Law Enforcement Training

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Law Enforcement Training

What new officers learn from the police academy program serves as the foundation for effective change in policing. Police work involves a great amount of contact between the community and the officers. Additionally, it involves problem solving and the ability of the police to work coactively with a wide variety of resources to get rid of the root causes of crime-related problems. In this sense, training should refocus on more significant issues than the traditional program, which has mainly focused on the mechanical and technical aspects of policing (Birzer, 1999).

The best place to begin efforts to reduce liability for law enforcement agencies is to have effective policies and procedures in place. Policy statements may not be worth the paper they're written on unless review of the policies and training to stand by the policies is an ongoing process (Hofmann, 2007).

Training philosophy is the first pillar of proper form and function of a professional police training facility and stands at its foundation. The second pillar of form and function is an effective organizational structure which is the form and actual delivery of educational and training services. A firm organizational structure allows the smooth flow of command and control practices, verbal and written communications, power, authority, and overall operational effectiveness. The final pillar of form and function is the operational structure, the practice of which is much the same as that of any well-run business. Classic good management principles apply (O'Keefe, 2004).

A written training philosophy establishes a police department’s fundamental beliefs and the overall value or importance of training. A training philosophy must be created first because all other operational and administrative decisions should flow from the philosophy and be consistent with it. Once this philosophical foundation is achieved and applied, the surrounding sea of uncertainty seems to take on a new calm. Without it, knee-jerk reactions, political considerations, special-interest group pressures, or even the short-term “crisis of the day” challenges can disturb or interrupt an ongoing well-thought-out training agenda (O'Keefe, 2004).

Written training philosophies provide a continuing process of individual and organizational development intended to align individual behavior with organizational priorities as a core function. Training philosophies provide education on the conceptual level and training on the perceptual level as well as creating an environment of free thinking, questioning, and problem solving. Training philosophies also allow police personnel to provide law enforcement services in a more original and practical way (O'Keefe, 2004).

Nothing is as important as making sure law enforcement officers get proper training. Not only does it increase their chances for winning altercations, the lack of proper training puts the department at risk of being held accountable (McNamara, 2006).

While most officers spend only a small percentage of their time engaging in “criminal catching” activities, this is the focus of a greater part of entry-level training. Little time is spent teaching officers the humanistic or interpersonal facets of non-crime policing – an activity they will use much more often. Even the best entry-level academy training is not enough to guarantee an officer has been sufficiently trained. Training performance alone is not a valid indicator of future job performance. In addition to receiving academic training, an officer should have the ability to correctly apply that knowledge to a real situation and the motivation to do so. Training, in all aspects of an officer’s duties, has to be completed before that officer engages in such activity. Failure to do so may lead to civil liability, possibly crippling a city (McNamara, 2006).

Even sufficiently trained officers sometimes make mistakes. The fact that they do says little about the training program or the legal basis for holding a city or county responsible for that mistake (King, 2005).

"Deliberate indifference" is a standard of fault that requires a showing that government policy makers acted with conscious disregard for the obvious consequences of their actions. If a training program does not put a stop to constitutional violations and a pattern of injuries develops, officials charged with the responsibility of creating policy for the agency may be put on notice that a new program is needed and a failure to address the problem may signify deliberate indifference. In the absence of a pattern of violations, deliberate indifference may be concluded from the policy makers' continued adherence to a training program that they knew or should have known would fail to stop violations in usual or repeatedsituations (King, 2005).

Any time a law enforcement officer uses considerable force, the likelihood that a lawsuit will follow is almost a foregone conclusion. Most lawsuits are brought in the federal courts as civil rights claims based upon the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. These actions are brought under the federal statute, 42 U.S.C. which creates civil liability when a person, acting under color of law, violates federally protected rights of another, causing damage (Ryan, 2007).

Decision making training with respect to the use of deadly force falls directly within the description of a law enforcement task for which there is a blatantly obvious need for training. For many years law enforcement agencies trained officers the “how to” shoot by using marksmanship courses for firearms training. Officers stand at various distances from paper targets and take aim. As training proceeded, agencies began creating combat and stress courses that included officer movement, target movement and limits on the amount of time an officer would have to fire. While these courses are adequate in training officers how to shoot; they fail in training an officer when to shoot and they fail to indicate the conditions under which most officers are required to work. Even “combat” training programs do not adequately address “decisional” training needs (Ryan, 2007).

The need for training on the “when to” shoot is now an accepted fact among the courts. Unfortunately, many police agencies, due to a shortage of resources, still have not developed training in this area. The failure to have “judgment” or “decisional” training with regard to the use of deadly force is a risk that agencies cannot afford to take (Ryan, 2007).


Birzer, M. (1999, July). Police Training in the 21st Century. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 68(7). Retrieved July 6, 2014, from

Hofmann, M. A. (2007, June 11). Policies, ongoing training essential in avoiding police liability. 14(24). Retrieved July 5, 2014, from

King, M. J. (2005, October 1). "Deliberate indifference": liability for failure to train. The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. Retrieved July 6, 2014, from"Deliberate+indifference":+liability+for+failure+to+train.-a0139177099

McNamara, M. W. (2006, August 1). Legal Corner: Departmental Liability for Failure-to-Train. Retrieved July 6, 2014, from

O'Keefe, J. (2004). Protecting the Republic: The Education and Training of American Police Officers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. Retrieved July 3, 2014

Ryan, J. (2007). Legal/Liability Issues in the Training Function. Public Agency Training Council. Retrieved July 6, 2014, from