Making the case for police training programs

Following the outcome of this case, Denver Police Department rapidly became — and continues to be — a model agency for both simulation training as well as live-fire perishable-skills training

It is no secret that the first item on the cutting room floor in times of budget constraints is training. Training being delivered, funds to purchase materials, and staff allocations for trainers are all subject to reduction. 

Thankfully, there are several case law decisions that back those trainers in the trenches, when the time comes to defend training programs to managerial staff. 

Zuchel v. Denver 
One such case is Zuchel v. City and County of Denver. The case centered on the actions of police officers dispatched to a disturbance involving Mr. Zuchel on the night of August 6, 1985. 

At the time the officers arrived on scene, Mr. Zuchel was engaging in an argument with teenagers adjacent to a fast food restaurant, and was facing away from approaching officers. As the officers approached, one of the teenagers involved in the argument informed officers that Zuchel was armed with a knife. 

Officers shouted at the suspect, who then turned to face them. Zuchel was subsequently shot and killed and was found to be in possession of fingernail clippers. For those not familiar with the case, it warrants a read.

Several issues were raised at the subsequent trial, one of which was the lack of training Denver Police Department provided to its officers. 

To quote the plaintiff’s expert opinion:

“It’s my opinion that the absence of training caused the shooting of Mr. Zuchel. Officer Spinharney handled this just the way any guy on the street would. He did not handle it as a professional, trained police officer who had received training on when it was appropriate to shoot and when it was appropriate not to shoot would have handled this situation.”

Following the outcome of this case, Denver Police Department rapidly became — and continues to be — a model agency for both simulation training as well as live-fire perishable-skills training.

About the author

Ken Hardesty served seven years in the U.S. Marine Corps before deciding to pursue a career in law enforcement. He has served continuously for fourteen years in large California agencies. His assignments include Detention, Patrol, Field Training Officer, Specialist Officer, Academy Recruit Training Officer, Basic Academy Coordinator and In-Service Training Officer. Ken is California POST certified to teach Firearms, Defensive Tactics, Chemical Agents, First Aid/CPR and Patrol Response to Active Shooter. Additional certifications include, National Rifle Association Tactical Shooting Instructor, Surefire Low Light Instructor and PepperBall Instructor. He is a court-certified expert in Illegal Weapons, and serves as a subject matter expert for the State of California in the areas of Firearms and Chemical Agents. Ken teaches Incident Response to Terrorist Bombings for the Department of Homeland Security as well as Leadership and Firearms/Chemical Agents Program Evaluation for the California Commission on POST. Ken is Charter Member and on the Board of Advisors for NLEFIA. Ken enjoys spending time with family and is the proud father of two.

Contact Ken Hardesty.

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