Quick guide: Using policy management to protect officers when exerting force
- Written by Amy Dinsmore
- January 12 2016
Law is among the most important protections that police officers have at their disposal. Weapons, riot gear and bullet-proof vests are critical, of course, but one mistake in the field doesn’t just threaten physical harm, it can also lead to significant career and reputation-related damages. In fact, incidents that lead to violence against police can be much rarer than situations where officers have their careers or reputations threatened because they needed to exert force and the action was put under scrutiny.
Use-of-force scenarios present numerous problems for officers, but a few of the most vital issues to keep in mind include:
- Increased scrutiny – Negative national attention for police officers after events involving use of force has led to more analysis of incidents, including ones that don’t involve gunfire. The result is a situation in which even a minor incident that is caught in the wrong light by the media can lead to significant repercussions for officers.
- Surveillance – From body-worn cameras to surveillance systems at many commercial sites and cameras on street lights, police are very rarely in a situation in which their actions are not being watched by somebody. The inability to have actions take place in secret means that police need to be at their best at every moment. Even the smallest mistake will be noticed, and issues that wouldn’t have gotten much attention in the past can now put a great deal of negative attention on officers.
- New media – With social media, mobile devices that can capture high-quality videos and Web blogs that often add opinions that build on reports rather than working from primary sources, there are plenty of opportunities for a small incident to be blown out of proportion. This can have psychological implications for officers, adding stress and tension to a job that is already demanding.
With these challenges adding new wrinkles to use-of-force situations, law enforcement agencies need to work especially hard to protect their officers. Policy management excellence plays a critical role in this process, as the right policies can combine with training strategies to protect agencies and officers from even the most vigilant eyes.
Getting policies ready to protect officers
Context is key in use-of-force situations. An officer tackling and subduing an individual can be completely appropriate in some circumstances while a rough shove can be considered excessive force in a different situation. This is where policy management is key. If your officers understand how the agency defines different situations, they will understand the context surrounding use-of-force scenarios and be prepared to act accordingly. Training can work alongside policy management efforts in this area, as training ensures that officers are able to successfully interpret situations based on existing policies.
While training is vital, policies are even more important. Think of it this way – if an officer faces a terrible situation and panics, there will be consequences, but the goal will be to help the individual recover. Alternately, if that individual is negligent and ignorant of what should be done, he or she will potentially face harsher consequences for not doing the work needed to prepare for an extreme situation.
Having excellent policies can ensure your officers have a foundation for proper behavior during emergencies. A few ways they accomplish this include:
- Keeping policies updated – Regulations and best practices can change quickly as incidents in the law enforcement sector force leaders to rethink existing strategic models. Protecting your officers in the field means ensuring they always have access to the best policy information available. Digital document management software can help agencies streamline policy updates through modules that showcase regulations alongside existing policies, allow stakeholders to collaborate in real time and distribute new policies to users through a single Web app.
- Ensuring compliance – You can attach a list of individuals that need to sign off on a policy to the digital document. When the policy is set, those individuals will get an alert that they need to read and sign off on the information. You can even set the system to send periodic reminders to users who do not respond within specific time constraints. On top of all of this, electronic signature tools let users sign off on policies within the Web app, making it much easier to ensure user compliance.
These functions ensure that officers have the best policies possible supporting them when they go into the field. As policies are easier to create and distribute, agencies will be able to customize their handbooks more effectively instead of using generic policy guides that may not apply to their operational context. Giving officers the policy tools they need to make the right choices in the field protects them because they’ll have a clearer idea of how to behave in different situations and be able to justify their actions by pointing back to policies. This provides vital legal protections for officers in the field.