The news is filled with a recurrent theme: cities and counties are experiencing budget shortfalls and every budget item is on the chopping block. A few local governments have even declared, or attempted to declare, bankruptcy! Many articles have focused on the issue of furloughs, pensions and benefits for retirees. Those are certainly important topics worthy of exploration. However, as a LEO and a trainer, I want to focus on proposed and actual budget cuts related to training.
I believe I have a different perspective on this issue. I have been a law enforcement trainer for more than twenty years. I have taken and taught all types of classes from the mandatory and mundane to the optional and exhilarating! Irrespective of the topic, the location, or the type of course, we all agree that training is important. As an attorney for LEOs, I also see the effects of training on the scene of officer-involved shootings (OIS). The high stress “in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving” (as is mentioned in Graham v. Connor) provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate the years of training, or lack thereof, that culminate in the most terrifying seconds in the life of a LEO. It is from this perspective that I write this article.
In my experience, the budget cuts related to training begin in a predictable manner. Some budget officer or elected official starts looking at the “numbers” of the budget strictly for the sake of performing mathematical analysis. Questions such as, “How much money did the police department spend on ammunition last year?” or “How much did we pay for LEOs to drive to training classes?” begin to drive the analysis. In my opinion, that is the tipping point when reality leaves the budgeting process and danger is on the horizon.
Training and Budget Numbers
Training classes take four forms: training mandated by the state, training required by the agency to establish minimum standards, advanced training intended to increase skills such as SWAT, Hostage Negotiator or Instructor Training, and training developed to address a specific issue such as Active Shooter training. In each case, the training reflects a decision to expend resources to accomplish the goals of increasing skills, increasing awareness and certifying that LEOs meet established standards.
Anyone who has served as a trainer knows that annual training hours or mandated hours for each topic are far less realistic than training objectives. Put simply, it is more important for a LEO to understand a critical topic or demonstrate a critical skill than occupy a seat in a classroom for the required number of hours! The skill and dedication of the instructors fulfill training objectives. Anyone can verify that someone has the required number of hours.
This is where the diversion between reality and budget numbers begins. The people crunching the numbers and recommending reductions in budgets are rarely, if ever, involved in the training! Further, in some governments they either do not consult with the LEOs who are involved with the training or ignore their input when they do speak with them! So, how do we get the attention of the folks with the calculators?
The Real World and Statistics
It’s easy-make the case for training using real world data. In product liability cases, and other areas of research, real world data is revered. It is hard to deny, guides the need for further research and makes people question their assumptions. The same is true in law enforcement.
We are given an amazing opportunity to gather information and data. You are sitting on a tremendous amount of information such as: How many traffic stops did your agency conduct last year? How many domestic disputes did the average officer investigate; How many wanted persons were located; How many miles did the LEOs in your agency drive in total or in emergency mode? However, when it comes to training budget cuts, we are not using these statistics. Think of the political impact of these statistics when someone tries to limit the number of hours spent on driver training or the number of bullets used during training.
There is another “cost” that is often overlooked. Well-trained and prepared LEOs lead to less successful lawsuits. While nothing can stop an agency from getting sued, the hours expended training internal affairs investigators, supervisors, trainers and LEOs on the street will diminish the number of suits and make it very unlikely that any of those suits will be successful. Lawsuits cost money to defend, but a jury verdict against an agency and government entity can cost millions.
Finally, the most important real world figure is the number of law enforcement officers injured or killed in the line of duty. The cost of the loss of live is immeasurable. The cost of a permanently injured LEO is astronomical. Training saves lives.
Surviving the Budget Battle
The awareness necessary to avoid even the discussion of budget cuts begins every day. Every day that LEOs take the street, detectives open case files, and administrators keep the agency running, everyone in the agency must be vigilant to ensure that the statistics that justify training budgets is gathered and disseminated to those making budget decisions. Let them ride along, and “train along”, to learn first-hand just how critical these budget dollars will be. This is the equivalent of marketing for a private business and as such, it is a continuous and never-ending process.
The traffic stops will increase, the domestic disputes will continue and LEOs will drive to emergencies today, tomorrow and every day after. Training is not an optional budget item. The training funds expended today will limit the costs, in dollars and LEOs, tomorrow. I have never responded to an OIS and heard these words, “I wish we trained less for this scenario.” Stay safe.
Lance LoRusso is an attorney, former LEO and founder of LoRusso Law Firm, PC in Marietta, Georgia. He is the General Counsel for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police and author of a blog, www.bluelinelawyer.com. He speaks at many conferences for law enforcement on use of force, responses to critical incident, and other topics of interest to law enforcement. He will soon release a book for LEOs on critical incidents. You can follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (bluelinelawyer or (lancelorusso).