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Avoiding Negligent Hiring and Training for Police

Law enforcement agencies are duty-bound to protect employees and the public from injuries caused by officers. Properly recruiting, selecting and training the right person for the job is critical for law enforcement leadership.

A city or town can be held liable for the actions of a police officer who injures a third party if the department knew, or should have known, something about an employee’s background that would indicate a dangerous or untrustworthy character. Adopting a policy for hiring practices that outlines and directs the hiring process for candidate selection is imperative for departments. Having a policy in place will also help to make sure the department hires qualified employees.

The hiring process should include all of these elements:
  • Physical agility and aptitude testing
  • An oral interview
  • A background investigation
  • A conditional offer
  • A medical physical
  • Drug testing
  • Psychological testing
No matter the background or journey of the candidate, the hiring and selection process should be consistent. Standardizing the way that hiring takes place prevents negligent hiring and helps law enforcement leaders choose candidates who can be held to a high standard — the standard that the community expects.

Once officers are hired, training begins. Initial training consists of departmental training and then training through the SC Criminal Justice Academy to become certified. Law enforcement officers in South Carolina must have 40 hours of training every three years for recertification. This includes mandatory training for legal updates, domestic violence, emergency vehicle operation and mental health. Training should go well beyond the standard yearly training — it should be a key component in developing an officer. Every person hired has an interest in some area of law enforcement, so try finding the person’s interest and building on that.

A department that fails to perform due diligence when hiring and training an officer is doing a significant disservice to the officer and their community. Officers who stay in the profession long enough can be expected to encounter difficult incidents. As protests and unrest following law enforcement incidents around the nation in recent years have shown, an officer that engages in a wrongful act or unnecessary action can create substantial damage in a community. 

Residents need to be able to place their trust in the officers of their local police department. As the rank of an individual officer advances, that level of needed community trust will continue to increase. While there can be no scientifically precise measure of what makes the best hiring selection, departments need to be doing all they can to make the best choice possible. 

The Municipal Association of SC Risk Management Services provides a law enforcement hiring process for its member departments. SC Municipal Insurance Trust and SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund members can find information at www.masc.sc (keyword: law enforcement model policies).