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Managing Municipal Police Training Programs with Limited Resources

By Elsie Scott, Ph.D., Co-chair, IACP Education and Training Committee; Former Training Director, New York City and Detroit Police Departments; and Executive Director of the District of Columbia Police Training and Standards Board, Washington, D.C.

he training function is a critical and significant function of any agency that is concerned about quality, productivity, liability, and morale. A number of benefits can result from a quality police training program: increased productivity, greater commitment from personnel, reduction in lawsuits, more efficient use of resources, and better delivery of services. Inadequate training can have a negative impact on delivery of services, officer safety, police resources, and the ability of police executives to lead their agencies.

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study of police academies conducted in 2002, there were 103 city or municipal police training academies.1 Although these academies make up a minority of the 626 academies in the United States, the officers graduating from these academies tend to capture the most media attention because they tend to serve in larger metropolitan areas where there are more media outlets and there is no shortage of lawyers willing to sue the department for an alleged infraction.

This article discusses critical issues related to managing large municipal police training programs. The primary audiences for the information contained herein are police executives and managers in agencies that have their own police academies and directors of municipal training programs. Even though the focus is on managing municipal training programs, many of the concerns discussed are relevant to state, county, and university agencies that run training academies.

Resources to Maintain a Quality Training Program
The costs associated with operating a quality-training program are increasing at a time when city police budgets are shrinking. Police departments across the country are experiencing tight budgets due to reduced city budgets and reductions in federal government grant programs. The everyday demands of big-city policing often constrain limited resources, and when cost cutting is required, training suffers. A large number of police agencies contract out their training to state, county, and university academies. Contracting out training reduces costs because fewer dollars are spent per recruit. County, regional, and state academies spend about $11,200 per trainee, and college, university, or technical school academies spend about $4,600 per trainee. On the other hand, city or municipal academies reportedly spend about $36,200 per trainee.2 Another way some agencies are reducing initial training costs is requiring recruits to be certified before being hired by the agency.

Even though measures such as requiring officers to be precertified may reduce costs, these measures are usually not options for large municipal agencies. There are a number of reasons why large agencies administer their own academies and manage their training internally. Local governments have specific regulations that have to be taught, and these regulations, as well as agency-specific policies, would have to be taught after recruits graduate from a contractor academy. Other academies may not have the space to accommodate the sheer numbers that need to be trained, and cities may have to adjust their hiring to fit the contractor academies' training schedules. A major reason why agencies operate their own academies is to instill and reinforce the organization's culture into the new employees. This opportunity would be lost if recruit training is contracted to external agents. Requiring recruits to be precertified could possibly negatively affect the recruitment goals, especially minority recruitment goals, of large agencies. Many potential recruits would not or could not afford to join a police department if they are required to make such an initial financial investment.

Because few, if any, big cities are considering closing their academies, they must find a way to run quality programs with limited budgets. These are some of the questions that agency executives must answer in relationship to training: How can an agency provide adequate training with a limited training budget? What outside resources are available to support training programs? Will good training reduce agency liability costs? How can training programs be managed more efficiently?

The funds to train new police recruits often are obtained from the agency's state standards and training commission3 but similar funds may not be available for in-service training. The costs of providing every officer with at least 40 hours of in-service training may seem very large to a police manager. Agencies have to bear not only the direct costs such as classrooms, instructors, and training materials but also the cost of releasing in-service personnel from their regular assignments and replacing them while they are in training. Nevertheless, agencies cannot afford not to invest in training.

Approaches to Finding Resources for Training Programs
There are several approaches to providing the resources needed to conduct in-service training that assist in reducing the financial burden to the department.

Internal Expertise: The first step in finding resources is to look internally to identify existing resources. Agencies should take advantage of the training expertise they have in their departments. Large agencies often have a lot of talent that is not being used to its maximum. Agencies should survey their officers to identify those with skills that can enhance the training program. Not all trainers have to be assigned to full time training duties. They can be assigned out as needed, or they can be allowed to train for overtime pay if this would be cheaper than hiring additional instructors. Subject matter experts who do not have training backgrounds can be sent to instructor certification courses and added as adjunct trainers.

State POST Funds: Some state POST commissions have allocated financial assistance for in-service training and specialized training programs. Police departments should take full advantage of all the assistance allocated and participate actively in their state POST, ensuring that the agency receives its fair share of the training budget. Additionally, applications should be made for training grants that may be available from the state. To ensure continued state funding for police training, police executives should actively support funding for state POST commissions.

Corporate and University Resources: Agencies should take advantage of local business and university resources to augment the police budget. Police executives should seek out executives of local and national corporations located in their jurisdictions and speak with them about assisting the department with its training program. Police foundations have successfully solicited corporate contributions for projects that cannot be funded through regular police budgets. Some police executives have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of support emanating from that the business community. Corporations have offered classroom space and have offered training for police supervisors, managers, and executives when they had space in their employees' classes. Corporations have loaned instructors to teach courses such as communication skills, management principles, and leadership skills.

Similarly, mutually beneficial partnerships can be forged with local universities. Like corporations, they sometimes have space and instructors available at little or no cost. Many college professors are happy to work with the departments, and experience has shown that their fees are often significantly lower than the rates of professional training consultants. Remember, the subjects do not need to be policing but instead can include such programs as corporate risk analysis, budgeting, communications, management, supervision, and many of the forensic science subjects.

Use of Technology: Agencies should explore the possibilities of reducing training costs through increased use of technology. Police agencies have been slow to explore the use of e-learning methods for police training out of concern for the costs involved and fear that the essence of training may be lost without a classroom setting. Once the initial outlay for hardware has been made, the administration of online and distance learning can be cost effective ways of implementing training in a large agency. E-learning may not be appropriate for all training or even most training programs, but certain courses can be easily adapted to e-learning methods.

