The Canadian Review of Policing Research (2004)

ISSN: 1710 6915


Mike Novakowski

Mike Novakowski is a 14-year member of the Abbotsford Police Department, British Columbia, currently seconded to the Justice Institute of British Columbia Police Academy. This is a summary of his Masters thesis supervised by Dr. Darryl Plecas, Ed.D, and submitted to Royal Roads University in 2003. For further information on the study contact Mike Novakowski at


Field training experience is crucial to turning a recruit into a fully operational police officer by integrating academy instruction with operational work. In this process, the role of experienced field training officers (FTO) is vital because of their influence on the performance and behaviour of the recruit.1 Field training officers have the difficult task of leading police recruits through the transition from the safe environment of the academy, where mistakes can be corrected, to street officers where errors may be costly.2

Relevant literature has emphasized the importance and long term impact of field training3 . For example, in a study conducted by Cancino,4 “Survey results showed that officers learn physical force in the situational context from peers 89% of the time, rather than from academy instruction and training (3 per cent).” In another study, Haarr5 concluded “The positive gains that the training academy had made in shaping police recruits’ attitudes toward community policing and problem solving policing were lost by the end of the field-training process.”

Although these and other studies and reviews have been dedicated to understanding the importance of field training, few have involved investigating recruit field training satisfaction. The purpose of this study was to explore the field training experience specifically. The following research question was posed: What are the determinants of an effective field training experience in police recruit training?


The instrument chosen to collect the information for this study was a mail survey, which included a demographic portion and other questions involving field training content, knowledge/skill proficiency areas, FTO roles, and overall satisfaction. Recruits were invited to provide either a rating or a ranking in the above mentioned areas. For the purposes of data comparison, recruits were divided into two groups. The first group, which will be referred to as “satisfied” recruits, were recruits satisfied or very satisfied with their overall field training experience. The second group, which will be referred to as “not satisfied” recruits, are those recruits rating their overall satisfaction as very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, or neither. The study sample was drawn from successful 2000-2002 graduates of the peace officer basic training program at the Police Academy of the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) These recruits had experienced a minimum of 13 weeks of field training and included members of 11 independent municipal police departments and one tribal police service (see Table 1). In total, 84 per cent of the possible 288 respondents returned their surveys. The survey was then analyzed using the statistical package for the social sciences (SPSS).



Recruits ranged in age from a low of 21 years to a high of 44 years. The mean age was 29 years old. Ninety-eight per cent had some post secondary education, with 82 per cent having a college diploma or university degree. Twenty-eight per cent of recruits were female (see Table 2). There was no significant difference between male and female recruits in age or education. Overall, recruit satisfaction with the field training experience was high (87 per cent). The demographics of the ‘not satisfied’ group (13 per cent) did not differ in any significant way from those who were ‘satisfied’. It can \therefore be inferred that there is no satisfaction bias based on age, gender, educational level, prior police experience, or police department.

Field Training Content

For 13 activities, recruits were asked to rate how much experience they received during their field training compared to how much experience they believed a recruit should receive. The majority of the recruits reported receiving the right amount of experience in most of the listed police activities. Experience in the activities of interviewing suspects, investigating impaired drivers, and executing search warrants were reported as lacking by most recruits. Percentages for getting “too much” experience were low for all activities.

Knowledge/Skill Proficiency Areas

Part of the survey identified eight knowledge and skill areas used by the JIBC Police Academy in evaluating recruits during their field training experience. The Police Academy considers performing at an acceptable level in these knowledge and skill areas as the benchmarks for a successful police officer. Recruits were asked to choose the four knowledge and skill proficiency areas they considered most important and then rank order them. The purpose of this section was to explore the knowledge and skill areas in which recruits perceive a Field Training Officer (FTO) should be most proficient.

Investigation and patrol skills and officer safety knowledge and skills were ranked as the most important proficiency areas overall, followed by legal knowledge, report writing and note-taking skills, and interpersonal relations. Driving skills, dress and deportment, and traffic knowledge were ranked as the least important. Interestingly, these areas also received the least amount of instructional hours at the JIBC Police Academy.

Field Training Officer Roles

The main focus of the survey explored the role played by FTOs. Recruits were asked to rate their primary FTO in fulfilling each of the eight identified roles on a five-point scale from very poor to very good and then to choose and rank the top four roles they perceived as most important. The purpose of this section was to explore how well the FTOs were fulfilling their roles and to determine the relationship, if any, between role fulfillment and overall satisfaction. Furthermore, the study sought to identify which roles were most important to the recruits.

