I recently participated in a full-day training program on high-liability topics sponsored by a mid-size municipal police agency in central Florida. My blocks of instruction focused on patrol rifles, use-of-force issues and survival writing. One of the other presenters was attorney John Makholm, a former police chief and fellow force trainer.
After the program, while packing up our lesson plans, handouts and AV equipment, John and I began discussing the issue of training and training responsibilities. The genesis for our dialogue was an excellent article on supervisory liabilities that John authored for The Police Liability Beat, a newsletter published by The Makholm Law Group. The focus of John’s piece dealt with the duties that bosses and brass have toward their subordinates. Although the article didn’t specifically discuss training, it did touch on supervisory responsibilities, something that hit home because the attendees at our classes were primarily police chiefs, command-level brass and mid-level bosses not police instructors.
A Roll-Call Experiment
Many years ago, when I was just a “baby lieutenant,” one of my younger officers was tasked with a particularly troubling death notification. I brought this matter to the attention of both of my sergeants during one of our frequent brainstorming sessions. Having served as both a training commander and command-level supervisor, I’ve never been one to let an opportunity pass without finding a way to conduct some type of training for my officers. This seemed like a perfect opportunity.
The next day, a quick visit to the police academy resulted in my locating an excellent video on death notifications. This film was standard fare for new recruits, but I suspected the topic had never been raised again during any academy-sponsored in-service training. The film was about 40 minutes long much too long for a roll-call training session, which typically lasts 15 20 minutes.
However, after the three of us reviewed it, we found several perfect spots where we could pause the film and initiate a dialogue on the emotional aspects of making death notifications. After running the idea by my boss, who was a pro-training captain, we put the plan in place.
It worked out perfectly based on our four-days-on, two-days-off workweek/wheel. For four days, we did 10 15 minute blocks on making death notifications that dovetailed nicely into our roll calls. Some veteran cops added appropriate war stories about things that happened when they had to make such notifications. When the other shifts heard about it, they borrowed the film and conducted their own roll-call training sessions. It looked like we were on to something: bosses doing mini in-service training sessions at roll call. Other roll-call training sessions followed.
New Life for Training Films
When I became an instructor for Calibre Press Inc., I had easy access to many first-production copies of its award-winning training videos. The 85-minute “Surviving Edged Weapons” video featured an excellent seven to eight-minute segment on how to self-administer first aid in the event you’re cut by an edged weapon. By cuing up the tape to that point and putting together a quick lesson plan, we had another perfect roll-call training session on emergency first aid for edged weapon injuries. Again, the other shift sergeants, most non-instructors, became part of our ad hoc in-service training unit.
First- and second-line supervisors don’t have to be certified trainers to teach. Quite a few sergeants discovered previously unknown skills and talents and became excellent teachers. In fact, several went on to teach college CJ classes after they retired, none having been state-certified police instructors while on the job.
The real benefit was for the rank-and-file officers. In addition to the usual self-testing, video-based programs our academy would send down periodically on important but uninspiring topics, such as search and seizure, report writing and press/media relations, our officers were getting excellent training on topics not usually presented in academy forums, and our shift bosses had increased our cadre of trainers fivefold.
A caveat: Before a street boss ventures into the firearms or deadly force training arena, they should touch base with the firearms/force training staff to see if there are any training updates that might be appropriate as handouts. One of our street bosses was going to conduct roll-call training on deadly force policy about two weeks prior to our regularly scheduled firearms in-service. I was able to provide him with a copy of Calibre’s Force Continuum from the Street Survival Seminar workbook and copies of both Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor to pass out to his troops.
You don’t have to be a pursuit-driving instructor to hand out copies of your department’s pursuit policy stapled to a copy of Laura Scarry’s excellent July 2007 Law Officer article (available on lawofficer.com in the archives) on Scott v. Harris or a copy of Sacramento v. Lewis, the other U.S. Supreme Court case that dealt with police pursuits.
The Bottom Line
A discussion led by an enthusiastic supervisor, coupled with some informative hand-outs, can make for a great roll-call training session on police pursuits. Training is everyone’s responsibility; don’t leave it solely up to your training unit.
1. Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985).
2. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989).
3. Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833 (1998).
4. Scott v. Harris, 127 S.Ct. 1769 (2007).
Documenting roll-call training
After conducting roll-call training, it’s important to remember to document that the training took place and who attended the training. This provides additional protection in the event of a lawsuit.
An easy way to do so is to write a one- or two-line entry describing the training topic and who attended the session on your daily duty chart. Training Unit bosses can then make the entry in each officer’s cumulative training file.
Author’s note: Anyone interested in The Police Liability Beat newsletter can contact Attorney John Makholm at The Makholm Law Group at [email protected] or by visiting his Web site at www.policeattorneys.net. His legal practice is devoted to defending cops; as a former police trainer, no one knows the legal implications surrounding use of force issues better than Makholm.