The ATC attracts agencies from Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. And the pull is easy to understand. The 224-acre property includes a scenario village for Simunition training, both pistol and rifle ranges, and even a lake. All of these facilities are offered to local and state agencies at no charge. All they have to do is contact the center and work out a time with the scheduler.
"We don't just sit here; we are part of the community," says Cobb. "This is a commitment that CBP has made to our neighbors and our fellow law enforcement officer. And we're very proud of it."
While the federal government is offering a wide variety of online, distance learning, and hands-on programs to meet local law enforcement needs at no cost, some for-profit companies are also getting in on the game.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, venture capitalist Brian Naples woke in Manhattan expecting to spend the day in some extremely lucrative meetings. Instead he ended up trapped in traffic on the Triborough Bridge watching in horror as the World Trade Center buildings crumbled into a choking plume of dust and smoke. He vowed then to use his talents to help the country and help law enforcement.
After pursuing a number of different projects and deciding they weren't what he wanted to do, Naples settled on developing online training programs for officers. In 2009, he launched The Response Network (TRN) and a training portal for law enforcement called PoliceCommunity.net. The Website offers online law enforcement training for a subscription fee of $74.95 per student.
Some 50 to 60 agencies have signed up for the service, according to Naples. But he's been disappointed by individual officer response. "It's such a cheap price-$75 per year per officer and that covers all of the courses. That's about $3 a course. And we're adding more courses all the time. I'm surprised how little individual officers are willing to invest in their own careers."
Fortunately for Naples, cash-strapped agencies needing more efficient training methods have deemed his company's offerings as well worth the $75 per officer per year. "We use the best subject matter experts in their fields," says Naples. "All of our instructors have at least 20 years of experience in law enforcement plus a master's or doctorate degree."
One of TRN's largest agency subscribers is the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. The consolidated Florida agency, which polices both Duval County and the city of Jacksonville, is extremely pleased with the quality of the TRN training, according to Rick Lewis, director of training. "Travel and training dollars have decreased, but I have been able to show a return on investment with the online training."
Lewis believes online programs such as those offered by TRN will be the preferred police training method in the near future. And not just because they are relatively inexpensive.
"We have a younger and younger workforce and this is the type of training that they like," Lewis explains. "It's very high quality training directed toward adult learning styles."
Lewis argues that for some topics online training programs can be the same for all departments. "If I am going to teach bloodborne pathogens how is that different here than in Washington state? One high-quality course on that can fit everywhere. Plus the more people who subscribe to it, the less it costs."
In addition to the full-length TRN programs that it has subscribed to, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is also hiring TRN to make some customized short training programs. Lewis says the idea is to create five-minute training videos that can be used every day to remind officers of critical matters such as use of force, arrest procedures, pursuit policy, and issues pertaining to the Americans with Disabilities Act. "If we are going to get sued, it's going to be over an incident that involves one or a combination of those four areas," he explains.
Another way that agencies are managing the cost of training during a time of shrinking budgets is to take advantage of state programs. Chief Rory B. Collins of the Salisbury (N.C.) Police Department says that much of his agency's in-service training is handled by the local community college.
North Carolina is one of many states that uses the community or technical college system for in-service training. ILEETA executive director Hedden says there can be great benefit to such a system because it allows agencies to take advantage of advanced and expensive equipment such as driving and use-of-force simulators.
Another way that agencies have found to stretch training dollars is to share resources and experience. Sgt. Dan Kiricoples of the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Police Department advises his fellow training officers to seek the help of their neighbors and pool some resources. "The communication between all of the agencies in this valley in the training departments is very good. We're constantly sharing training programs and instructors," he says.
Pay Now or Later
Agencies are quick to cut in-service training budgets during bad times, but doing so can lead to even greater financial hardship down the line.
"The problem is that you can save a little now, but you can pay a lot more later on," says ILEETA's Hedden. "Law enforcement is increasingly more complex all the time and increasingly more dangerous. So it would behoove us to train better to protect ourselves in armed confrontations. Even if you look at it in cold, cruel economic terms, ask yourself: What does it cost to replace a police officer when they're injured? Oh, and lawsuits cost money and training can prevent them."
Hedden says the problem is getting bureaucrats to listen to such reasoning. But he urges trainers to fight for their budgets. "It's up to trainers to try to sell the idea of training," he says. "You have to explain why it's not a real savings to get rid of training."
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