Scott Ball / Rivard Report
When Javier Salazar took over as Bexar County Sheriff last year, a top priority was to upgrade what he calls "substandard" training for deputies. On Monday, he announced that current deputies will be required to complete 16 additional hours of annual in-service training, and training requirements for cadet classes will also increase.
Salazar's move to increase annual in-service training from 24 hours to 40 begins at the start of a new training cycle for both deputies and cadets. It also comes less than three weeks after the death of 6-year-old Kameron Prescott, who was shot by sheriff's deputies who were pursuing a wanted felon in a Schertz mobile home park.
Although Salazar said plans already were underway to bolster training, the circumstances surrounding Prescott's death highlighted the role training can play in situations in which deputies have only seconds to react.
Current deputy training includes lessons on de-escalation of force and instruction that puts officers into simulated "shoot, don't shoot" situations, including force-on-force drills between deputies using paintball guns against each other. Other training focuses on resiliency, in which officers learn ways of coping with work-related stress.
But beyond tactical strategies, Salazar said he wants the additional training to emphasize strengthening customer relations. "We are just back to basics – teaching officers what exactly constitutes the most positive interaction between law enforcement and civilians when seconds count," he told the Rivard Report on Tuesday.
Salazar would not disclose how much the additional training would cost, but said that neither he nor Ottis Hutchinson, the sheriff's department budget director, foresee an increase in spending. Since the deputy training is done in-house, Salazar said it was not difficult to simply assign more resources to training.
The way Salazar sees it, additional training costs far less than making mistakes in the use of deadly force or in dealing with violent or mentally ill jail inmates.
"I think from a legal perspective, I wouldn't be able to defend in a court of law why my training is so substandard," Salazar said. "I almost had to come up to the 40-hour mark from a liability perspective."
A civil-rights lawsuit against two Bexar County Sheriffs deputies is pending in the 2015 death of Gilbert Flores, whom a video shows being shot by deputies as he held his hands up but with a knife in one hand, and the County has paid settlements in other cases involving deaths of jail inmates.
"All I'm looking to do is improve each and every interaction we have with our citizens and save lives," Salazar said.
St. Mary’s University law professor Gerald Reamey, who has served as a consultant for law enforcement agencies, believes that while it's commendable to mandate more training, it doesn't come without expense.
"Training is always expensive, and that’s the thing that prevents most agencies, especially smaller agencies, from doing extensive training," Reamey said. On top of the financial costs of providing instructional staff and facilities, another primary expense comes from a loss of manpower during the training.
"You don't have officers on the street, you don't have officers in the jail for 40 hours a year, that's a substantial amount of manpower that you have to make up," Reamey said.
Two cadet classes started Monday, one for detention training and the other for patrol orientation. In the last year, Salazar has increased the number of weeks detention cadets, who work supervising inmates in the County jail, spend in training from seven weeks to 10. Now, training will span 11 weeks. Patrol orientation will be extended from 16 weeks to 17. Salazar also mandated eight additional hours of supervisor training, raising the annual requirement from 40 hours to 48.
In addition to the increase in training, Salazar said he is hoping to introduce more body cameras for deputies both on patrol and inside the Bexar County jail. Sheriffs' staff have been testing different brands of body cameras in the last few months and are scheduled to present preliminary findings to Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday.
Salazar said he thinks introducing more body cameras can improve relations between deputies and civilians because both act differently knowing their actions are being recorded.
"It changes behavior on both sides of the lens," Salazar said.