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An interview with Lonny Wilder, Vice President of the Public Safety Group for CiNet

What role does training play in reducing legal risk for public safety entities? “Accurate, thorough and well-managed training is the single most important component to the construct of a proactive risk minimization program and the backbone of an effective public safety risk management plan. Public Safety training managers and chief administrators must, by definition, wear the additional hat of ‘Risk Manager’. These training administrators must train for and manage the hundreds, or thousands, of interactions between the department’s officers and the public every day—24 hours a day. Those interactions all carry the potential for litigation, but more importantly they create the possibility of injury to personnel and/or the public; training must be conducted in such a manner as to maintain the lowest possible chance of loss.”

Without training, what risk does a public safety entity face in terms of both the personal safety of the professional and public safety at large?
“Without training, the myriad contributors of liability risk are magnified. During litigation, one of the first questions the prosecution will ask relates to what training was issued, how the training results were measured and documented, and how the defendant performed in the post-training testing or evaluation.

When a public safety employee is sued for incident malfeasance, dereliction of duty, or any other event that causes bodily harm or property damage, the employee’s supervisor and the department’s senior leadership are generally all named as co-defendants. In fact, depending on the nature of the case, other senior officials at the municipal, county and state levels may well share liability. And, when large post-trial payments are ordered, the financial result can be devastating for an agency and its operation. Large payouts often lead to a forced reduction of basic resources required to fulfill specified components of protecting community life and property. This, in turn, can have an immediate as well as long-term impact on the agency’s ability to function at minimum requirements to maintain agency accreditation.”

On what key areas should training be focused to reduce risk for public safety organizations? “For public safety organizations, the list of key areas related to potential liability and high risk exposure is expansive. Law Enforcement in particular has the highest rate of litigious activity primarily due to the obvious nature of the work. Some of the key areas of concern include acts of negligence; excessive use of force; false arrest and imprisonment; unlawful detention; unlawful searches and seizures; assault and battery; malicious prosecution; improper vehicle pursuits; failure to arrest; failure to protect; failure to render assistance; and failure to render appropriate assistance.

Additional key areas include personnel issues such as negligent hiring, firing or retention; inadequate supervision; inadequate training; negligent supervision or negligent assignment; failure to discipline or investigate; sexual harassment; disability issues (ADA); drug testing issues; and termination or firing issues. For firefighters and emergency medical responders, most liability issues are centered on response and transport activities. Conflicts in patient care policy are also soft targets for threats of legal action.”

What are the specific legal and financial risks that training can reduce for public safety organizations? “Most professional risk managers judge the success of their efforts based on the amount of insurance they’re forced to purchase after implementing their program. The less insurance they need, the more successful their efforts. The theory is that although risk cannot be entirely eliminated, the frequency and severity of those losses that do occur can be minimized. It’s a time-tested fact that training is the key to minimizing risk which, in turn, lowers the potential for costly legal expense and the inevitable expense of filling the large gaps created by legal losses and settlements.”

Is the public safety sector behind the eight ball on using training as a risk management tool and if so, why? “Yes. Overall, the public safety sector understands the need to utilize training as a risk management tool. But, because the decision as to how to finance losses is generally left to the elected officials within each particular municipality, department administrators have little control or influence on this aspect of the risk management function.”

What have been the barriers for public safety organizations using training as a risk management tool? “Primarily, like most everything else, it comes down to funding—or the lack thereof. In the process of budgeting for public safety assets and resources, prioritization dictates a hierarchal pecking order that generally starts with safety, personal protection equipment, vehicles and maintenance—and then training. In recent years, tax-based funding coffers have been depleted to the lowest levels since the early 1930s. In the final analysis, it is critically important to maintain a strong bond between training and risk mitigation. Overcoming the funding barrier is not an easy lift, and the weight is exponentially magnified when training resources are reduced. Costly legal battles are only part of the pain. Cuts in training are a direct threat to the very foundation of community public safety and is a safety and liability gamble we can ill afford to play. Training is the key to reducing liability risk - and more importantly, ensuring the vital safety of the brave emergency responders that put their own lives on the line day in and day out .”

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