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Lessons learned from the DOJ report on the Chicago Police Department

The takeaway question for chiefs and sheriffs everywhere relates to the report’s emphasis on contemporary polices, reporting and training

By Ralph Brown

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice released their findings into their investigation of the Chicago Police Department. You can download the report here. As a result of the investigation, CPD will enter into a consent decree to correct the identified operational deficiencies.

This article does not serve as an in-depth review of the practices of the CPD, nor is it the purpose of this author to judge the practices of the CPD or validate the findings of the DOJ investigation. Instead, the findings memorialized by the DOJ provide a foundation to ask ourselves a series of training related questions. 

Chicago Police Superintendant Eddie Johnson answers questions during a news conference Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
Chicago Police Superintendant Eddie Johnson answers questions during a news conference Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Perhaps the takeaway question in the report for chiefs and sheriffs everywhere relates to the report’s emphasis on contemporary polices, reporting and training.  How do we ensure that our officers and deputies receive contemporary training that is congruent with our agency policies to minimize unnecessary liability?

DOJ reviewed thousands of CPD policies, orders, memos, internal and external reports and training plans. They also reviewed over 170 officer-involved shooting investigations and documents related to over 425 incidents of less-lethal force. DOJ also toured CPD’s training facilities and observed training programs. When was the last time you did the same?

Training lessons

To put the importance of training into context, “Training is the foundation for ensuring that officers are engaging in effective and constitutional policing,” as stated on page 159 from the DOJ report. Furthermore, and on the same page, the report uses language that we have used in California law enforcement training for over a decade, “Provide training that is comprehensive, organized, based on adult-leaning principles, and developed with national best practices and community policing in mind.” When developing or updating training, California training has benefited from the model that involves gathering subject matter experts to evaluate the learning objectives for their contemporary value. How often and by what means do you update your training curricula?

Supervision lessons

The DOJ report makes an obvious observation that all law enforcement executives and managers can acknowledge; in essence that a pattern of unlawful conduct can be due in part to deficiencies to an agency’s inadequate training and supervision, as noted on page 13 of the DOJ report. This report reminds us that an agency that does not provide adequate training or supervision to officers in the field will result in officers who are unprepared to police lawfully and effectively. Supervisors will be unable to mentor and support the efforts of their officers. In the case of CPD, the report identifies, “…a systemic inability to proactively identify areas of improvement, including Department-wide training needs and interventions for officers engaging in misconduct,” cited on page 13.  When was the last time you evaluated, or hired an independent evaluator, to examine your department’s training plan or asked managers and supervisors for recommendations for improved and updated training?

Academy lessons

Both empirical knowledge and the DOJ report note the importance of high quality training at the onset and through the duration of an officer’s career. The report notes the CPD academy “relies on outmoded teaching methods and materials.” The result is that the recruit is ill-equipped to serve the community. One example of dated materials used as part of training involving use of force, “that consisted of a video made decades ago, which was inconsistent with both current law and CPD’s own policies,” as noted on page 13. If you are responsible for an academy, when did you last review the pedagogy and materials for currency?

Field training lessons

When managing an FTO Program, we look for the best and brightest to mentor and guide our new hires. As a reminder, the new recruit today may be the captain, chief or sheriff tomorrow.  From day one, we should be thinking of succession planning and career development, so we are ready to replace supervisors and managers when they retire. The FTO Program is the first step.

The report identifies an issue with recruitment and retention, “The FTO Program, as currently structured, does not attract a sufficient number of qualified, effective leaders to train new probationary police officers, has an insufficient number of FTOs to meet the demand, and fails to provide PPOs with appropriate training, mentorship, and oversight,” noted on page 13.When was the last time you evaluated your FTO Program for its leadership and mentorship qualities; are the FTOs effectively supervised?

In-service training lessons

Every state has a unique version of Peace Officer Standards and Training, legislative mandates and minimum training requirements. In-service training applies here as well. Ongoing, updated training is the bedrock for professional and constitutional interaction with the public. The report found that CPD lacked training that was congruent with a long-term training strategy or plan. The in-service training was “sporadic” and did not proactively consider the needs of the department. Furthermore, the report noted on page 13 that, “Large numbers of officers were cycled through this important training quickly in order to meet a deadline set by the City, without proper curriculum, staff, or equipment.” Does your agency have a training plan, and when was it last updated? Additionally, have you surveyed your staff (upstream) to confirm your training is contemporary and the best available?

Deliberate indifference

Best practices and empirical research tell us that active leadership, management and supervision, coupled with adequate documentation, will eliminate or dramatically reduce the aforementioned liabilities identified in the DOJ report. As outlined in the report on page 34, “Arming police officers without providing any training on constitutional limitations of the use of deadly force [or other critical areas] may amount to deliberate indifference…” The lack of adequate sound contemporary policy and training can expose the officer, agency and city/county to “substantial damages claims in civil rights litigation.” Would your department’s training program pass the deliberate indifference test?

Many of the findings in the report are reminders of the importance of the need to design, execute and document contemporary training based on best practices and constitutional law.  In addition, the following six questions should serve as a checklist for next Monday morning:

1. How often and by what process do we update our training plan?
2. When was the last time we performed an upstream evaluation from officers and supervisors on the effectiveness of our training?
3. When was the last time we reviewed our academy’s curricula and materials?
4. When was the last time we evaluated our FTO Program for their leadership and mentorship qualities?
5. How do we evaluate that our FTOs are adequately supervised?
6. During an executive management meeting, ask if our training program would pass the deliberate indifference test; by what means can we qualify the answer(s)?

Engage in active leadership, reject mediocrity and support contemporary training – the community and your department will benefit.

About the author
Ralph Brown is a Bureau Chief for the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), and honorably retired as a lieutenant, with over 23 years of service.  Ralph earned a Masters Degree in Information Systems and a Bachelor of Arts in Management.

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