The First Line Supervisor is a Trainer

First line supervisors are in the best position to observe possible training deficiencies, since they are in the field with the officers. These supervisors cannot ignore their responsibilities to monitor their officers’ knowledge bases and training needs. 

Training doesn’t always need to be thought of in formal terms. This training can be as simple as reminding an officer how to position the patrol car during a traffic stop, or to make sure that an officer maintains a proper reactionary gap when dealing with a subject. The supervisor’s training can also be more formal, such as when conducting roll call training.

Sergeant Brian Willis of the Calgary Police Service said, “We must train or supervisors to look after their people. We need to give them the skills, knowledge and tactics to prepare them to manage any incident in which they get involved. This involves people skills, control tactics skills, firearms skills, driving skills and officer safety skills. First line supervisors need to be able to know their people and get them the training they need. First line supervisors must know how to coach and mentor their people to assist them in being successful on the street and in their careers.”

Supervising an officer also involves assessing an officer’s strengths and weaknesses. The weaknesses should be viewed as areas to improve through training. A good first line supervisor is an FTO for experienced officers.

Sergeant Don Brink of the Swatara Township, PA, Police added, “It is increasingly difficult with manpower shortages for administrators to send officers away for training programs. During roll call we can get the most useful information to our officers in a timely fashion and in the shortest amount of time.”

First line supervisors are in the best position to train officers on department policies and procedures, whether these are new or existing policies and procedures. Timely information on terrorism or other safety related information is best covered at roll call, typically by a first line supervisor.  The first line supervisor can also use the special knowledge or skills of the officers to be even more effective.

A first line supervisor must know which officers have certain knowledge or skills in order to capitalize on these attributes. Good first line supervisors should look at personnel and training files of all the officers they supervise. Looking at these files will better equip them to be more effective supervisors, since they will be able to oversee training that is delivered by people with special knowledge or skills at roll call. 

Roll call training is ongoing supplemental training for an officer, not the complete answer to all training needs. There is still a need for legal update training, advanced firearms training, defensive tactics on gym mats, and other topics that can’t be as effectively delivered at roll call.

Part of the curriculum of a new first line supervisory training program should be how to evaluate officers’ performances and how to take corrective (training) action. If officer performance is something than can be impacted by the supervisor in the field, then that supervisor should do so as quickly as is reasonably possible. The fresher the circumstance is in the mind of the officer, the better it is to impart correct information to that officer or to show that officer new skills.                                   

Sergeant Willis added, “We must move away from the idea that training has to be something huge involving a big time commitment and a lot of logistical resources. We also must move away from the mindset that training is the responsibility of “The Agency” or “The Training Section” and come to this realization: there has never been, and never will be, an agency killed or injured in the line of duty. Officers get killed and injured. They are the ones at the pointy end of the stick responding to dangerous calls so cops need to make a personal commitment to training.”

Perhaps the best way to look at the responsibility of the first line supervisor to also be a trainer is by Sergeant Jeff Patellis of the Cobb County, GA, Department of Public Safety who stated, “Supervisors who fail to evaluate their officers’ performances while handling calls for service, and subsequently ensuring that current and progressive training is provided, are failing their agencies and ultimately their officers.”

Ed Nowicki is the executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA). He is organizing the ILEETA International Training Conference, sponsored, which will be held on April 13-17, 2004 in Rolling Meadows, IL. He can be reached via e-mail at

Published in Law and Order, Jan 2004

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