WASHINGTON, April 18, 2015 — With all the talk of inappropriate police procedures, including lack of supervision, incorrect reporting and excessive use of force, it is time to remember how many police officers give their lives in the line of duty each year.
On April 22, the Virginia Public Safety Foundation (VPSF) will host its 10th annual golf tournament. The VPFS is one of several foundations in the United States established to provide crisis financial support to family members whose loved ones died in the line of duty. Virginia alone lost five police officers this year in the line of duty, and many other were injured. In the U.S., 124 police officers died in the line of duty last year.
This is a good time to remember that the vast majority of our police officers are heroes. They put themselves at risk each and every moment of their day to protect the community they serve. They do not always receive the necessary training to perform their jobs effectively, and they are not always selected properly.
The average citizen probably thinks that each police officer receives routine, scenario-based training to prepare them for the type of situations they encounter and that we have recently witnessed in the news.
There is no standard for police training once an officer graduates from recruit school, and even the training in recruit school differs from one police department to another. He or she will have annual and mandatory in-service training, but most officers will tell you that in-service training lacks substance; it typically includes a classroom review of updated state laws and relevant court cases.
Some departments have training facilities that allow their officers to practice their on-scene skills in simulated environments. However, many departments acknowledge there is insufficient time and staffing to ensure that all officers are routinely trained in those simulations.
Further, most departments do not have that type of training. This means that, in order to receive that type of training, officers must be sent to another location. If there is insufficient time and staffing to sufficiently train officers in their own departments, imagine how much more time-consuming and expensive it is to send officers to another location to receive training.
Each officer in each police department receives individualized training. Most of this training is dependent on the officer’s personal desires and interests. While all officers receive mandatory in-service training described earlier and firearms qualification training annually, there is little else that is mandated or routine in most departments.
With regard to hiring and promotion, police departments do not take advantage of a fabulous tool at their immediate disposal – it is called the probationary period. During the first year of hire and during the first six months of promotion, officers are officially placed into a probationary period. However, very few officers are fired or demoted during this period if they fail to perform the job competently even though this time period is generally the easiest time to fire or demote a police officer.
In order to successfully remove officers during the probationary period, the police department needs evidence that the officer is not performing at a competent level. This is called performance documentation which consists of clear notes describing the incompetent performance. Officers will be given time to correct deficient performance before any action is taken, but if they clearly do not meet the job requirements, they can be fired within the first year of selection or demoted after promotion.
Police departments do not use this tool frequently enough when they select the wrong person. Once an officer passes his or her probationary period, then the evidence required to fire or demote that person is much more extensive and the process is much more cumbersome. Some would say that it becomes impossible to fire or demote an officer after the probationary period has lapsed.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, there are over 18,000 police departments in this country, excluding federal government law enforcement agencies. There are about 800,000 to 900,000 sworn police officers, again excluding federal government law enforcement officers.
Given these numbers, it is clear that a minute number of police officers are involved in misconduct. However, given the reasoning above, there may be more to come.
Communities can make a difference, not with negative reactions to the news, but with the necessary guidance to their elected government officials to provide their police forces with the funding needed to make better hiring, promotion and training decisions.
And, these hiring, promotion and training decisions must be monitored to ensure that the outcomes continue to meet the community’s expectations.