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Training to take the heat.


IN RECENT YEARS, SECURITY professionals and the organizations they represent have been awash in a rising tide of lawsuits. Nearly every case filed has been directed against security officers, their supervisors, and their employers. Two factors appear to have caused this trend. First, our society as a whole has become more litigious. Second, there is an expanding social conscience operating in support of injured parties. While the security profession is not alone in being sued, the pattern definitely reveals a targeting of authority figures.

A particularly disturbing aspect is plaintiffs' sophistication in pursuing cases. Previously unused and innovative tactics are being staged through old and recent laws. Plaintiffs' attorneys are articulate and intelligent adversaries adversaries who aggressively exploit every advantage.

Because misconduct litigation is a prominent and highly profitable specialty, there are those who feed on it. Some lawyers, for example, charge fees to teach their peers the ins and outs of suing for negligence. Seminars on the subject are offered, and how-to-manuals to guide novices are available. Also, expert witnesses, many of them security professionals, are paid to testify for plaintiffs.

The frequency of cases and the size of awards follow no particular pattern. Suits are being brought and won at all levels, in organizations and communities large and small, in all locations, and for a wide range of grievances. If there is one common thread that runs through this proliferation of lawsuits, it is the complaint of negligent training of security officers.

This trend is not slackening. In fact, indicators suggest the trend will continue to rise. The time is long past for decrying the situation; there is only time to assess the dimensions of the problem and take corrective action. The first step is to understand the law pertaining to civil litigation, especially as it relates to training security officers.

The Theory of Negligence

The usual path of pursuit in civil litigation is the negligence theory, meaning that injury and damages resulted from a failure to perform a duty with due care. Within the negligence theory, there is a particular vulnerability to accusations of improper training. The courts have consistently ruled in favor of plaintiffs who showed that an injury was caused by negligence, which resulted from either a lack of or poor training. When jobs have the potential for abuse and injury, as is the case with many jobs in security, there is a duty to provide proper training.

Three types of damages may be assessed in a negligence case--direct, punitive, and nominal. Direct damages include medical expenses, lost wages, and the costs of replacing or repairing property. Punitive damages are usually assessed when fraud, malice, or oppression is present. The third type is called nominal damages. If assessed, the amount is usually set at one dollar, hence the term nominal.

The general public has high expectations concerning the training of people who perform enforcement functions. The media have helped to shape (and sometimes distort) public perceptions. When expectations fall short and tortious wrongs ensue, the community is angered and injured parties seek justice through the courts.

Usually, the injured party will file suit against the offending person as well as that person's supervisor and employer. Plaintiffs frequently allege that the offending person acted intentionally to cause injury and the individual's supervisor and employer were negligent for failing to take preventive action.

When such a suit is brought, defendants often disagree sharply and bitterly. The offending person will argue that his or her actions conformed with the supervisor's instructions and training. The supervisor will argue in the opposite direction, and the employer will claim that both the supervisor and the subordinate acted inconsistently with company policy. This conflict weakens the defense.

What Can Be Done?

Any response strategy to counter the civil litigation should be aimed at eliminating factors that might contribute or could be construed as contributing to charges of improper training. However, even the best training program must anticipate that negligent training lawsuits will be filed. Security trainers should be prepared to answer charges with a positive defense based on accurate and detailed documentation of training.

Five tactics should be included in a security trainer's strategy:

* training validation

* administering training according to specifications

* trainee evaluation

* training record maintenance

* establishing instructor standards

Training validation. Validation means to ensure through an objective process that training corresponds to the duties associated with a security officer's job. The key objectives of validation are to verify that

* doctrinal content and skill development are correct,

* instructional methods are appropriate and effective, and

* training is relevant to the workplace and answers the day-to-day needs of security officers.

One of the more objective and commonly used techniques of validation is task analysis. Task analysis provides a curriculum designer with useful information about the job obtained from employees and others close to the job. The data reveal with high accuracy and specificity the nature and conditions of a trainees' future work environment.

A curriculum designed by using task analysis data often highlights tasks that could lead to litigation if not performed or if performed incorrectly. Further, task analysis uncovers the knowledge and skills needed for specific tasks. For example, if a task requires security officers to use a revolver, officers must be taught how to handle and fire the revolver (skills), and they must know the deadly force law and be able to differentiate between threatening and nonthreatening situations (knowledge). A good curriculum requires each officer-trainee to perform the skill part of the task, demonstrating a certain set level of competence. Job knowledge should be tested through written examination.

