This article was reprinted with permission from The Rural Badge.
By Charlie Pitt
I recently read an article on Forbes.com titled Ten Things Your Employer Should Pay For, Not You. The article explains that if you work for a business, there are expenses that are the responsibility of the business owner, not the employee. If you work for a law enforcement agency, that principle still applies. There are normal expenses that are the responsibility of the department – not you – as well. Living in a state with relatively stringent workplace safety codes, it never occurred to me that in 2019, there are still law enforcement agencies failing to provide bedrock, deal-breaker basics for their officers. The problem is that people become accustomed to their own environment, sometimes to the exclusion of a reasonable perspective on a bigger issue. This post is about what's actually reasonable, whether you see it locally or not. It's not normal for an officer to be poorly equipped, or poorly trained. It's not reasonable, it's not safe and it's not acceptable. With that in mind, here are 10 things your agency should be paying for:
- Your agency should pay for or issue you a sidearm and a shotgun, and either pay for a patrol rifle or permit you to qualify with and carry your own. Your agency should pay for your vest. Rifle plates are a strongly recommended bonus, in today's new normal of high-velocity, high-risk threats. Armor can be concealable, or external, but it needs to fit, and it needs to be replaced as it wears. Your agency should pay for a vehicle appropriate to patrol in your beat. It doesn't have to be new, it doesn't have to be pretty and the fleet doesn't have to match. It does have to be equipped with a cage, if you ever transport prisoners. Ever. Like, even once. Your agency should pay for vehicle maintenance. Maybe they can only afford ugly vehicles. That's fine. Vehicles with bald tires or bad brakes? That's not fine. Keep it safe, or get it off the road. No excuses. If you are expected to use a cell phone on or off duty, your agency should pay for that. Do not use your own cell phone for work-related calls, searches or messaging, even if your agency pays you a stipend to offset costs. Established case law will permit your personal phone to be searched if there is information pertinent to an investigation, and one side or the other can make a case that the information is needed for court. Your phone is your phone; don't blur that line. It's not worth it. Your agency should pay for continuing education to meet or exceed your state's POST requirements. All officers must have ongoing legal update training, training in perishable skills like EVOC and use of force, and advanced classes to develop as professionals. Of course officers need to invest in their own professional development by reading and taking classes, but the responsibility for the agency's development falls on the shoulders of agency leadership, and so should the costs. Departments can get creative to minimize expenses, such as sharing costs with other agencies, sending one officer to certify as a trainer to then come back to train the rest, piggybacking on a bigger department's training, or using webinars and online classes. All departments can offer good training. Your agency should pay for firearms training. We are not talking about the qualification process here, but firearms training. There's a difference. Getting bodies out on a range to punch a few holes in paper once or four times a year, is not adequate. Shooting in low-light conditions or in crowded environments, using your weak hand or in an awkward position is not intuitive, and you're going to play like you practice. It's far more effective to send one or two senior officers to certify as trainers than send the whole department out. What is spent initially will make up for itself in reduced liability. The very first question by an attorney after an OIS is, "When did you last qualify?" followed by, "Show me your training records." Your agency should pay for practice ammunition. Confidence and accuracy come only with repetition, and ammo is cheaper than failure. Officers are far more likely to spend their own time on the range when they don't have to balance the cost of practice against purchasing diapers or groceries. Your agency should pay for individual first aid kits (IFAKs), including at least two tourniquets per officer. Of course, this includes the training to go with them. I don't ever, EVER want to hear again that an officer bled out from an extremity because someone above his paygrade wanted to save $40. Your agency should pay for communications equipment that works. This means dispatch consoles, portable and in-vehicle radios, and the repair or replacement of repeaters. If you can't get help, or information, because you're THAT far from coverage, that's life. If you can't get help or information because your comms fail, that's just failure.
There's more – there's always more – but these are the basics. Meeting a basic standard is within reach, and it's a reasonable expectation, for both an officer deciding whether to stay with your current agency, or a boss calculating whether your department is meeting the mark. This isn't the Old West, even if you live in cowboy country, and we don't just wing this stuff anymore – 21st century law enforcement is a profession. To be professional means standards and high expectations, from the agency, from the officer and from the public. To hire, train and retain professional officers takes time, money and effort. The investment will pay off in better morale and confidence among your officers, better applicants, improved officer safety, reduced liability and better relationships with the public.
About the author
Charlie Pitt is author of The Rural Badge, a blog for local police, sheriffs and town marshals, highway patrol, state troopers, rangers and agents from state and federal agencies, tribal police and anyone who knows what it's like to work where cell phone signals are spotty, and backup may not exist. He has been in the blue family for more than 30 years. He is an unrepentant newshound, a data junkie and a word nerd, who uses his skills to write about issues that impact rural law enforcement officers and the ones who love them.