n a North Carolina study, the second most common reason officers gave for terminating employment with their current department was a lateral transfer to another law enforcement agency.1 Historically, federal law enforcement agencies recruited from local police departments, and occasionally an officer retiring from a larger department would take a position in a smaller department.
But lateral transfer from one department to another was not common practice until recently. Officers have many incentives not to attempt a transfer to another department: the complexities of transferring a retirement pension, the loss of promotional points for time in grade, the loss of the higher rate of leave accrual, losing opportunities to select a better shift assignment, and so on. Today, however, many of the barriers are being overcome and the lateral transfer is becoming a realistic recruitment tool.
As noted in the North Carolina study, the reasons trained officers will seek a lateral transfer is not well documented. This author has anecdotal evidence that points to a few reasons for transferring: better pay, better opportunity for advancement, better educational and training opportunities, spouse relocated for a better job, lifestyle change, and better school district for the children.
Factors to Consider
There are several factors police executives must consider when accepting a lateral transfer officer. This article will focus on one issue, training, but executives need to address all the issues when considering lateral transfer.
Policing Philosophy: Each department has its own policing philosophy and style. The lateral transfer officer is already influenced by the department he is leaving. For that reason, it is necessary to assess the differences in philosophy and style and determine whether the officer can make the adjustment.
Department's Brand: Because each employee has a role in defining the department, an executive must consider how well the lateral transfer officer will fit with the image of the department. Consider whether the officer defines his or her role and self-image in a manner consistent with the department's mission.
Each police department has its own strengths and challenges, its own pros and cons. Not every police department can be the epitome of every aspect of police service. Ideally, each department will be competent in all aspects of policing, but realistically it will not excel in all aspects. Some departments will excel in technology while others excel in personal contact with the community and still others in traffic enforcement.2 It is important to consider whether the prospective employee will enhance the department's brand.
Policies and Procedures: Many facets of police work are reactive, and the policies and procedures of the department determine how the officers will react. In actual street work, the department's procedures are used repetitively and become ingrained in the officer. To the officer, the action becomes second nature, not requiring thought. While there are many similarities in how police departments approach situations, each department has its own emphasis and procedure. The lateral transfer officer may have to unlearn some procedures and adopt the procedures of the new department.
The Rogue Transfer
The rogue officer is the exception and not the rule among officers who are seeking a lateral transfer, and this article will not focus on the problems posed by rogue officers. But all executives must be aware of the rogue officer who transfers from one department to the next, just staying a step ahead of termination or decertification.
The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) has adopted a model minimum state standard for POST administration that requires employing departments to formally notify their state peace officer standards and training commission when an officer is separated, and to report any facts and circumstances that would give rise for commission sanctions.3 The state POST has the authority to decertify officers, and without this certification the lateral transfer becomes more difficult for the rogue officer. The IADLEST's standards recommend an establishment of a national repository of information regarding decertified officers. Also, IADLEST recommends that states adopt procedures that allow deserving officers to become recertified.
Although departments are not interested in hiring decertified officers, it is the officers who leave an agency to avoid sanctions for their conduct that is of concern. Past behavior is indicative of future behavior and this makes the background investigation essential. The IACP Legal Officers Section has developed a model statute on background investigations.4 The statute requires previous employers to release employment information to law enforcement agencies conducting background investigations of applicants for law enforcement employment and provide immunity from civil liability to employers providing such information. Immunity from civil liability enables the background investigator to learn about the previous conduct of the transferring officer. A conscientious background investigation will probably raise enough questions to alert the hiring agency of possible problems during the selection process.
The point is, police executives need to consider several factors when hiring a lateral transfer officer to ensure the department is obtaining the best possible person. Such policies as conducting an employee background investigation should apply to the lateral transfer officer just as it would to the new recruit.
Do Not Poach
Accepting lateral transfers is one thing, but actively soliciting officers from another department will be considered poaching by the other police chief. A department that is successful at eliminating barriers to entry at advanced levels so that qualified and skilled officers can serve in the different components is allowing the police service to use its human resources to maximum benefit.
Before any lateral entry provisions are implemented, care should also be taken to put to rest the fears of incumbent employees. Although they may resist changes that expand the pool of talent that may enter their agencies at other than the traditional entry level, they should also understand that lateral entry is a two-way street that increases their career options to move to and advance in other agencies.5 In addition, for younger officers the opportunity to work with trained and experienced officers will enhance their abilities and enable better succession into the advanced ranks at the appropriate time.
The Need for Training
Experts in policing have noted that there often is a temptation to regard the lateral transfer employee as a finished product and to place him or her directly into service. The experts say that this is a mistake and care needs to be taken to ensure that new personnel at all levels are given training and orientation in the agency's policies and peculiar problems.6 A qualified lateral transferee is normally a certified police officer who has attended a police academy and successfully completed field training and will typically have at least several years of law enforcement experience, perhaps even specialized education and training. This enables the receiving department to acquire a trained and experienced officer who can be deployed after receiving necessary local familiarization training.
When a department employs a lateral transferee there are a number of training-related issues to resolve before the transferee is assigned to active street duty. To determine the extent of this familiarization training, it is necessary to obtain and evaluate the transferee's complete training record. This assessment includes determining any training that may contradict the receiving agency's policies and procedures or city rules and regulations. An out-of-state lateral transfer officer will have to be retrained in the application of the receiving state's laws and certified as a police officer in the new state.7 This sometimes can be difficult for the transferee because it may be harder to relearn or modify one's skills than to learn those same skills during initial training.
