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Suing Police Departments for Failure to Train Officers


When officers break the law, many do it because they just don’t care about upholding their oaths to the public, and some may have egos, anger problems, or other reasons for using excessive force. But many officers want to do the right thing, they just are not trained properly or thoroughly enough.

Of course, that’s not an excuse to escape liability for brutality or excessive force, it just changes the legal theory under which a victim would sue. In these types of cases, the lawsuit is for a claim for a department’s failure to properly train its officers.

Failure to Train and Deliberate Indifference

The United States Supreme Court made a failure to train legal theory viable in 1989, when it said that police training is not optional, nor is it something that a police department can choose to do or not do. It is mandatory. The Court also noted that the standard training that officers receive to become officers is often insufficient, and departments cannot simply rely on the fact that officers went through such basic, preliminary training.

To sue a police department for failure to train, a victim must show that the department exercised deliberate indifference to the rights of the population that interacts with the police department. The need for training must be obvious, and the lack of training must be likely to result in violations of people’s rights.

SItuations Where Deliberate Indifference Occurs

Deliberate indifference can happen in three kinds of situations:

  1. Policies that violate the law – If a department has an official policy that violates the law, the department would be exercising deliberate indifference for not recognizing that the policy is illegal, and that it could potentially harm the public.
  2. Moral or Community Standards – If violations of people’s rights will occur if training is not provided, and a reasonable policy-maker would have known that, there will be liability. A common example is a department knowing that officers may come into contact with drunk people, mentally handicapped people, or adolescents, but failing to provide training on how to interact with these populations.
  3. Pattern or Practice – If there is a history of legal violations, the department is under an obligation to train officers. For example, if a department has a known history of running down pedestrians during traffic pursuits, the department is assumed to be on notice that there is a pattern or practice of law violations which need to be addressed with proper training.

Even if some training is provided, the training must be sufficient. Training must be at a level that meets the standards of the overall law enforcement community. Training that does not cover all the topics, is not taught by experts in the topic, or which omits crucial information, may legally be seen as inadequate training.

Contact the Alabama police misconduct attorneys at Lasseter Law Firm today to discuss getting help if you have been a victim of wrongful arrest, wrongful prosecution, or any other kind of police misconduct.


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