A curriculum is analagous to a movie script. Training is valid when the script is well-written and actors give credible performances.

Administering training according to specifications. The usual specifications that make up a curriculum are:

* tasks

* task standards

* task conditions

* time allocations

* scopes or unit descriptions

* sequencing

* testing modes

* instructional methods and media

* instructor qualifications

* lesson plans or instructor guides

* student handouts or study guides

When a curriculum has been validated and instructional activities executed according to plan, the likelihood of a negligent lawsuit resulting is greatly reduced. If a suit does result, a trainer has a stronger defense against accusations of improper training.

Instructors, logistics, and students may be top-notch, but training will not be fully successful if a program is poorly conceived or carried out haphazardly. Sadly, some training supervisors regard a curriculum as something to be tolerated, deserving not much more than lip service, and certainly not something meant to be fully implemented. After all, these people argue, the curriculum was put together by people who have no real appreciation of the problems that confront trainers.

Where this attitude prevails, the curriculum will serve as a general guide and not a controlling standard. Serious implications can result when control is lacking over what is being taught and learned. When a training supervisor ignores a curriculum, so will the instructors.

A variety of civil liability risks are created when instructors are allowed to teach according to their own dictates. A training supervisor needs to make clear that curriculum specifications are not negotiable, and if the curriculum requires a change, it must be done through an established process.

Training supervisors can monitor training in several ways to ensure the curriculum is being implemented. They can

* ask students, either in person or by written survey, if they participated in certain activities;

* visit classrooms and training areas to verify that students are engaged in activities that support the training objectives;

* read the written examinations and performance test guides to ensure that objectives are being measured; and

* look at test scores, critique sheets, and other written materials that reflect the details of daily activities.

It is better to discover training imperfections as they take place than wait until they produce undesirable consequences on the job. Mistakes noted as they happen are easier to correct and reduce the potential for citizen complaints and redress in the courts.

Trainee evaluation. Students are evaluated in two ways. They are judged on personal appearance, demeanor, attitude, desire and like characteristics, and on knowledge.

Two types of tests are commonly used in security training programs. Written exams measure knowledge attainment while performance exams measure skill development. Everything taught in a course should be tested. There is a simplicity in the notion of testing; it is a direct, no-frills, no-nonsense approach.

Since every task or training objective is either knowledge-oriented or skill-oriented, determining the appropriate type of test is fairly straightforward. If the task is to define probable cause, students should be tested by written examination, and if the task is to direct traffic, they should be tested by actually performing the activity.

A written examination may contain several kinds of questions--essay, fill in the blank, matching, true/false, and multiple choice. The questions can range from subjective to objective. Subjective questions have a lesser value in entry-level training programs because most knowledge-oriented tasks are either performed correctly or they are not. Subjective questions are also difficult to grade because they depend on the interpretations and judgments of the grader. By contrast, objective questions do not have these limitations and lend themselves readily to task-centered training.

Whether a question is easy or hard should not be an issue when designing a test. Certainly, a question should not give away the answer, but testing should not be a contest of wits between the test writer and the student. For course material that is important, more than one question needs to be asked on an exam, not just to convey its importance to students but to make sure the student really possesses the knowledge and did not guess the answer.

In many training programs, the types of questions appearing on a written examination are determined by the grading technique. Administrative expediency may count higher than the discriminating power of question style. If the training supervisor has a machine that automatically grades tests using answer sheets corresponding to multiple choice questions, tests should consist of multiple choice questions. This is not necessarily bad, but it does require the test writers to work harder in developing questions that are not repetitive.

To assure that written examinations are varied but still focused on curriculum specifications, the training program might feature a master question bank (MQB). An MQB consists of a number of questions, all written in the same style for a single course. Each task taught in the course should have about five to 20 questions in the bank. When it is time for a written exam, questions can be drawn from the MQB.

Testing for a skill-oriented task is especially demanding of an instructor's time, energy, and resourcefulness. The instructor has to find a testing location, provide the required equipment, recruit assistants, organize students, get them to the testing location, and conduct the tests.

