Enforcing the law is a complex and a continuously evolving challenge. Likewise, managing the enforcers can be equally if not more challenging. Gone are the days of “We gave you a gun and a badge, go forth, and do the right thing!” At every turn, the modern law enforcement agency should be cautious about exposing itself to situations that create high or unnecessary risk. By utilizing thorough risk assessment techniques, continuous forecasting combined with continuous training; we can bolster and mitigate the agencies defense against liability. In essence, we need to be offensive thinkers in order to build a strong defense. This process should be continuous as our policies and procedures are living documents and customs.
Recent studies show the most troubling legal problems facing law enforcement agencies today is the impact of criminal and civil liability. The amount of police litigation appears to be increasing with a movement towards larger monetary damage awards. Today’s reality is law enforcement agencies are increasingly being litigated. It appears the shift has moved from the slip and fall, mom and pop type business, to governmental agencies with deep pockets. This trend combined with the increasing violence in our schools, malls, churches, and movie theaters, make for a treacherous environment for modern policing.
In Law Enforcement, liability is created in many ways; Vicarious Liability, Failure to Train, Failure to direct, Failure to supervise; violations of USC 1983. These are just a few examples in an ocean of potential pitfalls we face in our chosen careers. This research paper will attempt to address some limited areas of liability, specifically training or failure to train, which agencies, supervisors, and officers / deputy’s face daily. Additionally, some recommendations will be provided in an attempt to mitigate these liability risks.
Governmental entities and supervisors are typically held liable for their officers' unlawful conduct when the officer was acting pursuant to an established custom or policy or in cases when the officer is not properly trained. As such, it is incumbent upon police departments to ensure the appropriate policies are in place and law enforcement officers receive adequate training. Many law enforcement executives may see training as a budgetary constraint. However, if viewed from litigation perspective, additional training along with the applicable certifications make good practical sense much like supplemental insurance.
It is common knowledge that training is a key factor in many torts. Often times when a law enforcement officer testifies, he or she will immediately revert to a defense along the lines of “This is how I was trained.” From the basic recruit academy through a Field Training Program to advanced and specialized training, law enforcement officers always fall back on their training whether under stress in a field environment or on the witness stand in a court of law.