4 Ways to extend law enforcement training dollars

Learn how to get funding for training and use your training budget as optimally as possible.

November 8, 2021

Article highlights

Police departments around the U.S. are tightening their budgets, even as the costs of operation increase. Gas prices are on the rise, and inflation is raising the cost of equipment, vehicles, and food costs. So one of the first things many departments do is make budget cuts in law enforcement training.

That may be a mistake, however, because reducing training can only lead to bigger problems later on. It's like cutting the maintenance program on your fleet vehicles because you'll save a few thousand dollars. But the problems that arise when your vehicles haven't been maintained will end up costing much more.

It's the same with cutting law enforcement training. You can leave officers unprepared for dangerous situations, which can put them at risk for serious injury or death. The department itself is at increased risk for bad publicity and an expensive lawsuit. And the entire community is at risk for any number of devastating issues.

(Several officers who were on-site during the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting in 2018 said they had not received active shooter training in years.)

For that reason, budget cuts in law enforcement training are, as the English say, "penny wise and pound foolish." You may think you're saving money by cutting law enforcement training, but the cost of the problems that result can be ten times what you "saved."

In fact, it's more than “pound foolish” to cut training budgets, as departments often get $10 returned for every dollar spent in law enforcement training. If nothing else, the training creates a return on investment for your department.

Additional training is especially important as there are demands for new models of police academy training, and an increased call for diversity training, de-escalation, conflict resolution, and even criminal and constitutional law.

There are several options for not only being mindful of your budgetary restrictions and protecting your law enforcement training program but also extending your dollars and finding new sources for funds.

In our 2018 State of Policy report, 80% of law enforcement agencies reported an increased need for training and another 6% wanted to change their training focus. But only 34% of them said they had the budget they needed to afford it, leaving the other 66% to find ways to extend their training budget.

In this article, we'll discuss how you can save your law enforcement training by finding government grants, splitting costs with other departments, finding online training, and even working with your liability insurance provider or risk pool to find funds.

Explore grants and other federal funding programs

There are a variety of grants available through local, state, and federal government programs and private organizations.

For example, the National Institute of Justice — which is the research and development agency of the Department of Justice — has funds available for research, development, and evaluation to allow departments to conduct their own physical and social science research. They have research fellowships that offer fellowship programs to the researcher community, as well as travel scholarships which let officers attend select conferences and events (i.e., training programs).

The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has funding for community policing organizations. They give $3.5 million in different grants for programs, including training, related to community policing and public safety. There are grants for crisis intervention teams, de-escalation training, and online training for tolerance, diversity, and anti-bias programs.

Some of these grants only cover categories of equipment, such as body armor, vehicles, computers, or communication equipment, or are related to anti-drug and counterterrorism. Even so, within those programs, there may be some training options for that equipment. Getting funding for that specific training frees up your basic law enforcement training budget and other important knowledge.

For more law enforcement training grants, visit the Office of Justice Programs and the U.S. Department of Justice websites to see if there are any your department qualifies for.

Team up with other local agencies

Here in Orlando, where our office is located, we have 38 suburbs with more than 10,000 citizens. Most of them have their own police departments, not to mention the city of Orlando and Orange County's departments.

Now imagine if each police department wanted to provide the same de-escalation training for its officers. One training company could almost make their entire career by going around to each suburb, week after week, providing the same de-escalation training to each department, over and over. And each department might pay the same rate for the training, let's say $15,000. Each department would pay $15,000 for the same identical training from the same training company, not realizing it was given the previous week just five miles away.

So why not join up with three, four, or even five other departments and split the costs of the training? It probably won’t be $15,000 total for all those departments, but it certainly won't cost $90,000 to train six departments either. What if you could train six agencies for $30,000?

By teaming up with other agencies, you can all stretch your training dollars, reduce the cost of important training events, and learn from the adjacent cities on these important issues.

You could share other training as well, such as active shooter, anti-bias, communication, or firearms training. And since many municipalities have interlocal cooperation agreements, it makes sense that they learn the same information as well.

Importance of inter-agency collaboration

Teaming up with other local agencies for law enforcement training makes sense beyond just saving money. As we mentioned earlier, a lot of agencies share concurrent jurisdiction, so it makes sense that they each get trained by the same instructors and with the same information. This way, if there are ever multi-agency responses to an incident, both departments can know all officers are on the same page for the response.

Collaboration also lets you share the same training space, equipment, and resources. If one department has a training range or access to specialized training equipment, they can share those facilities and resources with the other departments. If nothing else, the department with the training grounds and equipment could rent out the facilities to other local law enforcement agencies and put that money back into their own training budgets.

But for those departments that don't have the training facility, you can stretch your training budget just by renting out the facilities instead of trying to build your own and deal with all the overhead costs, insurance costs, and administrative detail that go along with it.

Conduct online training courses

Another cost-saving alternative to in-class, hands-on training is online training courses for law enforcement personnel.

In normal in-person training classes, you need to schedule your officers away from the field for anywhere from a single day to several days, for 8–12 hours per day. That means finding substitutes and/or paying overtime. That gets costly rather quickly.

But with online training courses, you can make training material available to your officers any time of day and they can work their way through it at their convenience. They can watch videos and read manuals during their downtime, breaking up an 8-hour training session over a few days. This saves on finding substitutes and paying overtime, but they still meet the training requirements.

Plus, with training management software like PowerDMS, you can unify your training content with your policy manual, plus track which of your officers have completed their training and when. This helps determine your compliance rate during accreditation assessments. You can quickly show, via the dashboard, how many officers have completed the training, saving your accreditation management team several days spent compiling all that information.

Work with your insurer or risk pool

Your department's liability insurance provider may have a program or grant that provides funding for new training and technology tools. After all, well-trained law enforcement agencies are less at risk for serious issues that cost millions of dollars and make insurance companies pay out large settlements. They'll be happy to pay out a fraction of that amount if it means reducing, if not eliminating, large liability settlements.

They may also provide a discount on insurance payments if you can demonstrate a certain level of training on certain topics. Those discounts can add up and help you offset the training costs. With luck, the discount will be bigger than the initial training costs.

A risk pool is another form of risk management for government agencies or companies, where they pool their insurance payments to protect each of them from future legal action. It's an effective way to prevent big financial losses for law enforcement agencies.

Risk pools also provide discounts on their payments for the completion of certain law enforcement training programs. For example, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police and Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency created a Risk Reduction Certificate Program and identified the issues that are most likely to result in legal action. By providing training for those issues, they offer discounts on risk pool payments because that department is less likely to break those policies.

These issues can include use of force, motor vehicle operations, arrest practices, search and seizure, mental health, and property and evidence.

Final thoughts

Yes, there are budget cuts in law enforcement training programs, but that doesn't mean you have to reduce the effectiveness of your training program. You can boost it by offering online training and save money by teaming up with other law enforcement agencies.

You can also see a return on your training investment: Work with your liability insurance provider or risk pool to receive discounts in exchange for training on important topics. And finally, don't forget to apply for as many local, state, and federal training grants as possible to expand your training offerings. Even new equipment grants will often have training funding as well.

You can manage all of your online training content and offer online training courses with PowerDMS' training management software. You can also visit our website to learn more about implementing your own online police training program.

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