3 ways to bring use-of-force training to small police departments

How do small- and medium-sized departments — which are already stretched thin — keep training up on such a dynamic concept as legal use of force?

The average police department in the United States has roughly a dozen sworn officers. Typically speaking, these departments have their virtually all of their officers assigned to full-time enforcement duties — rarely is there a full-time use-of-force trainer in a mid-sized agency, and having one in a small agency is nearly impossible

Juxtapose this with an increasingly litigious American society. The area tending to draw the most litigation — and confusion — in the realm of police work is use of force (followed by the use of deadly force and driving/EVO). Some of the most dramatic changes affecting law enforcement have come by way of civil litigation — Scott v. Harris, Tennessee v. Garner, and Graham v. Connor have established precedence for when law enforcement officers can judiciously, lawfully, and objectively use force (up to and including lethal force). 

Agencies of all sizes need to keep abreast of court decisions (and adjust their policies, procedures, training, and tactics accordingly). Even in a big agency this can be challenging. 

How do small and medium-sized departments — which are already stretched thin — keep training up on such a dynamic concept? Here are three key ways:

1.) Stay Up On the Latest Research and Information
One might argue that civil litigation is like checks and balances in the U.S. government. When the government (law enforcement) is perceived to have intruded on the liberties of the citizenry (specifically, their Constitutional right to be free from illegal search and seizure, their right to procedural due process, and their right to protection against cruel and unusual punishment) a check and/or balance is sought. 

During both pre-serve and in-service training, LEOs are inundated by research and “best practices” on appropriate use of force. Yet there are agencies and officers who are apparently unaware of basic decisions such as Graham and Garner

This lack of knowledge extends from the basic Fourth Amendment issues all the way to bio-mechanical and psychological aspects of force. 

a.) Force Science Institute: To help ensure your officers are up to date on the abovementioned human factors, you can look to the ongoing research being conducted by Force Science Institute (and others). The Force Science News email is an excellent source all police agencies should be taking advantage of, regardless of size. 

b.) FLETC and AELE: Although dissimilar in structure and primary mission, both provide a wealth of information to be utilized by officers across the United States. AELE hosts an excellent online law library, and FLETC has provided about a million (quite literally) police officers with excellent training (at very little or no cost).

c.) The best bang for your buck in train-the-trainer conferences has got to be ILEETA, which is held every year in the Chicagoland area (we just finished up our annual conference two weeks ago). This is a weeklong event for trainers who come from across the world to train current events and practices. Organizations like ILEETA (and similar) provide a host of information during both in-person seminars and online and email newsletters. 

d.) Further, you can tap into organizations such as ACJS, Midwest Criminal Justice Association, or other regional associations which provide academic research relating a variety of law enforcement topics. 

e.) I needn’t remind you that the website you’re on — Police1 — provides a wealth of training resources to share with your officers. There’s a vast library of training tips and articles on Use of Force, and that’s just one of the myriad topics the site updates on a continually and ongoing basis. And I’d be remiss if I failed to point you to the Police1 Academy, http://www.police1.com/academy/ an excellent and affordable online training resource.

2.) Pool Your Resources and Create Regional Training Cooperatives
Small departments are sometimes forced to make budget decisions relating to training that can create knowledge gaps for their officers. This can be avoided (and/or ameliorated) by seeking training partnerships with nearby agencies. 

Small and medium-sized departments can utilize other departments to assist in training. This does not mean every agency in the area or county should train on the same day, but training may be provided regularly, with officers from nearby agencies invited to attend. 

This training model has many advantages. First, officers from different agencies get to meet and greet others who might be backing them up. Furthermore, it allows for more time in the range, use of force, or whatever the topic is being trained and/or discussed. 

To accomplish this, departments can reach out and start sharing both trainers and training concepts. In essence, agencies can team-up to create and foster professional development. 

3.) Fight for Your Training Dollars (or Face the Consequences)
Finally (and most importantly), department administrators must fight for budget dollars for officer training on use-of-force issues. Where administrators face opposition seeking to reduce training budgets, they should simply site the 1989 SCOTUS ruling in City of Canton, Ohio v. Geraldine Harris.

That decision made it clear that training police personnel is a critical managerial responsibility, and that administrators may be held liable if inadequate or improper training causes injury or violates a citizen’s Constitutional rights.

If opposition to increasing budget for training persists, mention that some departments are now faced with increased DOJ oversight, sanctions, and additional requirements placing the department and its officers under extreme scrutiny. 

Policing is fraught with potential litigation — at least that’s what we’re told during training, briefings, and discussions at coffee shops. This noble profession appears to be under attack — by various groups — in court cases which may one day impact your ability to do your job. 

Agencies and officers alike must understand what causes litigation against police departments. Agencies must consider how to limit their exposure, and recognize that despite tight budgets, training and information sharing are  critical components.

Providing resources to your officers is important. Departments should make every effort to provide training for officers so they can stay sharp in tactics, agency policy, and developments in law. 

The greatest resource in any police department is its personnel. More budget dollars are allocated to personnel than anything else. Why would you not want to protect your organization or your personnel assets? 

Brian Willis asks the question, “What’s important now?”

Your officers, your department, and community all are important. No matter the size of your force, your agency, or your jurisdiction, you owe it to all concerned to provide the best possible use-of-force training you can. 

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