Most recruits rated their primary FTOs as good or very good in each of the eight identified roles. However, very few of the “not satisfied” recruits rated their FTOs as good or very good in fulfilling the identified roles, with the notable exception of the role of subject matter expert (see Table 4). In ranking the importance of the various roles, recruits selected the role of teacher as being the most important overall, followed by subject matter expert, mentor, role model, partner, and evaluator. The role of friend/confidant and supervisor were ranked the least important (see Table 5).

How recruits spent their time during their field training did not significantly correlate with overall satisfaction. In other words, what the recruit did or did not do, in terms of the 13 identified police activities, was not related to how satisfied they were with their field training experience. However, there is a statistically significant positive relationship between how well an FTO was perceived to fulfill a role and overall satisfaction with the FTO experience. The role with the strongest relationship to overall satisfaction was that of teacher (r=.76), followed by mentor (r=.75), friend/confidant (r=.73), evaluator (r=.72), partner (r=.71), role model (r=.69), supervisor (r=.65), and finally subject matter expert (r=.51) (see Table 5). As a composite score, all eight roles highly correlate with overall satisfaction (r=.81). It is not what recruits learn but how they are taught that determines overall satisfaction with the field training experience.

Conclusions and Implications

The occupational knowledge and technical competence of FTOs were ranked by recruits as highly important. However, these competencies did not have the highest correlation to overall satisfaction. For example, the role of friend/confidant was ranked lower in importance than subject matter expert, but had a much stronger correlation to overall satisfaction. The data suggest that the recruits overestimated (ranked) the importance of technical skill or ‘street smarts’, and underestimated other forces, such as interpersonal skills and social competencies, or ‘people smarts’. It can be inferred that recruits do not realize the importance of FTOs ‘people smarts’ to the satisfaction of their experience. This assertion is reinforced when examining other aspects of the data. For instance, the field training content had very little, if anything, to do with overall satisfaction.

If the content of the field training were called the “song”, and the FTO the “singer”, the data show that the song is not important to the overall satisfaction of the performance. It is the singer that has the highest relationship to satisfaction. In other words, it did not matter what the recruit did during field training or what they were taught that was important. Instead, satisfaction with the experience was a function of who the FTOs were and how well they fulfilled their roles.

It is not suggested that occupational competence is not important to development of adequate performance and should be sacrificed to people skills. Technical skill and social capacities are not mutually exclusive. Rather, people skills are a necessary component to effective field training.

Up until now, it appears field training has been product driven, which has been quite successful. Field training is currently focused on producing a technically competent police officer. However, there is room for improvement in the FTO experience. The improvement must focus on process-driven forces. As this study revealed, the determinants to an effective field training experience lie more in how the recruit is taught (the FTOs fulfilling various roles) than in actual police activities performed. This includes FTOs building relationships with recruits by fulfilling various roles and developing interpersonal capacities. Concentration on these areas could improve overall recruit satisfaction, and enhance the field training experience


1. R. Glensor, K. Peak, and L. Gaines, Police supervision, San Francisco, 1999, McGraw-Hill College; K. Hurley, “The legal and rational basis for field induction training”, in Peter C. Unsinger and Harry W. More (eds.), Criminal justice induction training: the field training process, pp.3-18, Springfield, Ill, 1990, Charles C. Thomas Ltd; M. McCampbell, Field training for police officers: the state of the art, National Institute of Justice Research Report, U.S. Department of Justice, 1987.

2. J. Williams, “Mentoring for law enforcement”, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 69(3), 2000, pp.19-25; R. Holden, Modern Police Management, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1986, Simon and Schuster, Inc.

3. G. Cordner and R. Sheehan, Police Administration. Cincinnati, 1999, Anderson Publishing; State of Virginia, Review of Regional Criminal Justice Training Academies, House Document No.28, Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission of the Virginia General Assembly, 1999; Justice W. Oppal, Closing the Gap: Policing and the Community, Policing in British Columbia Commission of Inquiry, Victoria, 1994, Minister of Attorney General; J. Kuykendall, Community Police Administration, Chicago, 1975, Nelson-Hall.

4. J. Cancino, (2001). “Walking among giants 50 years later: an exploratory analysis of patrol officer use of violence”, Policing, 24(2), 2001, p. 154..

5. R. Haarr, “The making of a community policing officer: the impact of basic training and occupational socialization on police recruits”, Police Quarterly, 4(4), 2001, p.413.