Photo: Mark W. Clark
Even in the best of times finding public money for law enforcement in-service training can be difficult. But since the beginning of what some economists call "The Great Recession" several years ago, finding the funds for in-service training has been like trying to get blood from the proverbial stone.
Law enforcement budgets nationwide have been hit hard by the economic downturn. Agencies have cut back on officer hours, turned more jobs over to non-sworn personnel, and some have even laid off badged personnel. But the first thing that almost every cash-strapped agency does to balance its books is cut back on training.
Training is easy for bean counters to cut and it's a big, immediate payoff says Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA). "When you cut training not only are you no longer having to pay for the training, you're also not having to pull the officers off of the street and replace them with other officers who may be working overtime," he explains.
Of course, there are often repercussions from such cuts.
Off the Line
Last year a number of news stories were published on the Tulsa Police Department, as it laid off officers and eliminated its in-service training budget. The two went hand in hand, according to Tulsa PD's Capt. Richard Lawson. "The layoffs made it difficult for us to schedule training in the manner in which we were accustomed," he says.
The Tulsa PD's accustomed manner for in-service training was to pull officers off the line and put them in the classroom for mandatory in-service training. But in 2010, the agency couldn't do that as it faced labor shortages resulting from layoffs.
And that presented Lawson and the rest of the Tulsa PD's training staff with a knotty problem. The state mandated certain training programs and they would have to be completed, but there was no way that officers would be pulled off the line for the necessary training time.
Lawson and his fellow Tulsa PD trainers decided to conduct the training using online programs provided by the state's certification association, the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET), and distance learning programs procured from a little-known federal training center called the NCBRT. (More on that in a moment.)
The combination of online training and distance learning saw Tulsa's training division through a dark time. Today, thanks to some federal grants, the department has recalled some of its dismissed officers, reinstituted in-service training cycles, and even reopened its academy to a recruit class.
As the Tulsa PD discovered, there are a number of federal resources available for local and state law enforcement agencies that need to stretch their training dollars. One of the least known is actually one of the most effective: the NCBRT.
Headquartered on the campus of Louisiana State University and misnamed the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, the NCBRT is not some biowarfare think tank, as its name would imply. Instead, it's a resource for law enforcement agencies that need specialized training.
The NCBRT offers a wide range of programs for distance learning and even hands-on police training in subjects as varied as WMD response to active shooter response. More than 200 instructors work for the program, and they are on the road constantly taking the training to local agencies.
"Our trainers are mobile," says NCBRT public affairs coordinator Julie Cavin. "We come to you and we train all over America. And there's no charge. If you want the training, all you have to do is provide the facility for the training and meet our minimum number of students."
You heard that right: The training is free. But Cavin says lately the NCBRT has actually had a problem giving it away for free. "Since the recession, it's been a little bit harder to get people to train because even though there's no charge, agencies have had to downsize their staffs so much that they can't afford to have people gone for a week."
Responding to that challenge, the NCBRT is now offering shorter versions of its courses, many at least partially online. It has also been training trainers so that they can take back the skills to their agencies.
Another way that federal training resources are being used to help local agencies is by letting local cops use the training facilities built for their federal counterparts. At the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Ga., local officers can often be seen working on the ranges and in the other training venues.
Another federal facility that is often used by local agencies needing training resources is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advanced Training Center (ATC) in Harper's Ferry, Va. ATC Director James Cobb says that since last October the center has hosted more than 300 state and local officers for training.
"We have a hierarchy of training here," says Cobb. The first level is our primary mission of CBP training, then because we are on Department of the Interior Land we offer Park Service and fish and wildlife training, and finally we work with our state and local partners in law enforcement."