteran officers with recruits fresh out of the academy, is considered one of the most important influences on how new cops learn to patrol, and therefore one of the most important influences on the future of the department. As CPD works to revitalize the program an internal survey of trainees obtained by WBEZ shows some early progress.
In its 2017 report on the Chicago Police Department, the U.S. Department of Justice found that the “poorly structured” field training program “actively undermines … constitutional policing.”
Christina Anderson, director of CPD’s office of reform management, said since that report came out, the Department has been working to improve its field training program. She described the field training as “critically important.”
“The [probationary officers] that we’re training … they're going to be in the department for 20, 30, maybe more years,” Anderson said. “And the foundation that they get in those first, you know, 18 months is going to make a huge difference in how they see their job going forward.”
As part of the field training overhaul, the department conducts internal, anonymous surveys.
The most recent survey was conducted in the summer of 2019. In it, probationary officers who recently completed their field training circuits gave high marks to the program.
Officer Diana Lozano graduated from the police academy at the end of October. She said she was shocked at how much there was left to learn.
“I feel like every day I learn something new [from my field training officer],” Lozano said. “It's awesome.”
About 90 percent of the survey respondents said they were confident in the training they got from their field training officers. More than 90 percent of them agreed the field training program “effectively bridged knowledge learned in the training academy with practical application in the field.”
The feedback on individual field training officers was largely positive, but some respondents reported a “very negative” experience with their training officer. The probationary officers also expressed confusion about the process for reporting a problem trainer, an issue highlighted by the DOJ report and apparently not sufficiently addressed in the intervening years.
Sgt. Marty Chatys, who oversees the field training officers, waved away those concerns, saying many of those complaints have been based on personal differences.
“I am not concerned with personality clashes. I'm concerned with performance problems,” Chatys said. “If you can't get along...that's too bad. You're an adult. You've got to suck it up and deal with it.”