Training day comes often for WCU police

Ongoing training, like this session conducted by Steve Lillard, remains crucial to campus police preparedness

Ongoing training, like this session conducted by Steve Lillard, remains crucial to campus police preparedness

As police chief at Western Carolina University, Ernie Hudson says part of his responsibility is to help develop the next generation of law enforcement leaders.

That’s why rather than just following the state requirement that law enforcement officers go through 24 hours of training a year, Hudson said his staff completes 100 or more hours of training annually.

“We make sure as we go through our careers that the next generation of law enforcement leaders have as much education, experience and background so that they can move into these positions, and frankly, do better than we did,” Hudson said.

Assistant chief Steve Lillard is the latest to receive such training. Lillard recently completed the management development program at the North Carolina Justice Academy. It was an 11-month program that consisted of five sessions in Edneyville, five in Salemburg, and one month of online training.

The range of topics included personnel and budgeting issues, controlling conflict in the workplace and learning how to deal with various issues at the law enforcement administrative level. There was homework to be completed each month, along with community service and a final project. There also was a physical fitness component, Lillard said.

Lillard was one of 20 participants selected from across the state that featured police chiefs, captains and lieutenants from other law enforcement agencies. Lillard said the program was very beneficial.

“We had one class that talked about policing with the First Amendment in mind,” Lillard said. “You see a lot more people trying to petition and bring more awareness to issues. Just trying to balance keeping public order, but also allowing people to present their ideas and have free speech. It’s sometimes a challenging issue with law enforcement.

“There were very large agencies represented in the cohort, and there were also some very small agencies there. That let you see how you’ve got similar problems across the whole spectrum.”

Training programs like the one Lillard completed are critical not only for personal development, but Hudson said they send a strong message to the community that “what you’re trying to give them is the best that you can possibly give them.”

WCU officers receive 100 or more hours of training annually, more than any law enforcement agency in the region.

WCU officers receive 100 or more hours of training annually, more than any law enforcement agency in the region.

Hudson said his officers receive more training, both on and off campus, than any law enforcement agency in the region.

“And they’re not just doing basic stuff,” Hudson said. “They’re taking sexual assault training, interview and interrogation training, field officer training, and crisis intervention training. That’s a heckuva investment that the department is making, that the university is making in these officers so that they can be not just good responders, but they can be proactive. They can be insightful.

“There’s a whole world of difference between university policing and policing out in the world. I would tell you that this is much tougher.”

In addition to training, Hudson likes to keep his department equipped with the latest technology. About four years ago, WCU became one of the first universities in the University of North Carolina system to have officers wearing body cameras. Now, all of WCU’s officers wear them, Hudson said.

Hudson said the initial reason behind investing in the cameras was to better collect evidence. If an officer was interviewing someone or taking a description from a person, the officer could use the video in case he/she forgot to write something down. The video could also be used in court.

A by-product of the body cameras has been that complaints about alleged police misconduct has decreased, Hudson said.

“Sometimes people will call and say an officer did X or Y, and I’ll say, ‘Can you hold on a minute? Let me go have somebody pull the video.’ And then there’s a click on the other end of the phone,” Hudson said.

The videos also have given Hudson and his staff an opportunity to spot behaviors that may be unsafe, or areas they need to improve on, which leads back to training.

“Training, education and getting people to have that mindset of critical thinking, especially when you’re in a public safety job, are important to what the results are to folks,” Hudson said.