Lessons to be learned

Ferguson. Baltimore. Minneapolis. These cities and more became front page news after violent protests erupted, sparked by incidences involving local law enforcement. South Carolina had its own share of headlines, but none of these incidents led to violence—a credit to South Carolinians.

While the high-profile cases occurred in other states, their influence and ensuing scrutiny of law enforcement were felt by communities across the country.

Nationwide, there has been an uptick in law enforcement liability claims, much of it centered on high speed pursuits, use of force, and searches-seizures-arrests.

There are numerous lessons learned from events like those that occurred in Ferguson, said Todd Williams, public safety loss control consultant for the Municipal Association. Elected officials and their police chiefs can learn from these incidents—both at home and far away. It is an opportunity for the department to review its policies and training to prevent similar occurrences.

Policies and procedures
First, departments need to make sure officers are following established policies and procedures and that they are up-to-date on best practices in South Carolina and the nation. They need to stay up to date on state law changes and court rulings, according to Williams.

The Public Agency Training Council has identified 12 high-risk areas on which police departments should develop policies and procedures. (See below.)

To assist its members, the South Carolina Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund, the Municipal Association’s property and liability program, partnered with PATC and developed comprehensive, up-to-date law enforcement policies and procedures for the high-risk areas and others. "Having proper policies in place and following them can greatly reduce a department’s liability," said Williams.

The partnership between SCMIRF and PATC has also led to increased training opportunities for law enforcement personnel. Member law enforcement agencies have access to free online training. The online training provided by PATC is an additional, optional training tool to review constitutional law and policies such as use of force, deadly force and pursuit driving, according to Williams. The site also provides updates on U.S. Supreme Court cases that affect law enforcement.

Social capital
The police department in Ferguson also had a disconnect from the community, Williams said. Departments need to work on positive community outreach to help build "social capital," he noted.

"If a department is intertwined with the community, if they have transparency and open communication, they’re not going to have that disconnect," Williams said.

Recruitment and retention
The work to build social capital in communities has its challenges -- among them, recruiting, hiring and retaining service-oriented officers, especially in departments faced with large staffing shortages or budget cuts. It can be difficult to find people with the necessary problem solving, multitasking and interpersonal skills who also have a service orientation and integrity.

Aiken has a field training officer program, based off a San Jose, Calif. model, that trains new officers to function as a solo beat officer and evaluates personality traits to determine what specialized assignments would best suit each officer, explained Aiken’s Police Chief Barranco said.

Recruiting good people is key -- and then setting expectations and creating opportunities for them is important, said Chief Ken Miller of Greenville.

It’s also important for agencies to have a good recruitment strategy, one that finds candidates that are ethnically representative of the community they serve. It is important for police departments to mirror the community they serve as much as possible, Williams concluded.​

Twelve high-risk areas

  1. Use of force/response to resistance,
  2. Pursuit/emergency operation of vehicles,
  3. Search and seizure/arrest,
  4. Property and evidence,
  5. Care, custody, restraint and transportation of prisoners,
  6. Domestic violence and agency employee involved domestic violence,
  7. Off-duty conduct of officers/off-duty paid details,
  8. Sexual harassment/sexual misconduct by officers,
  9. Selection, hiring and retention,
  10. Complaints and internal affairs investigations,
  11. Special operations: SWAT, narcotics, high risk warrants service,
  12. Dealing with mentally ill, emotionally disturbed persons and persons with diminished capacity.