|Failure to Train|
|By Captain Christopher Wright|
The field of Corrections is often the “forgotten” product of the criminal justice system. However, many correctional agencies across the country enjoys peace officer status and all agencies issue firearms to staff to complete specific missions.
A review of current policies and rules as well as relevant literature and legal briefs indicates a distinction made between firearms qualifications and firearms training. The purpose of firearms qualification is to prove and record the trainee’s accuracy and safe handling of their assigned weapon. Firearms training, defined as teaching the necessary skills to survive an armed confrontation. Firearms training can be accomplished through range, simunitions and video interactive decision-making shooting (MILO). Although not necessary for an entire corrections agency, staff assigned to apprehensions, transportation, canine and other specialized positions, given their responsibilities and daily duties, shall be required to complete a prescribed training plan to discuss firearms handling, surviving an armed conflict, "shoot and don't shoot" scenarios, active shooter response and or room clearing and entry.
According to case-law, failure to train is the failure of the agency. The United State Supreme Court determined that The City of Canton v. Harris (489 U.S. 378-1989) that the specific duties of the individual officers or units call for more or different training stating that: “…it may happen that in the light of duties assigned to specific officers or employees the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy is likely to result in the violation of an individual's constitutional rights, that the policy makers of the city can reasonably be said to represent a policy for which the city is responsible, and for which the city may be liable if it actually causes injury.” Federal courts have held agencies liable for “failure to train”.
Additionally, in Liete v. City of Providence, 463 Supp. 585, the court decided that an officer and his department were responsible for a plaintiff’s injury as a result of inadequate training and supervision by the employer. In a similar case, Whitney v. Warden, 410 U.S. 560, determined that training is not enough to avoid liability. In this case, the court held that if training provided by the department is not documented, it did not occur.
The need for practical training can also be found in Popow v. City of Margate, 476 F. Supp. 1237. The court reviewed a case where an officer shot at a person he believed to be a fleeing felon in a residential area. Popow, an innocent bystander was fatally hit by this officers shot. The court ruled that the police department failed to train its officers in the safe and proper use of firearms against moving targets and in low light situations. The court ruled that while this police department’s firearms instructors may have discussed the firing of weapons in heavily populated areas, this subject was not covered in detail. The court concluded that this situation demonstrated “grossly inadequate training and supervision” on the part of this department.
Finally, the courts have also found individual officer’s liable when they did not follow their training. Young v. City of Kileen, 775F. 2nd 7349, an individual officer was found liable for the use of poor tactics, even though the court ruled the shooting of the suspect justified and that the officer was properly trained. The police department and the chief of police were found not liable, as this officer received proper training. The court ruled that the officer’s use of poor tactics created a situation where a fatal mistake was likely to occur. This case also underlined the importance of maintaining a system of record keeping, not just qualification scores. The court's decision clearly indicates that specific records be kept of any specialized training and any difficulty an individual officer may have with this training.
Identifying and correcting failure to properly train staff issues shall be compared across an entire training plan on not simply limited to firearms. Correctional administrators should check existing training plans to make sure they are providing adequate and updated training to their agencies. Requiring staff to take part in applicable training, utilizing proven and modern techniques, will produce a better workforce and provides a foundation to defend against failure to train lawsuits.
Captain Christopher Wright has 28 years experience in law enforcement and corrections. He is Captain of the fugitive and intelligence sections and is adjunct professor at Becker College.
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