Available technology can record the time an officer spends online, maintain training records, stream in videos, allow for testing, and offer simulated training exercises. Online courses can help to ease strain on patrol operations by allowing officers to take courses at varied times. An officer can be brought in for training while other officers cover his or her sector for the hour he or she is participating in training. Courses broadcast by satellite can allow officers in locations throughout the city to participate in training without the costs of travel time from assigned site to a training facility that could be in another area of the city. Additionally, the cost of producing and distributing videotapes to the various police precincts and districts can be eliminated by offering the training video through the department's intranet system. There is not space in this article to fully discuss all the ways that technology can be used in training, but executives and managers are encouraged to invite vendors to the agency to exhibit their products. Many corporations will donate software and hardware to a large agency just to get into the market. Just know that the objective is to solicit business from other agencies by showing that an agency is using their product.

Training on All Shifts: Training should not be viewed as a day-shift operation. Offering in-service training during at least two patrol shifts will allow officers to take training during their assigned shifts. In some departments, union concessions do not allow managers to change an officer's schedule without advance notice of as much as 30 days. Training officers on their assigned shifts could help eliminate potential union problems. Training on the evening shift will allow the use of adjunct instructors who work day jobs. Less space is needed because the facility used during the day shift could also be used during the evening shift.

Risk Management and Liability
Good risk management involves keeping the knowledge and skills of the department's personnel current. Police agencies have been slow to embrace risk management. Too many wait to be sued or to be threatened with other court action before instituting preventive measures to reduce agency risk. It is not enough to provide drivers training, defensive tactics training, and firearms training to recruits. In-service personnel must receive annual or periodic refresher training on these and other topics such as sexual harassment. The training director must see him or herself as a risk manager for the department.

The training director should meet regularly with the agency's risk manager (if one is assigned) and with legal staff to review areas of agency liability. The outcomes of these meetings should be used to develop training program to reduce agency liability. For example, if the agency is incurring unreasonable liability around damaged or destroyed vehicles, additional drivers training may be initiated.

Every police executive should be knowledgeable with regard to the major areas of liability for his or her agency. Most executives are aware of liability issues related to use of force, especially the use of firearms. Media stories on police shootings and related lawsuits and settlements underscore this liability. Citizen groups appear at public hearings to complain about police shootings and the costs to the city both in terms of human and financial capital.

Despite the potential liability of firearms misuse, some agencies do not enforce firearm re-qualification requirements. In one large police agency, only about half of its police officers were reporting to the range for re-qualification as required by agency policy. An agency executive has not satisfied his or her responsibility by merely issuing a policy. Measures must be in place to enforce the policy and to discipline those who violate the policy. The training director should be required to submit periodic reports concerning re-qualification.

The challenges of urban policing require more than target proficiency. A suspect is seldom, if ever, a stationary target. In-service training on firearms must include realistic targets, judgment and decision-making training. Officers must know not only know how to shoot but when to shoot.

Besides firearms liability issues, there are other liability issues that have training implications such as vehicular collisions, false arrest, wrongful death due to factors besides firearms usage, out-of-policy police pursuits, illegal searches and seizures, sexual harassment, discrimination, negligent hiring, and improper or inadequate training. Divisions of the agency responsible for maintaining databases on these issues should be required to pass along data to the training director. The director should be required to report on training program revisions needed to address these concerns. The revisions could be individualized training program plans for persons with accumulated or egregious offenses or agency-wide training programs to address issues that are universal throughout the department.

Another area of liability that is often overlooked during in-service training is related to off-duty actions. Officers are trained on the rules relating to off-duty behavior during recruit training, but they are seldom refreshed after that. A quick review of disciplinary records in any department will show that a large number of the infractions are committed off duty. A more in-depth review may reveal areas of necessary training.

Training must be provided on the appropriate use of equipment such as Tasers, batons, pepper spray, canine units, and video equipment. The training must be more expansive than simply how to use the equipment. Like firearms training, it must include training on the circumstances under which the equipment should be used. Inappropriate use of dogs or any department equipment can result in liability for the department.

Smart Management
The purpose of training is to meet the needs of the departments. In order to accomplish this goal the management of the entire process must be carefully established and validated. It will take planning, research, internal and external assets to manage today's police training needs.

Planning and Research: Training academies should not be placed on automatic pilot and expected to produce quality officers and keep veteran personnel proficient without planning and research. New courses should not solely be the product of a crisis. Strategic planning and research should be institutionalized and made a part of an agency's standard operating procedures. Needs assessment surveys should be conducted periodically with everyone in the agency being invited to participate. If the survey results are implemented, more personnel will participate and the training division is more likely to get buy-in for the training programs.

Internal Management: Staff development seminars with training and nontraining staff in attendance can help upgrade the skills of the training staff. Officers assigned to training should periodically be assigned out to patrol functions to get a more realistic view of current issues and challenges confronting street officers. A department-wide training committee composed of persons representing the major divisions of the agency and the various ranks within the agency should set the training agenda for in-service training. The training director should take the leadership in identifying areas of training needs and deficiencies, but the selection of the courses offered should have input from persons outside the training division.

External Support: Training staff should be encouraged to participate in national training conferences and professional organizations. Professional conferences offer an opportunity to network with their counterparts from other agencies and to view new products from the vendors exhibiting at the conferences. Staff should be encouraged to read professional publications to learn about new research and innovations. Review programs successfully executed in other agencies for possible implementation, duplication, or modification. ■   

1 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, 2002 (Washington, D.C.: 2005): iii, 2.
2 U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies, 2002, 5.
3 Every state has a form of a peace officer standards and training (POST) commission. Information about them is available on the Web site of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) at (



From The Police Chief, vol. 72, no. 10, October 2005. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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