"The clear advantage of an Internet-based system is you can have one data management system in a state, and personnel can simply go online and enter data when they want to check whether or not officers have met their training requirements for that year," says Ray Franklin, executive assistant director for the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions. "The question is whether information regarding law enforcement officers should ever be on the Internet," Franklin continues. "Some states are still grappling with that issue."
National standard on the horizon?
Franklin also serves as the technology chair for the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST), with which he is working to establish a national model standard for the management of training certification information by law enforcement. Franklin feels such a standard is necessary because states should be able to share information about officers with certain skill sets. IADLEST endorsed the standard's establishment at its Spring 2007 member conference.
Software must fit needs, agency type and budget
Acquiring a learning management system takes time to research so the software fits an agency's particular needs, whether it's a mid-sized police department or full-scale academy. So, what should training administrators and their management look for?
Before shopping it's important to be realistic about what learning software can accomplish, says Franklin, also the director of the Maryland Public Safety Education and Training Center. "We're talking about 50 different POSTs, models and ways of operating," Franklin says. "The reality is there is probably not an off-the-shelf solution that will never require modification." Thus, purchasing add-on modules may be the best and most economical way to keep building onto a learning system even though some customizing may be necessary.
As for cost, if the budget is tight, it might be best to find a software maker who provides packages for both large and small to mid-sized police agencies with flexible pricing. Many vendors are set up to offer software only for large law enforcement forces.
Finally, look for adequate service and support, but also expect to pay for it. Trouble-shooting and modifications are inevitable and require time and special expertise.
Today's LMS programs for the law enforcement and public safety sectors are well timed in a climate of increasing enforcement of training standards at the state and local levels. While liability is a huge concern, learning software can help minimize this threat and simultaneously save substantial time by automating the many intricacies of managing officers' professional development and their records.
Sharing of records also will become easier as software providers gradually make Web-based solutions available. The advantages -- higher visibility of an officer's skills, certifications and overall training compliance -- are clear and compelling.
Finding the right software will be a matter of choice, training management needs and budget for any agency. Modularized software programs that can be added to fit growing training needs make automation easier and more affordable.
As training standards continue to be given a higher priority, efforts to establish national standards will have a definite positive impact on state and local training entities, as well as on automated solutions. Standardized data management at the national level may make perfect sense and help law enforcement and public safety agencies share more information more readily.
Charles Lowry, president of Crown Pointe Technologies, feels that a national standard needs to go even further. "There needs to be a national curriculum and test items that measure information learned, which should all be provided to the police academies," Lowry says. This step, he adds, would ensure a higher degree of accountability among agencies for making sure the right course material is taught and learners can demonstrate the knowledge gained from training.
"The academies cannot be forced to use a national curriculum," Lowry says, "but make it available and people would jump on it."
Bob Galvin is a freelance writer who writes on topics related to law enforcement software and technology. His office is located in Oregon City, Oregon. Galvin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.