A small town with a limited public safety budget can't be expected to operate at the same level as a major metropolitan department with a budget in the millions, right? This assumption may no longer be true in a world of smartphones, GPS, computers, and sophisticated internet crimes. Small agencies can't sit idly by while criminals use technology to commit crime. While technology can be a blessing, training is a necessity.
So how can a rural law enforcement agency provide training to their officers at low or no cost? There are a few options that will be discussed below. Remember that each option is location and department specific. Your training will depend on your current staff's knowledge, proximity to other agencies, and local population needs. Any proposals should be discussed with command staff to provide the biggest outcome for the smallest cost.
As one example, digital forensics is an emerging field that helps an investigator to prepare a litany of serious criminal charges. It can also be costly. Putting together a training program and buying necessary equipment that fits your needs is critical to the success of your unit's development. Here are three ways to super-size your training program.
Tapping Internal Resources
Many police departments have a source of untapped talent begging to be worked—rookie officers. New hires are generally 20-somethings fresh out of the academy, salivating at the chance to work hard and catch criminals. They routinely look up to veteran officers for guidance and crave praise. They want to be included in "the big bust" and will work longer hours if it means getting a piece of the action.
What we often overlook is the fact that these same rookies grew up in the age of computers. Since they were kids, they were surfing the internet. They did their homework on Microsoft Word, not on a typewriter. They took high school and college courses online using BlackBoard software.
They're computer savvy and own the newest, fanciest smartphones on the market. They know that "jailbreaking" doesn't involve a crafty escape from the county jail; it involves hacking their phone's operating system. Younger officers are full of this knowledge where many veterans remain clueless. Guess who else has this knowledge? Young drug dealers, gang members, and rapists.
So if we have these young, ambitious officers with a desire to excel, why aren't we utilizing them? The excuse that they need patrol experience before they can help with major crimes is no long valid. A survey of interests and skill sets can go a long way toward meeting your needs. Using internal talent will also help when analyzing your cost-benefit outcomes. A rookie officer with computer know-how paired with an experienced investigator can lead to a tremendously productive working relationship.
Joint Training With Neighbor Agencies
My agency, the Gaston County (N.C.) Police Department, routinely hosts training sessions with other agencies in the area. This not only helps us keep positive working relationships with neighboring departments; it helps keep costs down.
Flying in an out-of-state expert is costly. The instructors are not familiar with your jurisdiction, culture, and focus. Using a trainer from a nearby department will also expand your training possibilities as each department has their own unique skill set. Perhaps there's a detective in the county nearby who is an amazing interrogator or a computer forensics examiner.
A simple phone call for a joint training session can save you thousands of dollars and keep moraleup. This will also serve as a networking event that can lead to interagency cooperation on criminal cases. It's always good to know a name when you call for help.
Training at No Cost
The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) provides dozens of tuition free classes and workshops around the country each year on topics such as narcotics, gangs, and cybercrime. A quick search of the FLETC website under the state and local training section will provide you a list of upcoming classes.
Federal task forces such as the FBI's Crimes Against Children Task Force or the U.S. Secret Service's Electronics Crimes Task Force provide free training and equipment for officers investigating digital crime.
Several training academies across the country also provide free or reduced-cost training. For example, the American Academy of Applied Forensics provides fee-waived tuition for North Carolina officers and reduced rates for out-of-state officers. They also use scholarship money provided by TriTech Forensics to train officers from rural police departments who otherwise would not receive forensic training.
Perhaps one of the most under-utilized resources available for law enforcement is online publications. I make an effort to read the local, national and international news every day online. Not only does this keep me up to date, but it provides me with information about new criminal techniques and technology. Online police resources such as PoliceMag.com offer articles written by police for police. Experts in various fields offer advice, reviews, and resources to fellow officers.
Several colleges offer online classes tailored for law enforcement. Whether these programs are continuing education or degree programs, they offer officers the flexibility to train at home or in their patrol vehicles during down time.
Technology is not going to stop evolving and unless you're actively making an effort to keep up with it, you're missing valuable evidence. Some of the most horrific cases have been solved because of cell phone extractions, hard-drive imaging and internet service provider records. The resources are out there and it's up to you catch them.
Graham Kuzia is a reserve Gaston County (N.C.) Police officer and digital forensics program developer at the American Academy of Applied Forensics. He was featured in a 2010 "Shots Fired" article.