Field Training in the 21st Century, Part 1

Field training has huge & permanent effect on officers, & it must keep up with the times

By Graham Tinius and Daniel Greene  |   Mar 3, 2016
Operation Bullfighter

As Board Members for the National Association of Field Training Officers, we’ve been keeping a close eye on the impact and affects that the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has had on field training programs nationwide. We field questions on a regular basis from departments asking for guidance or training in an effort to comply with the task force’s final report. This series of articles is meant to hopefully clarify some matters and share with our readers how NAFTO can help support field training programs throughout the country.

[Click here for information on our national field training conference.]

What the Report Says

The final report from the task force begins speaking about field training with these observations and recommendations:

“5.13 Recommendation: The U.S. Department of Justice should support the development and implementation of improved Field Training Officer programs. This is critical in terms of changing officer culture. Field Training Officers impart the organizational culture to the newest members. The most common current program, known as the San Jose Model, is more than 40 years old and is not based on current research knowledge of adult learning modalities. In many ways it even conflicts with innovative training strategies that encourage problem-based learning and support organizational procedural justice.”

The first sentence of this recommendation is crucial and couldn’t be more accurate. Field-training programs have an immediate and long-lasting impact on the culture of the agency. We’re not sure if command level supervisors in hundreds of agencies really understand how true this is. It’s good to see this fact verified by the task force. That said, be sure your FTO program trains your FTOs in topics like leadership and ethics on a regular basis.

NAFTO is a training-model-neutral organization. We do not make a stand for or against either the San Jose Model, the Reno (PTO) Model, or any other model that exists in the nation’s training programs for that matter. Our schools can teach FTOs from any department working with any model how to teach, train, and mentor.

We do however support the use of a valid training program that has been tested and is reliable. The San Jose model is still very relevant and useful. As with all systems, models and programs in any business, it’s less about the mechanism and more about the personnel within the system. It is imperative that you incorporate contemporary learning modalities, research, information and training techniques regardless of the training model you deploy.

The two most popular models in the nation are both equipped to handle modern learning and teaching philosophies. It is also important to remember that both models present their own very special benefits and their own very unique obstacles.

Adult Learning

So what are some current adult learning modalities? The most recent and possibly most popular modality is called compartmentalization. In a nutshell, your FTO program would isolate any issue or job task from all the other challenges you are dealing with. Apply extreme focus on each issue or job task, but only for a short period of time. Then you move forward in incremental steps when you see progress. Once that job task is or compartment is closed, you begin a new one.

There are many theories in regard to a variety of learning cycles. Look up articles and books from David Kolb, as well as Honey and Mumford. For a more recent model you can research a concept called ALACT.  These three different philosophies all have a common theme. They base learning off of experience and problem solving—very much like field training.


So, regardless of whether you use the PTO or SJ model of field training, we urge you to be sure your program evolves with modern necessities in law enforcement. Consider including topics such as Critical Incident Training (CIT), community policing, and emotional health or life stressors. Evolution and change is inevitable, but don’t lose sight of the tactics and techniques that have been a staple of police training for decades. Topics like officer safety, emergency driving, navigation, and report writing are still as essential today as ever. Topics such as problem solving, multi-tasking, and critical thinking are crucial job skills that are critical to the job and to serving the public.

NAFTO schools and classes are developed with all the concepts we spoke of above. Our basic FTO School and the FTO Management course have been developed, in part, with task force and DOJ guidelines in mind. Please reach out to us with any questions you may have about moving your FTO program in to the future, and stay tuned for additional articles covering the rest of the final report from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

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Graham Tinius and Daniel Greene
Graham Tinius has been a Field Training Officer with the Chandler Police Department since 2007. Graham assisted in rewriting the Field Training Program at Chandler PD. Graham is the recipient of a Meritorious Service Award, as well as a Unit Citation Award for his work in redesigning the Field Training Program and its implementation within the department. Dan Greene is a sergeant with the Chandler Police Department in Chandler, AZ. Daniel Greene began his career as an Officer with the police department in 1996. In 1998 he was selected as a Field Training Officer and served his first tour of duty in the Field Training Unit till the year 2000. After two years as a detective, Daniel returned to the Field Training Unit and remained there until 2006. In November of 2006 Dan promoted to Sergeant and remained in Patrol supervising a team of eight officers. In January 2008, Dan became the Field Training Unit supervisor.
Graham Tinius and Daniel Greene

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