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A federal judge’s order blasting a former sheriff for a deputy’s misdeeds puts new pressure on agency heads to ensure officers are properly trained before getting a badge and a gun, law enforcement officials said.
The idea that a police chief or sheriff could be liable for an unscrupulous officer’s actions drew criticism from lawmen, even those who support sending officers to a training academy before they are deployed on their own.
The ruling underscores a debated state standard that gives new hires up to a year to complete a certified police training academy. Even then extensions are granted.
Many agencies, particularly smaller, rural ones, allow recruits to work before they attend academy.
That was the case with a Hot Spring County sheriff’s deputy who rode with another deputy for less than two days before heading out on his own in 2003. Three months into his job, that deputy, Joseph Fite, instructed a woman in custody to bare her breasts, then he groped her.
He had arrested the woman on outstanding warrants for driving offenses after she refused a date.
Last week, a judge found the assault was a violation of the woman’s civil rights and awarded her $ 130, 000 in damages.
But in a move that surprised lawmen and is thought to have set new precedent in Arkansas, U. S. District Judge Robert Dawson railed against then-Sheriff Ron Ball for putting the deputy to work with virtually no training, saying it “directly caused the incident.” “Fite was given a badge, a gun, and a vehicle with no more idea of the laws he was enforcing or the rights he was protecting than he did when he worked for the sausage company,” Dawson wrote in a 17-page order. “The Court finds Sheriff Ball’s decision to place a Deputy on duty with no meaningful training is both shocking and alarming.” Ball and Fite jointly were held responsible for $ 15, 000 of the damages.
“Amen. Amen,” said Robert Harrison, Texarkana police chief and chairman of the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training, when he learned of the ruling. He said turning officers loose without proper training is a “liability nightmare.” Texarkana is among a handful of agencies in the state, including the Little Rock Police Department, the Arkansas State Police and the Washington County sheriff’s office, that require new officers to complete a police academy as well as weeks of supervised work in the field before working on their own.
“Administrators are really facing a lot of liability issues because officers are not properly trained first,” Harrison said. “I think all people who have not gone to academy need to go to academy before they are placed on the streets.” But other lawmen disagree, saying they often have immediate needs to put boots on the street and cannot wait until a slot at the state training academies opens up. Some noted that they want to see the new officers in action before paying their wages while they attend the three-month long academy.
“I may send him to academy and he may not work out for me,” said Newton County Sheriff Keith Slape, who says his office is understaffed and underfunded. “They are an investment. I’d hate to just go in there and pay their salary and turn around and be rid of them.” Other sheriffs echoed that, adding their internal training procedures, such as riding with a field training officer, are adequate to get a deputy trained to go out on the road before attending academy.
Plus, all the training in the world wouldn’t necessarily stop a bad cop from being a bad cop, said Dallas County Sheriff Donny Ford.
Ford said he typically promotes part-time deputies who have undergone roughly 100 hours of training for auxiliary officers when he has an opening in his five-man office.
The ruling could have negative affects for sheriffs and county budgets, said Chuck Lange, director of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association.
“The sheriff really needs the leeway to have those bodies out there,” albeit under supervision, he said. “We will have to watch this very, very closely... because it could have a tremendous impact.” He said even though state law allows sheriffs and police chiefs to take someone with no experience and put them on the job, he said he doesn’t know of a single sheriff’s office that is so lax. He said the case of the Hot Spring County deputy going to work with little training is rare.
Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said he sympathizes with smaller agencies that have a hard time finding quality recruits and struggle to get them trained. But he still would support a state mandate to require the training academy to be completed on the front end.
“I think they ought to be trained before they hit the street,” said Helder, who runs one of the largest agencies in the state with around 350 employees.
The Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police has previously supported legislation that would require academy training up front, but it has never gained steam, said J. R. Thomas, president of the association and a retired Searcy police chief.
But C. Burt Newell, who represented Fite and Ball in the case in federal court in Hot Springs, said such a requirement would be impractical in Arkansas since there are only a handful of training academies a year and they are usually full.
“There is no current way for officers to receive all of the training before they step out on the street,” he said. “The pubic would not stand for a situation where a sheriff just said ‘ hey look, I’ve got these deputies but we can’t put them on the street for six months. You would literally have is cities or counties would go unprotected for months at a time just because they couldn’t get these guys to the training academy.” Newell said he has not decided whether to appeal the ruling.


I can't recall ever being told at the academy to not order a woman to bare her breasts or to not grope anyone, yet I've managed to avoid doing either for 20 years. :rolleyes:

I think if you're inclined to do those sort of things, no amount of training is going to deprogram you.

Police officers should be trained before they go out on the street, but I have to agree with delta that this case is just a lack of common sense which is about 80% of police work.
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