Law enforcement officers undergo substantial training to prepare for the mental and physical demands of their profession. Therefore, it is crucial that the process for training and certification be carried out efficiently and meaningfully so that officers are ready.
In most states, training requirements and standards are set forth by a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) organization. As officers complete training, their departments report it to the POST. Unfortunately, this critical process can prove cumbersome.
Despite budget cuts affecting law enforcement organizations across the nation, training coordinators are required to store all of the proper documentation for their past and current officers. The large amount of paperwork necessary for maintaining training and certification records with the POST makes it difficult, expensive and time-consuming to comply.
Poor record keeping can place communities at risk. Officers who have acted inconsistently with POST standards may be allowed to keep working while their case is being processed. In 2012, WSB-TV reported that the average case in Georgia was delayed for five years before the state’s Attorney General’s office recommended a course of action. The results of a nearly year-long investigation by the Associated Press, published in 2015, highlight serious nationwide deficiencies in the handling of misconduct cases involving officers from state to state. While incidents are often prioritized so the most serious violations are addressed first, such delays can cascade legal problems, since arrests made by these officers are subject to scrutiny and can lead to dismissal of criminal cases. These problems can be compounded if records are destroyed, misplaced, or altered during that timeframe.
Standardization of POST requirements may create better-quality officers
A certification program requires frequent review to keep pace with ongoing changes to criminal statutes and advancements in the technology used by law enforcement. However, departments’ attempts to properly certify police officers can be impeded by dissimilar practices both within a state and between states.
The first area of concern is the lack of standardization in practices at the state level. Since each state creates and manages its own POST certification qualifications, it is vital they have an orderly system of operations to ensure adherence to these particular requirements. If becoming a certified law enforcement officer in County A means something different that becoming one in neighboring County B, effective collaboration between these departments in an emergency becomes more difficult.
Accordingly, the Ohio Attorney General’s office released its own report on law enforcement training in April 2015, calling for a more defined structure for the education of peace officers. While the report focused on pre- and post-certification requirements, it also suggested increased oversight of the training process and its instructors, thorough teaching of the pre-set curriculum without exception, and additional education in community-police relations, specifically focusing on concepts of implicit bias and officers’ mental states during stress-induced situations.
The second obstacle law enforcement faces is the disparity between state POST requirements, namely the establishment of reciprocity waivers for military personnel and officers trained out of state. Since requirements of POST certifications differ by state, certification in one department may not satisfy the skills and knowledge needed by another. Making these officers start their training from scratch could waste valuable time and resources in placing qualified law enforcement on duty. However, allowing them to join the force without first acknowledging the differences in training between employments could have a negative outcome in the field.
Use of waivers to equate training varies. The International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) releases an annual Reciprocity Handbook which consolidates the employment requirements for officers trained both in and out of state, which may differ from the requirements for military personnel covered in its Military Police Reciprocity Handbook. These publications reveal that basic academy hours vary in length from as little as 360 hours in Louisiana to as many as 1050 hours in Minnesota. Although each state except for Hawaii and California has a reciprocity procedure, the range of nearly 700 training hours between two states illustrates how little these training programs may actually have in common.
Moreover, the reciprocity provisions themselves may have little in common. Yale Law School advised the Connecticut state government to establish a reporting and training process that takes prior educational preparation and experience into consideration. The Ohio Attorney General’s office, on the other hand, devised a credit request system based on equivalent knowledge to expedite recruitment of veterans. This system places these officers into different parts of basic training and certification dependent on previous education and training.
By developing a consistent national standard, law enforcement can communicate a minimum threshold for quality instruction. At the very least, this standard must create guidelines for basic qualifications, including topic order, and establish a single comprehensive curriculum for training.
The National Certification Program (NCP)—recently launched by IADLEST, in collaboration with Envisage—is an example of an organization attempting to do just that. NCP provides standards for vendors administering continuing education and training for law enforcement, ensuring that education meets strict quality requirements while ensuring uniformity between states.
Integrated compliance reporting maintains consistent, high-quality policing
A significant challenge in reporting training continues to be the use of paper documentation. Paper can be lost or destroyed, and is expensive to store. Its use strains the boundaries of both departmental compliance and budgeting, particularly when digital tools are widely used to support other tasks.
Officers who embrace computer-based POST reporting find their certification processes are more efficient. Electronic documentation helped Nevada POST be more “expedient” and “efficient” as it saw “marked improvements in maintaining accurate officer and training information”, while the introduction of digital reporting enabled Utah POST to reduce compliance reporting from one year to five minutes.
For further improvements, agencies can incorporate real-time reporting. This step will reduce turnaround time, increasing overall efficiency and ensure the best-trained officers are on duty.
Law enforcement personnel must undergo a multitude of rigorous preparatory exercises before they can assume all the duties and responsibilities of being an officer. POST certification is one of the most important examples of how training can be certified based on its quality. However, this process can be cumbersome for many departments due to the lack of necessary budget or time. As a result, inexperienced officers are beginning their careers without the tools that are fundamental to their success. It is crucial for organizations to adopt or streamline their POST certification procedures to ensure the best-trained officers are not just present but ready. By altering the requirements to consider past formal training and integrating real-time compliance reporting, law enforcement can reduce questionable incidents and keep officers safe.