Handguns, long guns, shotguns, conducted energy weapons, body cameras, batons, pepper spray, access to specialized databases, drug detection kits, crime mapping programs—and the list goes on. Law enforcement officers are equipped with a staggering array of tools to help them effectively perform their jobs. As leaders, we often advocate for funding to give our people the latest and greatest tools.
But why do we so often fail to give them the training they need to properly use these tools?
As a law enforcement trainer for over two decades, I have interacted with law enforcement professionals across the nation. Far too often, I see agencies failing to provide officers with the training they need to stay safe and meet legislative mandates.
If someone performed an audit of your agency’s training program, what would they find? Would there be deficiencies in meeting federal and state training requirements? Would the materials appear dated, insensitive, out of touch? Can you document when, where and how an officer was trained on a specific topic?
If you’re not sure, it might be time for a law enforcement training audit.
Why You Need a Law Enforcement Training Audit
We know history is going to repeat itself. When we are not properly trained, bad things will happen. This is why training must remain a top priority for every organization.
Gordon Graham, co-founder of Lexipol, is one of the smartest people I have ever met. He is humble, professional and, to put it plainly, just a darn good guy! I encourage you to read the countless articles he has authored related to risk management. It will change the way you think, approach and react to managing risk.
If you know Mr. Graham or have attended one of his presentation, you are familiar with the phrase “Predictable Is Preventable.” I am not going to try to convey Mr. Graham’s approach to risk management. I am not nearly as humorous as he is, nor do I have his vast amount of expertise. What I do want to convey to you is what “Predictable Is Preventable” means to me, specifically in the training arena. It is simple: We can predict that bad things will happen if we do not train our personnel. Therefore, we can prevent the bad things from happening if—yep, you guessed it—we train our personnel.
Without question, the primary reason for thorough, evidence-based training is that it greatly enhances the chance an officer will do the right thing and do it safely. Professionally trained officers are far less likely to harm themselves or others. A training audit can help you determine where your training may fall short of best practices and contemporary standards for excellence in policing.
A much less important reason—but still significant—for a training audit is liability protection. It is almost a guarantee that a plaintiff’s attorney suing a law enforcement agency will subpoena all the involved officer’s training records. Regardless of whether training played an outcome in the incident, if deficiencies are identified in the training record, they will often be used against the agency and the officer.
Do you know if the training being provided is accurate or in compliance with department policy and the law? Is the training being documented and accounted for?
Lexipol’s other co-founder, Bruce Praet, has an enormous amount of experience representing law enforcement agencies in police civil matters, such as shootings, police canine bites and vehicle pursuits. Mr. Praet repeatedly sees law enforcement agency training come under scrutiny in the courtroom. “Plaintiffs’ attorneys often focus on some aspect of training and then illustrate how the officer failed to follow that training in a real-world situation,” he says. This tactic, he says, underscores the need for agency leaders to understand exactly what is in their training materials. Where appropriate, training materials should distinguish between training scenarios and real-world applications, where officer discretion and flexibility come into play.
What to Include in a Law Enforcement Training Audit
When was the last time your agency performed an audit on every aspect of your Training Division? I hope when you read this, you will ask someone in your Training Division the same question. If the answer is unknown, then I highly encourage your agency to thoroughly audit every aspect of their Training Division as soon as possible. If your agency does not have the time or personnel to perform an audit, an outside consultant can be retained. The cost of the consultant will likely be far less than what will be paid out in a lawsuit after multiple deficiencies are discovered in your training files. Some risk management pools may even help pay for the cost of the consultant.
At a minimum, the audit should include an examination of the following:
- Policies/Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) – Every policy and SOP that mandates or suggests the type and frequency of training your personnel attend must be up to date and comply with all federal and state guidelines.
- Federal and State Guidelines – Know the type and frequency of training that is federally required as well as training your state mandates for all department personnel. This includes sworn, civilian, line-level, supervisors, managers and executive staff. Some states mandate your employees attend a certain amount of ongoing training. Do you know what your state requires? Some states require field training officers (FTO) to attend an update class every two or three years. When I taught the FTO update course, at least 25% of the students in every class were out of compliance with their state requirement.
- Accrediting Organization – If your agency is accredited by a national or regional organization, you must be aware of the requirements they have pertaining to the type and frequency of your agency’s training.
- City or County Rules and Regulations – There is a good chance your county or city has a set of rules and regulations that apply to all employees. You need to know if there are any city or county training requirements that apply specifically to police employees.
- Lesson Plan – Every course or block of instruction should have a lesson plan. The lesson plan must be up to date and include the details of the content being taught. If you do not have a thorough lesson plan, it will be tough to explain what was taught years later.
- Informal Training – Do your supervisors or officers provide impromptu training during briefing or roll call? Does your dispatch supervisor provide brief training segments to your dispatchers at the beginning of their shift? These are outstanding training opportunities; however, does your Training Division know what is being taught? Do you know if the training being provided is accurate or in compliance with department policy and the law? Is the training being documented and accounted for? Your Training Division should be prepared to answer these questions.
- Safety Plan – If the course or block of instruction requires students to do anything other than sit in a classroom and listen to lecture, a current safety plan should be included with the course outline. The instructors and students must be familiar with the safety plan and most importantly, they must adhere to it.
- Handouts/Slides/Job Aids – What handouts are given to the students, what job aids will the students use in class, and how will the instructor deliver the material? Ensure it is all current and consistent with applicable laws, policies and procedures. Many instructors, including me, incorporate humorous video clips into PowerPoint presentations. There is generally nothing wrong with this—until the inserted clip offends someone. Make sure your Training Division reviews and pre-approves everything used to help deliver the course content.
- Instructor – Does the instructor teaching the course or block of instruction have the experience, training and knowledge to effectively teach the subject? If not, you are opening yourself up to a potential negligent training claim if something goes wrong.
- Training Environment – Where will the training occur? Are there enough restrooms, is it ADA-compliant and is it safe? All this must be considered before the training is presented.
- Training File – Is every officer’s training documentation up to date? How often are training files reviewed? An audit and frequent review of your files may help your agency discover and rectify documentation deficiencies. If the training isn’t documented, it didn’t happen..
Worth the Investment
Dedicating time and money to training is much easier said than done. Some agencies are finding it difficult to provide even the most basic law enforcement services. However, we must make training a priority because it is one of the few elements we can control in law enforcement. The nature of the work means harm will come, at times, to our officers and to subjects. Training is how we prevent unnecessary harm. And if that’s not impetus enough, remember that in the event of a lawsuit, juries are likely not going to be sympathetic when your training deficiencies are laid bare in court.
Depending on the size of your organization and the extent of your training program, an audit can be a daunting venture. However, the benefits far outweigh the consequences of not performing a thorough audit. If you don’t find and correct the deficiencies, someone else will.