The NCJA also provides specialized training in agency settings, as long as the agency covers the costs instructors incur traveling to the site and staying in their jurisdiction. For agencies with large groups of officers to train, having the instructor come to them is a worthwhile expenditure and much cheaper than shipping officers out of town en mass.
Most states have similar access to state or regional law enforcement training facilities, but surprisingly, not all agencies take advantage of this low-cost way to beef up their training. Strickland says that smaller agencies, especially towns with only a small complement of officers, often find it difficult to operate shorthanded. But even small towns can be—and are—hit with lawsuits.
Academy Deputy Director, Wayne Ayers, agrees with his boss, but he adds that while good training helps mitigate insurance costs and aids the department in other areas that grow out of liability, it also creates a better officer. “It increases competency and the confidence of the officers themselves, which equates back to how they service the public,” Ayers says.
Both Ayers and Strickland point to the state’s community college system—one that is mirrored in all 50 states—as another inexpensive source of training for local agencies. Many turn to their local educational institution to supplement in-service training.
A final thought on critical focus
How to focus that training? N.C. Associate Attorney General Dave Shick, who has seen plenty of police lawsuits, offers this piece of advice to administrators who’d like to make their agencies as legally bulletproof as possible: Train the trainer.
“Considering the field training officer—I think that is an amazingly critical position on both a practical level and on a risk management level. That role is key, not only in terms of the agency’s risk, but also as a guardian of the public, because that FTO has the power to (turn) loose either someone who is a very qualified professional or someone who is not qualified and not well-trained,” he says.
Shick, who teaches a legal block to field training officers, says he believes they should be the agency’s best and brightest because they’re the ones who ultimately decide whether an officer is able to handle the demands of the job. He says that if an FTO turns loose an unfit officer, then it is essentially reflective of departmental policy and sets the department up for future legal liability.
“That is deliberate indifference, and that is what causes agencies to be liable for constitutional torts,” he says.
By the same token, says Shick, that same FTO can protect the community by refusing to turn loose officers whose skill sets aren’t what they should be, protecting both the agency and the community.
The ultimate message: training counts. And budget cuts notwithstanding, no agency can afford to cut training without also cutting its chances of staying out of court.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.