Instances of instructors allowing some students to pass without being tested or without achieving the minimum competence levels are most likely to happen in the performance examinations. The training supervisor needs to be aware of this possibility and take steps to ensure that

* sufficient time is made available for testing so an instructor won't be rushed to finish,

* lots of practice has preceded the testing so students will have little difficulty in adjusting to the testing mode and showcasing their skills for evaluation,

* the instructor has plenty of help in setting up, conducting, and evaluating an exam, and

* slower learners receive special attention prior to and during the testing.

Establishing a spread among learners should not concern the instructor. The idea is to find out if the student has reached an acceptable level of competence. It is strictly a pass or fail situation.

By contrast, traditional testing methods assume that by measuring selected portions of a course, it is possible to judge a student's competence level for the whole course. This is in the nature of an estimate, and estimates are not sufficiently reliable when serious consequences, like death or injury, can ride on a decision made from knowledge acquired in training.

Training record maintenance. Because documentation can serve as a defense to a charge of negligent training, it makes good sense to keep records of every student's progress from the start of the course to completion. Documents such as entrance examination scores, aptitude and psychological test scores, school transcripts, and the like are indicators of a student's entering abilities and predictors of his or her course performance.

If an applicant does not meet course prerequisites but is still allowed to enter the program, a record should be made of who granted the waiver and why. This serves as a red flag, not to stigmatize the student, but to alert staff to a need for special teaching attention. Whatever extra efforts are expended by the staff and the student to overcome deficiencies should be made a matter of record.

Lesson plans and handouts are excellent documents for refuting negligent training claims. They reflect what instructors taught and what students were expected to learn. For example, a lesson plan on self-defense tactics would require an instructor to emphasize the risk of injury to a person being restrained by a choke hold. The handout would reinforce that point. Together they would rebut a claim for improper training of the choke hold. One note of advice: Put preparation and revision dates on lesson plans and handouts.

Attendance sheets can also be important. If an officer falsely claims he or she was not in class on the day the lesson was taught and the handout distributed, thereby imputing negligence to the training operation, attendance sheets provide an opportunity for refutation.

A student dossier is also important. It contains items that reflect entry into the course, participation in it, and departure from it. There might be evidence of registration, tuition fees paid, issuance of equipment, disciplining, counseling, academic problems, absences, makeup and remedial training and retesting, special honors earned, and test results.

From the standpoint of potential civil liability, test results are significant because they substantiate that important, job-related tasks were learned by the trainee. These results should be recorded in a format that describes what was tested, the names of the evaluator and approving official, whether reteaching and retesting were needed, and the student's signature as acknowledgment of the record's entries.

Establishing instructor standards. The instructional staff is the backbone of a training program. In jurisdictions where security training programs are mandated, there has been a strong movement toward adopting instructor standards. A certification process is usually required and may mandate that instructors meet certain standards that relate to

* education and training accomplishments,

* field experience in the subject,

* familiarity with and acceptance of course curriculum specifications relating to the subject, and

* successful completion of an approved training course.

An instructor's competence is judged in two areas: subject knowledge and ability to teach. Exceptional instructors are proficient in both subject knowledge and teaching abilities, average instructors will have a combination of strengths and weaknesses in each area, and below average instructors will be weak in at least one area.

If required to select a below average instructor, a training supervisor should not choose an instructor who is weak in subject knowledge. An instructor who lacks a solid command of the subject needs to return to the field and gain more knowledge through job experience and self-development. The instructor who knows his topic but cannot teach well can be improved with much less difficulty. A certain amount of improvement will inevitably result from the teaching experience itself and from interacting with and learning from other instructors.

As has been discussed, there are many risks associated with inadequate and poorly managed security training programs. A question every security trainer needs to examine is not whether an organization can afford quality programs but whether it can afford not to have them.

John J. Fay, CPP, is security manager for Standard Oil Production Company in Houston, TX. He is the author of Approaches to Criminal Justice Training, Butterworths Dictionary of Security Terms & Concepts, The Alcohol/Drug Abuse Dictionary and Encyclopedia, and The Police Dictionary and Encyclopedia. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:training of security personnel to lessen civil liability risks
Author:Fay, John
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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