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Departmental Liability for Failure-to-Train

Lack of training puts the department at risk of being held liable

Nothing is as important as making sure law enforcement officers receive proper training

Nothing is as important as making sure law enforcement officers receive proper training. Not only does it increase their chances for winning confrontations, the lack of such puts the department at risk of being held liable, according to guidelines set in the 1989 US Supreme Court ruling, City of Canton, Ohio v. Geraldine Harris.

Content is paraphrased from full article.  Link below.

Training Liability Sources
In the year 2000, Darrell L. Ross of the East Carolina University at Greenville, North Carolina conducted a study of failure-to-train Section 1983 cases. Ross did a content analysis of 1,525 cases (from 1989 – 1999) to determine the 10 most frequent areas where failure-to-train allegations were brought against departments.

Ross investigated the following six questions when conducting this study:

What are the most common topics of civil litigation filed against police agencies that allege failure-to-train?
How frequently does a municipality prevail in these claims?
How frequently does the plaintiff prevail?
What is the average award granted to the plaintiff?
What are the average attorney fees awarded?
What are the overall longitudinal trends of these cases for the past 10 years?
Police administration prevailed in slightly less than 2/3 of the litigation, or a 2-1 ratio. Less lethal force and lethal force (for example, excessive force claims) combine to be the most litigated areas asserting a failure-to-train officers (25%). This point on force issues (constituting almost 1/4 of all claims) is interesting because departments generally spend the majority of their time training on some of these issues, while ignoring other force training.

Departments always train officers in weapons disciplines, expandable baton training and pepper spray issues. However, after studying the table, it is obvious that 55% of the non-lethal claims arise from physical or hands-on actions, something which departments spend very little training time on. It is the exception and not the rule for officers to receive any defensive tactics or physical skills training after graduating from the academy. Ross’s study indicates this kind of training may be an area that needs more attention. The data also reveals that it may be difficult for plaintiffs to demonstrate a standard of deliberate indifference when they claim a department has a training deficiency. However, plaintiffs prevailed in approximately 1/3 of the overall cases, and the average award is significant, amounting to over $450,000.1 It should be noted that costs indicated in the table do not reflect the time the department and its administrators spent in preparation of the lawsuits and claims.

Avoiding this Liability
Law enforcement agencies should make it a high priority to take steps to avoid civil liability issues because of failure-to-train. No other issue will so drastically ensure your department’s resiliency as proper training. Administrators must pay attention to issues raised and standards set in Canton. As Ross’s study clearly indicates, departments should carefully review training practices related to high-risk activities, such as the use of deadly and non-lethal force, warrantless arrest and searches, vehicle pursuit and prisoner safety in detention facilities. Departmental training policies should be reviewed to ensure conformance with current constitutional standards, and training practices should not be allowed to fall below minimum standards. If a pattern of abuse begins to develop, officers should immediately receive remedial training in that area. Regular in-service training should be the norm for all high-risk areas.

Supervisor policies relating to citizen complaints and departmental disciplinary actions should be periodically reviewed. Specific procedures for investigating citizen complaints should be established and carefully followed.4 Complaints should be investigated as soon as possible, and the results of the investigation should be documented and maintained for a number of years. The same rules apply for any discipline assigned to any and all officers. The failure to discipline or dismiss officers who develop a track record of unconstitutional conduct may result in supervisory and municipal liability.4 While it is impossible to be free from liability, these proactive management initiatives will help reduce the risk significantly.

Good, clear documentation of training is a must. All officers should have copies of all their training certificates and description of the training received placed in their personnel files and in the department’s training files. This training information should be kept as up-to-date as is reasonably possible.7 It is also the responsibility of the agency to maintain records of all in-service training, including when training was held, which officers attended, which topics were covered and who provided the training. Certain skills, such as firearms training, should be required of all officers, regardless of rank, assignment or experience.7 Taking this proactive step will help reduce department liability by showing an ongoing commitment to proper training.

Other important areas departments should cover in their training curriculum include:

Legal training – this should include legal updates, new law information and search and seizure information.
Use-of-force training – reviewing the decision matrix and documentation required by officers when force is utilized.7

For his part, Ross made four recommendations after analyzing his research:

Each administrator should conduct an internal assessment of tasks officers and supervisors perform on a routine basis.
Once a training assessment has been finalized, administrators are encouraged to revise those policies and procedures that parallel training topics. An example would be the police department’s use-of-force policy that should be reviewed on an annual basis and revised to reflect new and current case laws.
In order to avert future failure-to-train liability and to maintain occupational professionalism, supervisory training should be instituted. This should include pre- and post-promotion training, conducted at least biannually, concentrating on supervisory duties, including policy interpretation, implementation and enforcement, as well as performance evaluation of subordinates.
It is critical that all training be documented and accurate training records be maintained. Training records for each officer and administrator should be maintained and inspected at least twice a year to ensure their integrity. Administrators should monitor and evaluate current and future training needs annually. It is also recommended that police administrators review their field training officer program.

Ignoring issues raised in the Canton decision can be devastating to an agency, its administrators and municipality. This Supreme Court decision clearly indicates that departments can and will be held liable for a deliberate indifference to train their officers, and to make sure their decision-making ability is based on that training. Although it is difficult to prove the burden of deliberate indifference, the average cost awarded to plaintiffs in winning cases was nearly one-half of a million dollars. Considering the fact that the average police department in the United States is approximately 10 officers, this amount of money could represent a large percentage of the budget. Attorney’s fees and number of man-hours that would go into the preparation of such a defense could easily double that amount.

Thankfully, there are things departments can do to insulate themselves against failure-to-train lawsuits. Administrators must make sure their training programs are current and effective, demand that training be a normal part of the department’s yearly calendar and thoroughly document all training. An effective training program can be the difference between dismissal of a suit and a serious judgment against an agency.

1 – Ross, Darrell L., “Emerging Trends in Police Failure-to-Train Liability.” Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 2000 v. 23, no. 2, pp. 169-193.
2 – Aaron, Titus, “The Failure-to-Train: or, An Excuse Not to Work.” Law and Order, March 1991 v. 39, no. 3, pp. 46-49.
3 – Bosarage, Betty B. & White, Supreme Court Justice, “Training Liability: What the Supreme Court said in the Canton Case.” Training Aids Digest, April 1989 v. 14, no. 4, pp. 1, 5-8.
4 – Callahan, Michael, “Deliberate Indifference: The Standard for Municipal and Supervisory Liability.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, October 1990 v. 59, no. 10, pp. 27-32.
5 – Lund, Lynn J., “Avoiding Civil Liability, The Training Perspective.” Sheriff, May/June 1994 v. 46, no. 3, pp. 19-21.
6 – Thurm, Milton, “The Need to Train – Constitutional Issues.” The Police Chief, April 1993 v. 60, no. 4, pp. 16.
7 – Dahlinger, Charles, “The Consequences of Not Adequately Training or Reviewing Department Policy.” Law and Order, December 2001 v. 49, no. 12, pp. 53-54.
8 – Sack, Spector & Karsten, “Failure-to-Train.” Law and Order, June 2002 v. 50, no. 6, pp. 136-138.

Article By Matthew W. McNamara Read Full Article and References HERE

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