Training is typically one of the first fatalities during budget cuts, and in today’s economy you can bet class after class is falling square in the crosshairs. But the decision to put training on the back burner during financial crisis doesn’t come without a risky price.
“In times of revenue shortfalls, there is a temptation for management to divert money that was intended for training to other projects,” says Wayne Schmidt, Executive Director of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement. “Later, plaintiff’s counsel might argue that a fund transfer was ‘deliberate indifference’ to the need for updated use-of-force and internal affairs training, contributing to a death, injury or civil rights violation.”
In a memo recently issued by the California Peace Officers Association, Martin J. Mayer, General Counsel for the California Police Chiefs Association and the California State Sheriff’s Association, concurs. He says his office has been repeatedly asked whether a lack of reimbursement funds for training mitigates an agency’s obligation to train their officers.
His answer? “A resounding no.”
Mayer writes, “The United State Supreme Court has held, ‘inadequate police training may form the basis for a civil rights claim against the city where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons that police are likely to encounter…The focus must be on the adequacy of a training program in relation to the duties the officers are expected to perform…’ [City of Canton Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378 (1989)].
“Training cuts are an unfortunate and dangerous reality in tough economic times,” says PoliceOne columnist Chuck Remsberg, founder of the Street Survival Seminar and a leader in officer survival training for decades. “It’s an area that tends be considered disposable…a 'nice-to-have' but not a necessity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“In reality, economic catastrophe should be a catalyst for providing more training for officers, not less…particularly now. Society is becoming increasingly pressurized. Stress levels are high, patience is low and otherwise ‘peaceful, normal’ people are now showing a new propensity for violence.
“It’s important to remember that one of the most dangerous individuals an officer can face is someone who feels they’ve got nothing to live for and nothing to lose,” he continues. “There are a growing number of those people and that’s a very real threat to officer safety and survival. Now, more than ever, officers need to be highly trained, highly focused and thoroughly prepared to deal with the threats and challenges of doing their jobs in a time of crisis."
Remsberg points out that one of the most common claims officers make after being involved in life-or-death encounters is that prior training is what helped them survive. “I can’t count the number of times a surviving officer has told me, ‘When the shit hit the fan, I automatically resorted to doing what I was taught. I did what I was trained to do and because of that, I’m alive today.’"
You can’t put a price on that.
In a discussion with PoliceOne, Schmidt put it quite succinctly. “You can pay now or you can pay later, but if you pay later, you always end up paying more.”
That’s a painful reality if the cost is tallied in dollars, but it’s an inexcusable tragedy if the cost is tallied in officers’ lives.
Read the full CPOA memo