By Terry Baxter, Law Enforcement and Safety Specialist

Everyone knows the basic functions of a law enforcement officer, enforcing laws, preventing crimes, responding to calls for service, serving and protecting the public, just to name a few. But these typically everyday functions can also prove to be a perceived liability to the officer and to the county. Liability or not is determined by the officer’s response and actions and that will be based off the officers’ training and as it relates to agency procedural guidelines.

Managing risk in law enforcement is challenging at times, as many of the events that seem to draw liability allegations are calls for service that required law enforcement response as well as some type of action, the fact of the matter is liability exposures occur daily in the law enforcement profession. Gordan Graham, an expert in law enforcement risk management said it best, “everything you do in life and law enforcement involves around risk”, his statement is so true.

I remember thinking after serving as Sheriff for a year or so comparing my new procedures to my old directives and what I was taught and use too with my Sheriff, who was a great guy, a good Sheriff, he was just from a different time period. I really thought my agency was well protected through adopted policies, monthly trainings we made mandatory and the supervision oversite of the entire operation, but how I quickly realized how vulnerable my agency was even with all of the enhanced resources and tools put in place to reduce liability exposures.

One thing I quickly discovered was policy without training is simply a waste of documentation. Every time policy is issued the norm is to make sure personnel who receive a copy sign for it, a waiver of receipt, that they had received and read the new or revised policy, but what you discover is many, now not all mind you, personnel sign, but don’t read or read the procedure thoroughly enough to completely understand or follow it.

Policy is developed through time and research, so we expect personnel to follow the directions outlined, but the only way to ensure policy compliance is to ensure that every option is provided to allow personnel to be successful every time they carry out the performance of their duties, and that is accomplished only through training and supervision, if your policies are up to date, so should your trainings.

I talk all the time of about identifying critical task of operations within your organizations, high risk calls that expose you agency to liability, now I realize as I have earlier mentioned, any call for service can expose an agency to litigation, but if you regularly train the chances of exposure could easily be reduced.

Nationwide law enforcement critical tasks that require the most attention to detail are:

  • Use of force
  • Pursuit and emergency vehicle operations
  • Search and seizures
  • Care, custody, and control of prisoners
  • Domestic violence
  • Property and evidence
  • Off-duty conduct
  • Sexual harassment
  • Selection and hiring
  • Internal investigations
  • Special operations- SWAT, K9, etc.
  • Dealing with mentally ill
  • Racial profiling

This past year you could clearly see use of force and racial profiling at the top of the list and these two tasks affected every law enforcement agency nationwide.

The chances of making mistakes in this profession is high, even with excessive training, but when mistakes occur hopefully the damages are minimal and can be defended and corrected.

Proper training and up to date policy development is essential for the success of an organization, it’s personnel and the county, resources are necessary and incumbent to help protect the agency from unwanted allegations of wrong doings. Don’t let policy and training be your weakest link of your organization, ensure your people are up to the task and can handle each call for service, each public encounter in a consistent and confident manner…prioritize and promote policy and training in your organization.