Cross-training: a step toward the future.
"Sergeant, we have no other experienced investigators to help you. Do the best you can."
How many times have similar conversations taken place in police agencies throughout the country? Many departments need additional experienced investigators to assist in major criminal cases. When administrators analyze departmental resources, however, they often find a host of specialized investigative units and few officers who have been trained or who want to handle other types of cases. While it is beneficial to have well-schooled investigators in specialized units, such specialization limits the department's ability to address changing needs.
Law enforcement agencies, like other governmental entities, are beset with budget cuts and personnel reductions, which reach far into the ranks. In the past, administrators could assign uniformed officers to investigations when needed. Now, however, limited resources and public pressure for an increased police presence on the street make this practice difficult.
Police administrators face the task of making their departments flexible while maintaining economic efficiency. They must be able to assign experienced investigators to a variety of cases confidently and without hesitation. They must ensure that all investigators show a basic knowledge of investigative strategy and technique and then channel this expertise into as many fields as possible. Administrators must give investigators the opportunity to study a variety of disciplines while maintaining their own identities and expertise.
By cross training investigators, agency administrators can obtain the desired flexibility and efficiency. In addition, because cross-trained employees likely will vie for future supervisory and administrative positions within the department, the agency will benefit from having thoroughly trained candidates with a wide range of experience.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office Detective Bureau in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has developed such a cross-training program. The bureau contains three types of units: those that are primarily investigative but also help the legal staff prepare cases and take them to trial; those that primarily support the legal staff but also conduct a limited amount of investigative work; and those that primarily provide administrative support to the entire prosecutor's office. Overall, there are approximately 90 sworn employees, mostly investigators and their supervisors, complemented by a small number of prosecutor's agents who perform a quasi-investigative function but have no police powers. Approximately 50 of the sworn employees, none of whom are prosecutor's agents, work in the six investigative units selected for cross-training. The units include the narcotics task force, and the sex crimes/child abuse, fugitive, special investigations, homicide, and arson/environmental crime units.
First, the bureau established criteria for participation. Investigators must have 3 to 15 years of service with the agency. This minimum time on the job ensures that program participants possess a base level of experience and investigative skills on which to build.
To select appropriate personnel to participate in the program, each unit supervisor submits the names of two candidates to the chief and deputy chief, who choose one candidate per unit for cross-training. The exchange of personnel must be equitable, i.e., an investigator for an investigator and a supervisor for a supervisor.
The program lasts for 9 months, whereupon participants return to their regular assignments. Investigators selected for training receive ample time to complete any pending case work before and after the cross-training period.
When making their recommendations, unit supervisors must consider the needs of the unit and the agency. Sometimes supervisors resist giving up an investigator for cross-training, claiming that the person is too valuable or has too great a caseload. The chief then must balance these legitimate concerns against the agency's need to develop the flexibility to respond to ever-changing investigative demands.
The unit supervisor personally provides participants at least 3 hours of instruction per week. (Supervisors who participate receive instruction from the next higher ranking officer.) For the remainder of the time, they work cases with an experienced counterpart who shows them the intricacies of the unit's specialized investigations. The investigators also take in-service courses at the county's police academy and, when offerings and scheduling permit, outside training courses to master the substantive elements of the unites work. The chief's office receives monthly reports on the type and content of training provided to the investigators.
Evaluation provides a key element of the cross-training program. Unit supervisors periodically evaluate the investigators' progress and document their performance upon completion of the program. The evaluations address the participants' cooperation, initiative, perseverance, and thoroughness, in addition to any other skills the training supervisor deems pertinent. Copies of the evaluations are provided to the chief, the deputy chief, the participants' regular supervisors, and the participants, as well.
Likewise, all of the investigators evaluate the training they receive. They assess the training provided in-house, any courses taken outside the agency, and the organizational and personal value of the cross-training assignment.
The initial concept called for six officers to receive 6 months of training in a different discipline and to be able to participate actively in that type of investigation. Four phases of the program would train a total of 24 officers in areas that were new to them.
Upon completion of the first two phases, an unanticipated benefit of the cross-training program developed. An observable change in the working atmosphere of the department occurred. It became more cohesive, with less competition among units. Individuals who had been trained, as well as personnel assigned to the units :in which they trained, expressed a greater regard for one another and their respective areas of expertise. Barriers between units fell, and investigators began to share information and investigative techniques.
Another benefit of this increased cooperation has been a new approach to the most difficult unsolved cases. The original investigator presents the facts of the case to a group of 8 to 10 investigators from various units. The group then brainstorms possible leads and new ways to approach the investigation and suggests techniques for solving the case.
The evaluations submitted by the investigators and supervisors who participated in the first two phases supported the cross-training program. Ninety-five percent of the supervisors responded that they would feel confident in calling upon the investigators who were trained in their units if the need arose. Likewise, most of the participants (84 percent) rated their knowledge of the field in which they had trained as "very good to excellent," and the remaining 16 percent rated their knowledge as "fair to good."
The bureau made some adjustments to the last two phases of the program because both supervisors and participants recommended lengthening each phase of training. The main reason for this was the adverse effect of training during the summer months. In the summertime, fewer formal training classes were available, thus limiting the participants' opportunities to learn their new disciplines. Supervisors generally discouraged participants from requesting vacations even though they did not similarly discourage employees working with the trainees. In addition, supervisors were being left short-handed because unit staffing was depleted further by vacations of other people in the unit. To minimize the effects of many of these problems, the bureau extended the training period to 9 months and scheduled it for September through May.
Cross-training addresses many of the problems that arise as agencies become increasingly fragmented into specialized investigative units. Individual investigators can retain and continue to develop their specialties, while acquiring additional skills valuable to the agency. In the short term, the agency gains the flexibility it needs to address changing investigative priorities. In the long term, a cadre of well-rounded investigators will be ready to assume leadership of the agency in the future. From now on, when one of the unit supervisors in the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office Detective Bureau says, "Chief, I need more experienced people to help with this investigation," the positive response will be, "Let's see who has been cross-trained in your area."
Deputy Chief Bandics serves with the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and is a graduate of the 111th FBI National Academy.
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|Title Annotation:||police training|
|Author:||Bandics, George R.|
|Publication:||The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1997|
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