The First Steps as a PSO Deputy

Pasco Sheriff’s Office deputies respond to thousands of calls for service each year, ranging from the very worst situations to simply lending a hand in our community. Before they can take the first calls however, deputies go through months of training. It’s about a year from the time a deputy begins the academy to the time they respond to their first calls on their own as a fully certified PSO deputy. While not all deputies attend the law enforcement academy here in Pasco County, all PSO deputies have one thing in common: they each start their career with eight weeks of PSO’s New Member Training (NMT). This program serves as an introduction to the agency, while also providing our newest members with the tools and skills they need to protect those they serve and respond to calls for service.

Law enforcement officers in Florida begin their career at law enforcement academies, where they learn the required curriculum of state statutes, processes and general knowledge of law enforcement operations. Once they successfully complete the academy and pass their state certification, deputies hired on at the Pasco Sheriff’s Office then began the next phase of their career, known at PSO as New Member Training or NMT. This eight-week period reinforces skills and knowledge forged in the academy, but also integrates PSO’s specific policies and equipment. Additionally, deputy trainees are introduced to scenarios they’ll face as a PSO deputy in a training environment. This training period serves as a bridge between the academy and deputies beginning to take calls for service alongside their field training officers.

The opportunity to serve and protect Pasco County citizens comes with a tremendous responsibility. While NMT introduces deputy trainees to the equipment they’ll carry on the job, it also puts a specific focus on upholding citizens’ rights and civil liberties they’ve been sworn to protect. Deputy trainees are provided with instruction on using the tools they’re provided to do their job, from their firearms to their communication skills. While deputy trainees are required to pass state certifications on their weapons, such as firearms and Tasers, while in NMT, this training also focuses on the ethics side of the job. This includes training on active bystandership and crisis intervention, as well as when to appropriately and correctly use force.

PSO values the opportunity training provides members to confidently react and manage, no matter the situation. Covering everything from PSO’s standards of conduct, computer and radio use, report writing, de-escalation techniques and much more, NMT provides trainees a controlled setting in which to hone their skills by working on their response and improving techniques. “We could just give trainees time to read over policies and hope members will be oriented to the job, but instead, we are bringing new members in and making sure they get descriptive training in every little, tiny aspect, so they can get out there and better apply it,” shares Cpl. Paul Bailey with PSO’s training unit. “If there is a deficiency in training, we will have them come back for remediation until it is fixed.”

The invisible tool that can have the most impact is communication. How information is conveyed can shift the outcome of every situation. Throughout NMT, deputy trainees work on their delivery as well as listening techniques, which will serve them well in all aspects of their job. This starts with radio etiquette when conveying important information to dispatch or fellow deputies, and continues with writing reports to record what transpired at a call for service. Most importantly however, is speaking with many parties during difficult interactions. Strong communication, with an emphasis of understanding and respect, can help de-escalate a high stress situation. “Anyone can learn how to use the tools needed, but communication is the hardest thing to learn,” says Cpl. Monica Shaffer with PSO’s training unit. “When faced with uncertainty of what to do, many people freeze up from not knowing how to communicate to work through problems.” It’s exactly this circumstance that deputies are learning to avoid.

Agency-specific equipment trainees will have as deputies, such as ballistic vests, firearms, computers, Tasers and more, is also issued during the first week of NMT. This allows deputy trainees to work with the equipment they’ll actually use on the job before they’re on the road. They’ll also practice deploying such equipment to ensure the first time they use it isn’t in the field when it matters most. “You never know when the day of doom is coming,” Cpl. Shaffer shares as deputy trainees transition between trainings. Deputy trainees learn the difference between lethal and less-lethal responses and hone defensive tactics such as Taser deployments and firearm operation. Although it’s not mandatory, deputy trainees can voluntarily experience the effects of Taser deployment to get a sense of its capabilities. “Through exercises like this, you get to see their character; who steps up willingly when they don’t want to,” Cpl. Shaffer explains. “Who will take the brunt of things, as well as those willing to step up to be a leader.” It’s not about teaching one single way to respond, but teaching deputy trainees to consider what tools and resources they have available, while also considering safety, policies and protecting the community. These scenarios help deputies build reactions that become second nature.

Field Training Officers (or FTOs) play a critical role during the NMT period as well. As part of their duties, FTOs help mentor segments as well as role-play in NMT scenarios to help deputy trainees hone their skills. After completing the NMT phase, trainees join their FTOs on the road to further build their skills prior to taking calls for service on their own. “PSO provides trainees a safe, controlled environment to make mistakes that they can learn from before they get to the road where it could be disastrous,” explains FTO Joshua Goffena. He shares his admiration for PSO’s NMT process while reflecting on his prior experience with several different law enforcement agencies. “One mistake can be fatal, but providing a safe learning environment lets deputy trainees learn from their mistakes in a safe and controlled way.” To apply critical thinking skills, as well as appropriate weapon deployment situations, deputy trainees each take their turn through scenarios. Trainees are provided with details of a call for service, similar to what dispatchers will provide. Training staff and FTOs alternate role-playing and it’s up to the trainee to respond appropriately. Training staff assess how trainees work through each aspect of the scenario, from de-escalation techniques to scene management to the need for use-of-force. At the end, instructors provide feedback and discuss how best to handle each case, and deputy trainees talk through their own perspectives of the scenario.

NMT also helps build camaraderie, both amongst fellow deputy trainees, as well as current deputies and FTOs. For two of the eight weeks of NMT, deputy trainees join their assigned FTO on the road to respond to calls for service as an observer, providing an added layer of perspective while still in training. Field Training Officer (FTO) Dwight Hemmings reflects on his personal experience of joining PSO after having attended a law enforcement academy outside of the Pasco County area., “It helps build camaraderie, compared to going straight to the road, not knowing anyone,” says FTO Hemmings. It can also be hard to put some situations deputies face into context until they have been to a call.

The New Member Training period is always eye-opening for deputy trainees. Deputy trainees understand that every decision they make in this profession comes with consequences that can significantly affect the lives of those involved. Training scenarios are often created using real situations as the basis. “We try to make each training opportunity winnable. We’re not trying to trick them, we’re trying to help them where and when we can,” says Cpl. Ryan Cook with PSO’s training unit, while observing a scenario in which trainees respond with a back-up unit to safely end a pursuit. “Recruits have to learn how to respond in an adaptable demeanor appropriate for each situation.” The scenarios deputy trainees learn through in NMT are building blocks of necessary knowledge for their duties as a patrol deputy. It’s knowledge they’ll carry with them when they move on to their field training phase after NMT, and when they hit the road alone as a deputy. The field training phase moves at such a rapid pace, with such a vast diversity of material to cover, NMT allows deputy trainees to hit the ground running and be better prepared to assist their FTO while responding to calls on patrol.

Though PSO deputies’ training doesn’t stop with New Member Training, this crucial eight weeks provides plenty of insight, skill development and opportunity for coaching for our members before the start patrol on their own. This training is carried into their next phase where they work alongside their assigned training officers, applying the skills they’ve learned to real calls for service, under the guidance of FTOs. Soon enough, deputies will be on the road alone, better prepared for the calls to come.

Pasco Sheriff’s Office is proud to be innovative in how we serve our citizens, which includes dynamic and thoughtful training for our newest deputies. We’re always looking for those who wish to make a difference in their community. For more information on our available positions and hiring processes, visit today.

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