Who’s Responsible?

Lately we’re seeing more attention to interactions between corrections/law enforcement personnel and community members, possible suspects, detainees, and inmates. This is a good thing—because accountability is important, and also because the scrutiny is helping the public to learn more about patrol work and jails.

A big question is, how responsible is an agency leader for the actions of his or her staff? Very responsible, but that responsibility is also indirect. Behavior in a critical incident comes down to the officer’s choice of action. In an incident that turns physical, a jail administrator and a society each want a reasonable response that is proportionate to the perceived risk. How does a leader ensure a response is proportionate?

gearsBasically, three things have to come together. First, staff need policy to guide them. Without good policy and standards, officers don’t have direction on what to do and why. Second, staff need training. Training takes significant resources in time and money, and standards dictate a lot of the subject matter that needs to be delivered. Third, staff need supervision. Without meaningful oversight, staff lack support for consistency in following their training and agency policy.

Administrators of a well run jail conduct an incident review every time force is used to control a detainee or inmate. They examine what the agency can learn from the incident. Is policy in good shape? Did the officers involved get the training they needed, and did they apply it correctly? Have their supervisors and managers confirmed that policy and procedure are being followed consistently? Did any issues with equipment or the physical plant contribute to the incident and outcome? Is this officer the right person for the job, or are there other flags in his or her disciplinary record? Is this officer approaching burnout from job stress? Could the need for physical intervention have been avoided with better communication skills?

Sometimes the answers aren’t simple. But the need for local detention stays with us, and so does the need for administrators and staff who do their professional best every day. When agencies hold themselves to higher standards, everyone benefits.

For more insights on training, see Gregory Morton and Aaron Shepherd’s The Six Moving Parts of Correctional Training Effectiveness.

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