Policies and procedures lay the groundwork for any properly functioning organization, and they are especially crucial in public safety. In order to protect citizens and keep the peace, law enforcement agencies need to establish rules and frameworks to help officers do their jobs effectively.

In the recent State of Policy in Law Enforcement study conducted by PowerDMS and the Police Foundation, 93 percent of law enforcement agencies surveyed said policies were “very important” for ensuring officers understand their duties and perform properly in the field. The study also revealed some of the dangers of poor policy management. While there are many negative consequences of bad policy management, 99 percent of respondents cited the following three as the biggest threats:

1. Increased agency liability

Law enforcement officers face dangerous, complex situations on a daily basis. Law enforcement risk management expert G. Patrick Gallagher has linked 95 percent of law enforcement liability to 12 high-risk areas, including use of force, pursuit, search and seizure, off-duty conduct and sexual harassment. It is essential for law enforcement agencies to proactively create policies that address these and other foreseeable issues and lay out clear guidelines to prevent and discipline misconduct.

However, even the most robust policies can leave agencies at risk if the policies aren’t managed well. Laws and regulations change, court decisions set new precedents, procedures shift with new technology. Law enforcement agencies must constantly review and update policies to keep up. Effective policy management will allow agencies to update policies, push them out to officers and collect quantifiable proof that officers read policies and received training.

2. Civil lawsuits

Misconduct from an individual officer often ends with an agency being taken to court. Along with damaging perceptions of law enforcement, civil lawsuits can be very costly for taxpayers. A Wall Street Journal analysis of police misconduct cases found, in 2014, the 10 U.S. cities with the largest police departments paid $248.7 million in settlements.

Avoiding these sort of lawsuits starts with preventing misconduct through policy management. Creating and maintaining robust policies, communicating effectively with every officer and creating a culture where misconduct is not tolerated minimizes the potential for civil lawsuits.

3. Inconsistency in actions

Inconsistent policies create inconsistent actions. Poor policy management can result in conflicting copies of a policy or leave officers referring to an outdated version. Inconsistent policies make it hard for officers to understand and meet expectations. And the resulting inconsistent actions can erode community trust, which puts the officers, agency, and community at risk. Having a central, secure location for all policies makes it easier to ensure that policies follow the agency’s driving values and don’t contradict one another.

Law enforcement agencies should be diligent in following the best practices for policy management. Good policy management is essential for keeping officers and communities safe, avoiding lawsuits and fostering trust inside and outside the department.

Click here to download the State of Policy in Law Enforcement research study and benchmark your agency against others across the U.S.