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Contract Law As It Applies To Law Enforcement

Updated on April 30, 2012

In today’s age of law enforcement this profession is becoming more and more competitive, while at the same time qualified and acceptable candidates are becoming harder to find. Law enforcement agencies are trying to make themselves more appealing so as to attract more qualified candidates and prevent officers from “department shopping” or jumping to another agency after becoming trained and certified. An enormous amount of money is spent just to hire and train one officer. This includes the cost of advertisement, written testing, oral interviews, psychological exams, polygraph exams, physical fitness tests, medical and drug screening and background investigations.

The costs associated with hiring and training qualified and successful officers should be of particular importance to taxpayers. Failure to adequately compensate police officers, specifically those on the local level, all but makes the police department a training ground for the officer to be snatched up by a better paying agency at the first available opportunity. This “revolving door” poses a significant cost to taxpayers; however this is a topic for another discussion.

Law enforcement agencies must also send this newly hired officer to the police academy, which in some instances requires paying his or her salary for upwards of sixteen weeks or more while not even being able to utilize this officer in an official capacity. At the completion of the academy, the officer is subjected to a rigorous field-training program which routinely consists of approximately nine-hundred hours and should be completed prior to being deployed and utilized as a “solo-beat” officer. We must not forget the cost to outfit this officer which can be $2,000-$5,000 or more.

As should be obvious at this point, law enforcement agencies invest a significant amount of money and time into just one candidate. In fact, from the time the process is started and one officer completes all the necessary training, the agency has spent approximately $35,000-$50,000.

Due to the investment the agency has made, both monetary and personal, the use of contracts in an attempt to retain the officer for a period of time, are being used on a more frequent basis. These contracts are used at the beginning of the hiring process and enable the agency to try and recoup some of their investment should the officer leave during this initial training period. It is not uncommon to have a candidate sign a three-year contract. This contract basically states the officer will remain with the agency for three years and should he/she choose to leave, the officer will be required to pay back a predetermined amount of money.

With the increased use of contracts in regard to officer retention, are there any ethical ramifications that should be considered? I would suggest that with the difficulty of finding qualified candidates and the significant cost of actually hiring and training one, a contract would almost be considered a necessity. In order for the contract to be unethical there would have to be some ridiculous requirement.

For example, in my experience the standard contract is for a three-year term. This is due to the fact that it really takes an officer two years to become an effective officer on the street. Therefore, this only gives the department one solid year of employment, with the hopes that the officer does not leave for another department.

On the flip-side, If the contract required the officer to stay with the agency for 7 years, I would consider this excessive and unreasonable. If the contract stated the officer had to pay back the total amount of money spent for training and equipment should they leave prior to the end of the contract, and it was not on a pro-rated scale, I would also find this excessive and open to ethical debate.

During my tenure as police chief, I hired an eight-year veteran police officer to take a sergeant’s position. As this officer was already a supervisor in another agency it was necessary for me to develop a contract which would not only suffice his requirements for salary, training and career advancement, but also satisfy some equitable time requirement for my agency should his requests be met. Subsequently, this contract included a starting salary with adjustments over the next couple of years, promotion to lieutenant within six months of satisfactory performance, enrollment to the FBI National Academy within two years of satisfactory performance, etc. This officer was required to stay with the department for three years after the completion of the FBI Academy. In my opinion, this contract effectively ensured the officer would remain with the agency for approximately five years, thus an equitable trade for the training he would receive.

When developing a contract, it must not be one-sided and both parties must agree to the stipulations. Without a mutual agreement, or should the contract be so out of line or one-sided as to cause a normal uninvolved person to question the morality or ethical level of such, it is my opinion we cannot expect the contract to be valid if challenged in court.


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