police officer checking policies

Every day, police officers make life-or-death decisions as they strive to serve and protect the public.

If your law enforcement agency sends officers out without proper training and guidance, you’re setting them up for failure.

Establishing and implementing sound policy is an essential part of equipping police officers. Good policies help police officers make the best possible decisions in critical situations.

They establish expectations for professional, ethical conduct. Policies make sure law enforcement agencies comply with laws, industry standards, and case law.

And they promote police accountability, which helps police departments build trust in the communities they serve.

With police under increased scrutiny from the public, any perceived misconduct can quickly turn into national news.

If a lawsuit arises from an incident, lawyers and courts will review an agency’s policies to determine if the officer or agency is at fault.

Thorough, up-to-date policies can help keep your agency out of court, minimize liability risks, and protect your agency’s reputation.

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Good Policy Adapts to Culture without Compromising

Good policies are built on an agency’s core values and principles. Policies set the tone and establish the culture of a law enforcement agency.

They should emphasize integrity, honesty, professionalism, and respect. However, not all law enforcement policies will be the same.

Different communities have different needs, and your agency will need to adapt policies to meet the needs of the community you serve.

Policies should be living, changing documents. Your agency’s core values shouldn’t change much over time, but you will need to adapt policies to meet the changing needs of your agency.

Laws and industry standards are constantly changing, so it’s important to regularly review and update policies and procedures to keep up.

Plus, your agency will need to adapt policies as you see how practices hold up in the field.

Good Policy is Consistent

Well-managed policies and procedures help establish consistent practices in law enforcement. This starts with consistency in internal operations.

Officers need to know what to expect from their supervisors and leaders, as well as what leaders expect of them. Good policies and procedures clearly outline acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

In order for policies to be effective, departments must follow through on enforcing policies in day-to-day operations. This includes following through in disciplinary actions.

Clear policies also create consistency in how officers interact with the community. Your agency may have hundreds of officers spread across different shifts and different areas of your community.

Good policies help all officers properly perform routine functions in a consistent manner. Consistency is key in building and maintaining trust between your agency and your community.

When agencies have effective policies, citizens know what to expect from officers. This makes them more likely to cooperate with law enforcement.

Crucial Policies for Law Enforcement

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a more in-depth look at a few crucial policies for law enforcement agencies.

The series will examine the biggest challenges and changes for law enforcement today, and provide guidelines for establishing good policies in those areas.

At the end of the series, we’ll combine the posts into a downloadable guide for your convenience. To kick things off, here’s a brief overview of the policies we will cover:

Drone Policy

What are drones?

Sometimes called “unmanned aerial vehicles,” drones are any aircraft that flies without a pilot or passengers on board.

Most drones are controlled by remote control or computer programs. Drones are perhaps best known for their use in military operations, but they have become increasingly popular for commercial and civilian use, as well.

Companies such as Amazon have used drones for delivery purposes. Photographers use them for overhead photos. Some law enforcement agencies have begun using drones for searches and surveillance.

Why does law enforcement need drone policies?

The Federal Aviation Administration recently released new regulations on drone use.

Many states also have laws governing drone use. Even if your law enforcement agency isn’t currently using drones, you’ll need to regulate their use among citizens.

And of course, if your department is using drones, you’ll need to make sure you comply with these rules.

A good drone policy will also promote understanding in the community. Law enforcement drone use can be controversial.

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have expressed concerns over the potential for law enforcement to use armed drones against citizens.

Drone surveillance also raises privacy concerns. Citizens unfamiliar with drone use don’t like the idea of an “eye in the sky” watching their every move.

Clear drone policies help quell those fears. Citizens need to trust that police will use drones to keep them safe, not spy on them. 

drone flying over city

What Makes a Good Drone Policy?

A good drone policy will clearly establish the purpose of using drones for law enforcement operations. Deviating from this purpose often predicts liability and PR issues for an agency.

The policy should address laws and legislation about drone use, outline proper procedures, and establish accountability measures.

It should also cover how long the department will retain images and video footage from drones, and how much surveillance is acceptable.

Drone policy sample and template

Here are a few sources to consult as you craft a drone policy for your agency.

Note that these shouldn’t serve as a final product, but a conversation-starter and launching point for your department:

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Social Media Policy

What is social media?

Social media sites and apps such as Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram let people create and share content with online networks.

According to the Global Web Index, 97 percent of adults use a social network at least monthly. More than 1 billion people log into Facebook every day.

Law enforcement agencies can use social media sites to communicate with citizens and gather information about suspects and crimes. But the public nature of social media can pose threats to your department’s reputation.

Why does law enforcement need a social media policy?

The police officers in your agency probably have multiple social media accounts of their own. And, like it or not, their posts can cast a negative light on your whole organization.

An inappropriate or racist comment has the potential to spread across the internet and damage community trust.

While your department can’t control what officers post on their personal accounts outside of work, it should put some guidelines in place and emphasize personal integrity online.

agents looking at computer

What are some elements of a good social media policy?

Along with addressing personal social media use, the policy should also cover department-authorized uses of social media.

This includes who can represent the department on official accounts, when it’s appropriate to delete a post or comment, and how officers can use social media for investigations.

Social media policy sample and templates

Creating comprehensive social media policies can be difficult. Here are a few sources that can help:

Use of Force Policy

What is a use-of-force policy?

A use-of-force policy dictates how much physical force an officer can use when interacting with a member of the public.

The policy usually covers appropriate measures of force in situations where the subject is resisting arrest, acting aggressively, or threatening to harm someone.

Why does law enforcement need a use-of-force policy?

Use-of-force is among the most crucial policies for law enforcement because officers often face decisions about how best to protect themselves and members of their community.

Incidents can quickly escalate, and officers need guidelines to help determine the necessary amount of force to bring the situation under control.

Use-of-force incidents consistently top the list of high-liability areas for law enforcement.

What are some elements of a good use-of-force policy?

Definitions are especially important in use-of-force policies. The policies should define levels of force, including what constitutes deadly force.

They should cover de-escalation tactics, weapon use, and appropriate and inappropriate uses of force.

Policies may even include a list of questions to help officers determine whether to use force—and the level that is appropriate.

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Use-of-force policy sample and templates

You don’t have to start from scratch when drafting use-of-force policies. Here are a few resources that can help:

Body-Worn Camera Policy

What is a body-worn camera?

A body-worn camera (BWC) is a video recording device that a police officer wears to record interactions. In the last few years, departments around the country have adopted BWCs in an effort to enhance police accountability.

Studies have shown that BWCs can reduce incidents of officers using inappropriate force and can reduce complaints and assaults against officers.

Why does law enforcement need a BWC policy?

Body-worn cameras don’t do much good without solid policies to guide their use. BWCs come with complex issues of public privacy, use, and video storage.

Clear BWC policies will protect officers from accusations of misusing cameras or violating privacy. Establishing good policies ensures that BWC use complies with laws and regulations and ensures that BWCs help officers instead of burdening them.

body-worn camera

What are some elements of a good BWC policy?

Good body-worn camera policies clearly outline when officers are expected to turn cameras on and off. They specify the limits on recording victims, witnesses, or private situations.

Policies should also cover how long departments will keep videos, whether officers can view the video before writing a report, and when departments will release records media and the public.

BWC policy sample and templates

As Parker PD Lt. Chris Peters wrote, “If your agency is implementing body-worn cameras, recognize the policy supporting them is just as important, if not more, than the cameras themselves.”

Here are a few resources that can help you create good BWC policies:

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