When the required training is in administrative matters that can be easily accomplished. But procedural training for street encounters and use of the newly issued equipment that is directly linked to the transferee's physical survival can be more challenging for all parties involved.
Although the lateral transferee would have completed a law enforcement training program at an academy and passed a state exam before earning a law enforcement certification, an adjustment period at the new department is necessary.
Immediately upon arriving at a new department, the transferee enters an adjustment phase, and no department should expect any transferee to hit the ground running. If a department accepts a lateral transferee, then that department has a legal duty to explain its policies and procedures and provide the obvious related training, especially firearms training.8
An officer's training can vary greatly from one agency to the next, and not all officers are trained the same way. In addition, state laws that affect departmental procedures can vary substantially.
Law enforcement practices are dynamic and frequently change according to current court rulings and technology development. Managers have a duty to ensure that each officer is correctly and adequately trained in relation to expected tasks.9 When accepting lateral transfer officers, managers and trainers need to remain current on training trends and acceptable practices in the law enforcement community. It is these current practices that should set the tone for the incoming officer.
It is a common tendency for a veteran transferred officer to provide observations and express an opinion on the procedural differences between the new department and the old department. Management members should not be offended by suggestions for improvement or from the questions that a new transferee may offer. The receiving department should welcome new suggestions and assess if changes would be applicable for the department.
It is absolutely crucial for an officer to have the ability to manipulate the department-issued duty equipment, especially in an extreme stress situation or a deadly force encounter. Any officer who has attended an academy during the past 10 years has likely learned about muscle memory and knows to practice the manipulation of one's equipment until it becomes a reflex. If a transferee wore the same equipment in the same manner for an extended period of time to the point where his or her muscle memory is fully developed and upon arrival at a new department is issued totally different equipment, or equipment worn in a different manner, the officer will lose the advantage of the previous muscle memory development.
Moreover, no department should be so rigid in the policy of uniformity that an officer has no leeway in the placing of his or her duty equipment on his or her person. Some officers may like to carry a collapsible baton behind his or her gun and others may like it in a cross draw. Some officers like to use a shoulder microphone; others feel that when worn on the outside of a uniform it is nothing more than a garrote for the suspect's use. There should be some latitude for officers in placing equipment on their persons.
Furthermore, if an officer carried a level-three security holster in his or her previous department, and the new receiving department carries a different type of holster, managers at the hiring agencies will have a decision to make. They may decide that the officer is allowed to carry his or her current style of holster. If the transferee is not allowed to carry his or her holster, the receiving department will have to train the transferee on that department's issued holster. Before any transferee is allowed on the range to qualify with the new weapon, he or she should have completed a classroom instruction on any newly issued holster.
In addition, the transferee should have drawn the weapon from the issued holster an absolute minimum of 250 times. Keep in mind that this is a minimum requirement for short-term memory, and it is preferable that 2,000 repetitions be completed for long-term memory.10 Retraining from one type of holster to another may take twice as many repetitions. In addition, if the holster manufacturer produces a training video, then the transferee's viewing of that video should be a mandatory part of the classroom instruction.
An agency's failure to require a firearm transition program could lead to the officer's failure to draw during a deadly force encounter, and that failure to draw could result in the death of the transferee. In a situation where an officer needs to draw the weapon, the officer's muscle memory will anticipate the release of the previous holster's securing devices, not the newly issued holster's securing devices. For example, some holsters have two snaps that have to be released simultaneously and the weapon must be rocked rearward to draw, while other popular holsters have a button that has to be depressed and pushed forward, rotating the hood, so that the weapon can be drawn.
Not adhering to sound training practices can result in injuries, deaths, and liability claims for failure to train. Training on one particular firearm does not properly train an officer on all other similar firearms.
In one case familiar to the author, a recruit who had gone through a community college academy and trained on a safe-action pistol obtained a position with a department that issued a pistol with a decocking lever. Unfortunately for the new recruit, that department did not provide him with any firearms familiarization training on the pistol with the decocker. When the recruit came for training on his own, trainers observed that he would leave his finger on the trigger and attempt to manipulate the decocking lever and several times forgot to decock and tried to holster the pistol in a single-action state; all of the ingredients were present for a disaster. The really frightening aspect is that the recruit was placed on the street before this training with his department-issued weapon.
At no time should a transferee put lives in jeopardy because he or she is required to carry duty equipment that he or she has not been trained to manipulate reflexively. Every transferee has a duty to report any unsafe condition to his or her supervisor, and this requirement includes issued equipment. A supervisor should be mature enough to resist taking the voiced concerns as an attack on his or her authority and take them instead as honest reports of genuine problems that need to be fixed.
A department that accepts lateral transferees, or for that matter recruits from other academies, must document and provide the necessary additional training to ensure that those officers are proficient with their new equipment, know the local regulations, and understand the new department's policies and procedures. Doing so will ensure that the lateral transfer officers believe in the department's philosophy and enhance the department's brand. It also ensures that the officers can use their equipment properly in an extreme stress or a deadly force situation. Finally, it provides legal protection for the department. ■