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Back to Archives | Back to November 2010 Contents 

Survey: The Status of Field Training

Sergeant John Scott, Supervisor, Eastern Regional Traffic Unit, Port St. Lucie, Florida, Police Department

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he survey assesses field training programs in use by police agencies. Two popular programs are common practice in most departments: the San Jose Model (also known as “the traditional model”) and the Police Training Officer (PTO) Program. There is a generational difference in today’s workforce, as for one of the first times in history, three generations—baby boomers, generation X, and generation Y—must work side by side. Law enforcement is not exempt from a multigenerational workforce, and, as such, law enforcement administrators must consider diverse training styles to better retain employees.

According to this survey, 73 percent of the responding agencies believe that a field training program utilized by an agency has a direct correlation to officer retention.


A survey was sent to 91 agencies with a minimum of 1 agency in each state. This allowed the survey results to be a reflection of law enforcement agencies throughout the nation. The surveys were sent via e-mail, with a link for agencies to follow if they chose to participate. The survey asked 13 questions, and 33 of the 91 agencies contacted—36 percent—responded to the survey.

The Results

The results show that 97 percent of the agencies have a formal training program for new officers—all but one agency—and that 67 percent of them utilize the traditional model. The average age of officers within the responding agencies is between 26 and 39 years old, encompassing the ages of generation X and generation Y employees. An overwhelming number of responding agencies, 94 percent and 85 percent, respectively, practice community- and problem-oriented policing. These types of policing are best suited for generation X and generation Y employees, yet 45 percent of the responding agencies lose officers within three years of their being hired, with 58 percent of those officers leaving for a position with another agency. Seventy-three percent of the respondents stated the type of field training program their agency employs has an influence on officer retention, and 91 percent responded that law enforcement recruits perform best in scenario-based training. Further, 64 percent responded that their agencies would be willing to change the new-hire training program if another program was available.


Law enforcement has been using the traditional model for field training new officers since the early 1970s. This proven and court-tested law enforcement training method has been effective for decades, and only recently has an alternative program—the PTO Program—become available. Many law enforcement agencies are reluctant to change from a method that has been validated and has withstood courtroom challenges for employee retention and agency liability.1 A new method for training newly hired officers, the PTO Program was introduced to law enforcement in 2001.2 This method was radically different from the traditional model, and, although the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that there are nearly 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, only 400—2 percent—took part in the PTO field training program development and, as of 2007, only 58 agencies in the United States and Canada have begun using the PTO Program as the training method for newly hired officers.3

The survey presented insight into 91 agencies of differing sizes in dissimilar areas of the United States. This allowed for diverse responses and provided an accurate cross section view of current law enforcement hiring, field training, and retention issues. The responses gathered reflect a law enforcement philosophy throughout the nation that strongly reflects community- and problem-oriented policing.


The policing profession has changed dramatically in the last three decades with the implementation of community- and problem-oriented policing. Therefore, law enforcement agencies should explore changing the training methodology for new officers. The PTO program is best suited to generation X and generation Y employees, which constitute the majority of law enforcement officers and those entering the law enforcement field. To retain younger officers, an agency must be prepared to address the specific learning styles of these generations. An agency adopting the PTO Program is tailoring its training to its workforce.

The Port St. Lucie, Florida, Police Department places the cost of hiring and training a new officer at an excess of $100,000. The cost of retraining two instructors and the field training officers in an agency to incorporate the PTO Program of field training should not exceed that amount, as the training session for instructors is one 40-hour week training block, and the training of officers to be PTOs is one 40-hour training block. Therefore, if an agency is able to retain only one employee by implementing this program, the initial costs of implementation will be offset by the retention.

Law enforcement should not shy from new subjects and methodologies in the area of field training. Almost three-fourths of the responding agencies believe that the field training program utilized by an agency has a direct correlation to officer retention. If an agency embraces the philosophy of community-and problem-oriented policing, it should also embrace the PTO Program. ■


1See, for example, Herrera v. Valentine, 653 F.2d 1220 (8th Cir. 1981); and City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808 (1985).
2Steven Pitts, Ronald W. Glensor, and Kenneth J. Peak, “The Police Training Officer (PTO) Program: A Contemporary Approach to Postacademy Recruit Training,” The Police Chief 74 (August 2007): 114–121.
3Police Society for Problem Based Learning, “Featured Agencies List,” (accessed September 29, 2010).

Please cite as:

John Scott, "Survey: The Status of Field Training," The Police Chief 77 (November 2010): 66, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 11, November 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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