Training of the Police on Section 1983 Issues


Section 1983 was part of the 1871 Enforcement Act which was passed by the Congress to protect against the racial injustices during the post-Civil War era. It allows the public to bring a civil lawsuit for certain violations of constitutional rights, that are federally protected. Police departments are constantly facing section 1983 liability issues as a result of a violation of certain protected Civil Rights and also due to lack of adequate training (Powell, Meitl & Worrall). The United States Supreme Court during their ruling in Canton v Ohio (1989), clarified that it is a critical managerial responsibility to train their police personnel. Further, the Court expanded the subject in Monell v. Department of Social Services (1978), by allowing the suing of municipalities which fail to train their officers. It is therefore vital that police officers receive adequate training on section 1983 issues to avoid the potential costs and effects resulting from civil lawsuits.

The police need adequate training to support any possible agency deficiencies that will help insulate them from section 1983 liabilities issues. This can be done through assessment of police cases reports, citizen complaints, service calls, job requirements changes over three years, and disciplinary actions according to the frequency and criticality of the activity. Commensurate training should also be developed, as alterations in the law impact their job functions. Additionally, police administrators must conduct internal assessments of recurring task officers which should be done on a daily routine. Therefore, despite the failure of many administrators to train the police personnel, there is still more time to focus on adequate training to increase the proficiency of the officers and also avert future civil lawsuits.

After finalizing a training assessment, it is important for police administrators to revise the policies and procedures that are parallel to the topics of the training. Sufficient training addressing the policy change for the force laws, equipment change, and authorized restraint techniques should be performed. Moreover, training in areas with the high obligation which require competency and physical skills should be provided annually (Cushion, 2018). Minimally, this includes emergency vehicles operations, nonlethal and lethal force, and arrest laws. Police administrators should, therefore, be providing adequate training which the standards of the training council.

Despite the advantages of training, no mandates for the police officers require any extra training. Therefore, the chief of the agency has first to determine what extra training are suitable for the police department based on the available resources. In service, training is often mandated by the Attorney General, county prosecutor, or various federal or state rules (McCombs, 2015). Therefore, it is important to provide an attorney before conducting the training exercise to avoid lawsuits. The service will be easier since police officers’ training has always been encouraged. This is because training on continued law enforcement enables officers to perform more safely and effectively. Training is also essential to enable them to limit liabilities in civil actions that may arise from the activities of police officers.

Several in-service pieces of training programs require a mandate from the Attorney General. The mandatory training includes training for All Law Enforcement Officers, training because of a specific assignment and voluntary in-service training (McCombs, 2015). Regardless of their assignments and duties, all police officers have to complete their training on Firearms Qualification, Vehicular Pursuit Policy and Use of Force Policy. Similarly, the N.J.S.A 2C:25-20 demands all police officers to complete at least five hours of in-service training on domestic violence. Many police officers must complete training on Bloodborne Pathogens, Hazardous materials, k-9 in-service training, and emergency medical, technical recertification, because of particular duties and assignments. Other voluntary in-service trainings include instruction and radar operator training, internal affairs procedures and policies, Victim-witness services, and First Aid training. Despite all the necessary training, many police departments have been reluctant in training their personnel resulting in many lawsuits against the police. Therefore, there is a need for a policy that will bring change in the police departments.

Police officers should be taught regularly, especially in high liability areas that require competency and physical skills. In the past three decades, the laws of arrest and search and seizure laws have been changing and bringing some major impacts on the officers’ and supervisors’ duties of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore daily training of the officers is recommended. The daily training should also be supervised to maintain occupational professionalism and avert future civil liability. This includes pre and posts promotion training that should be carried out annually, focusing on supervisory duties and assessment of the subordinate’s performance. The supervisors should receive regular trainings emphasizing on their managerial responsibilities to ensure reduction and risk management of the administrative liability. Efficient operation of the police departments will be ensured with a committed regular training of all the personnel.

It is advisable for law enforcement agencies to prioritize updating the department policy with all the new cases arising. Administrators have to pay attention to all issues associated with activities of high risks, like usage of non-lethal and deadly force, arrests and warrantless searches including many others and make sure that all the cases are updated to department policy daily. The training policies of the department should also be reviewed regularly to ensure that all activities of the personnel conform with current constitutional standards. The updates of the cases should also be kept up to date, and the agency should maintain the records for older cases to develop a track record illegal conducts resulting in civil and supervisor liability. Despite the impossibility of being free from liability, the proactive updating of new cases to department policy will help reduce the risk significantly.

The chief executive police should implement a policy of regular training of the police personnel on section 1983 issues. The training policies should then be reviewed and documented regularly, especially for all high-risk areas to avoid civil liability. The police officers should have all their copies of training certificates which describe all the training they have received. The policy also requires all the police officers regardless of their rank, experience, or assignment, to complete all their training, especially those involving firearms. Additionally, all administrators have to conduct internal assessments on tasks performed by the officers on a routine basis.

To avert the future failure train liability, the policy will ensure that there is supervisory training of the officers. This includes concentration supervisory duties, which include implementation, enforcement and interpretation, pre and post promotion training as well as evaluation of the subordinates’ performance. Assessment of all types of calls over the past years will also be conducted through the policy before proper training is provided to the officers. This will help the police department meet all the training needs of the officers and also serve the community in the best manner. There is also no set of standard for all police training in the United States because they differ with the number course content and hours required. This policy will that officers and municipalities benefit from standardized training.

In conclusion, the police have been experiencing the majority of section 1983 lawsuits liabilities. Therefore, is a need for their proper training regularly to avert future civil liabilities. Every police administrator has to continue maintaining commitment by providing regular training to increase the winning ratio of any future lawsuit that may arise due to inadequate training. Implementing the policy of regular training of the police personnel on section 1983 issues, will lead to the production of efficient departments, capable officers, and prevent them from lawsuit liabilities.
















Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 109 S. Ct. 1197, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412, (1989).

Cushion, C. J., (2018). Exploring the delivery of officer safety training: A case study. Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice.

McCombs, J. W., (2015). Problem-based learning in law enforcement in-service training: A study of the use of force (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University).

Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611, (1978).

Powell, Z. A., Meitl, M. B., & Worrall, J. L. (2017). Police consent decrees and Section 1983, civil rights litigation. Criminology & Public Policy, 16(2), 575-605.


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