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Managing a Training Unit

Written by Ed Nowicki

“He gets into too much trouble when dealing with the public, so let’s make him the training officer, where he can’t do any harm.” Unfortunately in the past, all too many law enforcement administrators allowed statements similar to that echo across the nation. Then law enforcement training got a strong message from the U.S. Supreme Court in the form of Canton v. Harris (1989) that adequate law enforcement training is not to be ignored.

In Canton v. Harris, the court wrote, “A municipality may, in certain circumstances, be held liable under 1983 for constitutional violations resulting from its failure to train its employees…The inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for 1983 liability only where the failure to train in a relevant respect amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons with whom the police come into contact.”

Law enforcement training was forced to change through this clear “you can’t ignore training” message issued by the courts, rather than from policing within law enforcement. That 1989 case was a strong wake-up call for any agency that did not believe that law enforcement training was important. A tolerable inconvenience was suddenly turned into a valuable resource. Any agency administrator who doesn’t realize the importance of training had better think again.

Every agency should have a person responsible for managing that unit. Titles can be anything from academy director and training coordinator to training officer and chief training officer or any rank with the word “training” in front of it, such as training sergeant and training lieutenant. But titles aren’t as important as selecting the right candidate.

Who is the “right candidate” to head a training unit? The position should be desirable one, rather than punitive one. Selecting the best person suited for the job is most beneficial to the agency. Education and seniority may be factors but not the only factors used in the selection process.

Typical candidates should have excellent interpersonal communications skills and the ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships both within the agency and, when needed, outside the agency. They need a proven ability to write and speak concisely, clearly and effectively. They should have the ability to prepare reports and conduct presentations, if required, on training topics where they have the requisite expertise. Agencies may want to expand this requirement to include budget setting and management, and testing and evaluating equipment, new technology and new training programs.

Conducting proper law enforcement training is imperative whether the agency has five officers or 5,000 officers. Documented training includes areas such as goals and objectives; lesson plans; copies of handouts; test documents and scores; reviews of tests; attendance; instructor competency; safety rules and procedures (if applicable); A/V material used; test failure policy; remedial training; certification and recertification records; and other criteria that an agency deems appropriate.

There is specific software available that can greatly assist with the keeping of training records. A program called “CopTrak” can assist with training records management. The CopTrak program allows each law enforcement agency to identify key training activities, associate training activities to different personnel, track those activities and identify training needs.

This program can be used to manage high-liability, perishable skills, although it is flexible enough to manage all of a department’s training. CopTrak was developed specifically for the needs of law enforcement, yet its inherent flexibility makes it well suited for any organization with training management needs.

It is crucial that any training conducted must not conflict with any laws, ordinances, or agency rules, regulations, policies, procedures or agency customs. If there is conflict, it must be addressed. Something must change immediately, most likely the training, in order to resolve any conflict. If the conflict is significant, the change will need to be significant and possibly cancelled if the conflict cannot be resolved.

Many state and regional law enforcement training entities may offer formalized programs how to manage a training unit. The renowned Northwestern University Center for Public Safety (NUCPS) even offers a two-day course titled, “Managing Police Training.” The NUCPS program “provides practical skills and knowledge necessary to identify and analyze individual and group training needs within a department.” This course covers the police training function; establishing in-service training standards; determining training needs; developing the training plan document; evaluating training programs; and training records.

Managing a training unit involves research and the ability to reach out to a professional network. Fortunately, much or all of the needed research can be conducted over the Internet, but only if you know where to look. This is where a well-developed professional network can greatly help. A quarterly meeting of department training officers from one or more counties localizes the understanding of needs and can be used to share or pool training resources. A state training officers association can be beneficial in addressing state-mandated training requirements.

The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) maintains an electronic library for members, which has more than 1,200 PowerPoint programs, lesson plans, videos clips and assorted MS Word documents and PDFs that can benefit agency training officers.

ILEETA also publishes a number of periodicals with a training slant, in addition to conducting an annual conference. A newly implemented electronic bulletin board was developed in order to help its members reach out for assistance to the thousands of ILEETA members.

Larger agencies may look at the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. (CALEA®) or Public Safety Training Academy Accreditation Program, which was developed in 2002. According to CALEA, the program’s standards were derived from the best practices of professional public safety training agencies and institutions and do not conflict with any national or state Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) authorities or other training authorities.

The program standards cover nine topic areas, 1) certification; 2) organization; 3) direction and authority; 4) human resources; 5) recruitment and selection; 6) instructional systems; 7) program development; 8) training support; and 9) student welfare. The accreditation process is not an easy one, nor should it be.

The issuance of training bulletins or updates can be implemented for even small agencies, although large agencies may find it more beneficial to develop their own training bulletins, as long as they have the ability to do additional research. The IACP makes available “Training Keys” with a subscription cost. The Training Keys are ideal for roll-call training and formal classroom instruction, as well as independent study. Each one includes questions and answers to test and document student learning.

The professional management of a training unit cannot be ignored. The courts have said so. The selection of the right person to get the job done can make a significant difference in how effectively training is delivered. The head of the unit needs to be a manager, but he also needs to be a leader. Remember, you manage things, but you lead people, and people are what training is all about!

Ed Nowicki, a nationally recognized use-of-force expert, is a part-time officer for the Twin Lakes (WI) Police Department. He presents use-of-force instructor certification courses across the nation and is the executive director of ILEETA. He can be reached at ed@ileeta.org.

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2008

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