"Under pressure, we do not rise to the occasion. We fall back on our training — whether good or bad," said law enforcement leadership expert Jack Enter.
Police departments keep up-to-date policies and procedures, maintain training and adhere to policies in order to protect the lives and well-being of residents and their own law enforcement officers. But there is public money at stake, too. And the same measures that protect law enforcement officers and residents also protect city property and assets.
Since January of 2014, the Municipal Association's self-insured property and liability insurance program, the SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund, has incurred $3.4 million in costs related to automobile liability claims from member police departments. Meanwhile, the Association's self-insured workers' compensation insurance program, the SC Municipal Insurance Trust, has incurred nearly $8.1 million in workers' compensation claims related to motor vehicle incidents of police department personnel.
So what are police departments doing to reduce claims from automobile accidents and other kinds of incidents that law enforcement officers encounter?
The City of Lancaster includes in its budget usage fees for the police department to conduct precision and high speed driver training at the Carolina Motorsports Park between Westville and Kershaw. The facility allows for the professional police training staff to simulate real world scenarios in a controlled environment.
An affordable resource available to any department is Below 100, a nonprofit initiative offering effective training by volunteer officers to reduce line of duty deaths through training on five tenets. Those include rules to always wear a seatbelt while driving and that, "complacency kills." The only cost for the training is the trainer's travel expenses.
Improving officers' safety and proficiency behind the wheel is one of several areas that police departments focus on as a way to improve safety and protect assets.
Many departments strive to offer more than just the required training for their officers. The Town of McCormick provides intense in-house active shooter scenario-based training at Hickory Knob State Park. This is notable for a department with fewer than 10 sworn officers.
The City of Florence offers scenario-based training so officers have experience making decisions in more real world circumstances than can be taught in typical passive classroom setting. The use of simunitions, which is nonlethal training with ammunition like paintballs, enhances the experience because it closely resembles reality. When an officer experiences the simunitions' impact, it provides instant, painful feedback reinforcing the need for better tactics and training.
The S.C. Criminal Justice Academy is working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to develop training to prepare officers to de-escalate during encounters with people dealing with mental illness, in accordance with S.C. state law.
For people who are on the autism spectrum or those dealing with a mental health episode, or those who have diminished mental or emotional capacity, their responses may not be what is typically expected.
Officers are trained to recognize and discern behaviors and responses, which may help officers determine whether a resident poses a threat or merely needs help. Part of this training involves techniques to de-escalate a heated confrontation.
"For instance, officers will be trained to avoid trigger phrases, such as 'calm down,'" said Todd Williams, public safety loss control consultant for the Municipal Association's Risk Management Services.