Guide to policy management in law enforcement

The most important things you need to know about policy management, and how it can strengthen your agency from the inside out.

July 2, 2021

Article highlights

A law enforcement agency’s policies and procedures form the structure and foundation for the work you do in keeping your communities safe.

These policies govern the way in which officers respond to the challenging, potentially dangerous situations they face every day. Effective policies help to protect officers in the line of duty, and they also lead to better outcomes for citizens, which in turn increases trust and overall community safety.

Policies are also a key tool in responding to law enforcement challenges, which includes the calls for police reform coming from cities, states, and potentially Congress. Reform measures typically focus on law enforcement policies and procedures.

The importance of this is critical, according to Police Magazine

“Internal and external threats...are what can erode public and organizational confidence with internal resources, command structures, and policies.”

Good policy management, then, is central to the work of a law enforcement agency. In this article, we will explore the importance of this topic, as well as the consequences of poor management and the best practices to help your agency thrive. Managing law enforcement policies can also simplify your work in overseeing compliance and accreditation.

Read on for key insights on law enforcement policy and procedure management.

Importance of policy and procedure management for law enforcement

Policies and procedures provide the structure officers need to do their jobs safely and effectively, and they serve as a promise to the community. 

In the recently signed Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities, the president addressed both the importance of law enforcement and the challenges facing agencies. He called for agencies to change in ways to increase transparency, trust, and efficiency.

The calls for reform revolve around law enforcement policies and procedures, and the ways in which they both can protect officers and can increase trust with communities.

Protect officers

Law enforcement policies and procedures can be seen as rules that restrict officer behavior, but more than anything they are the guidance and structure that help keep officers safe in the field.

Effective policies must be updated, and officers need to be able to access them any time, anywhere, on any device. And officers need to receive training, either in-person or virtually, to ensure that they have the best information as they go about the challenges of their job.

Protect your agency

Your agency can proactively work on bringing your law enforcement policies and procedures up to the highest standards, which helps prepare you for any potential calls for reform and makes compliance simple.

Signature check is a key aspect of an effective process management software, allowing you to see whether an individual officer has reviewed and signed off on policy updates, as well as tracking any required training.

Liability risks increase when an agency can’t prove that officers have the training they need, or that you have the right version history. A management system that tracks these elements allows you to easily prove who saw a policy and when, which protects your agency.

Save time and money

The switch to a cloud-based policy management software offers significant potential savings of time and money, as you will no longer need to rely on print copies. It also can save time on management, training, and accreditation.

With limited budgets and public calls for law enforcement budgets to be decreased, every dollar saved makes a big impact.

In this article, we further explore the importance of policy and procedure management for law enforcement.

Consequences of poor policy and procedure management

The four biggest challenges facing law enforcement agencies are increased agency liability, civil lawsuits, inconsistency in actions, and negative public perception. All four of these apply directly to policy management.

Agency liability

Poor enforcement of policies means that officers could go out into the field and face dangerous, complex situations without proper training, which also leaves agencies vulnerable to liability issues. Policies must lay out clear guidelines to prevent and discipline misconduct. 

First, that means creating good policies. To do so, the general recommendation is to look at policies from other agencies for inspiration, as well as to consult with external groups such as the ACLU, before finally considering your agency’s unique needs.

Once you have those policies, then you must effectively manage them, as legal standards and circumstances change.

Agencies must regularly review and update policies, and then push those policies out to officers and collect quantifiable proof that officers have read those policies and received training.

Civil lawsuits

When an individual officer is accused of misbehavior it often ends with the agency being taken to court. This damages perceptions of the agency and can lead to significant legal damages.

Avoiding this means that officers must be able to read and retain all updated policies and be trained as needed. An automated system can streamline this process and allow you to easily prove that officers received the required training.

Inconsistent actions

If officers have inconsistent policies, that can lead them to respond inconsistently in the field, which could make dangerous situations even worse. Such inconsistent actions damage community trust.

Negative public perception

Increasingly, law enforcement agencies face the challenge of bad public perception. Good policy and procedure management helps to repair that. When these policies are made available to the public, citizens understand the way that officers are trained and know what to expect.

Creating a central, secure repository of policies using a cloud-based solution like PowerDMS is essential to ensuring officers are following guidelines and values.

View this article to learn more about the consequences of poor policy and procedure management.

Best practices for policy and procedure management

A key initial step in updating your policy and procedure management is to move it online. This allows officers to access policies and procedures any time, anywhere, and from any device. This also allows for policies to be updated quickly and efficiently and pushed to all users.

Additional best practices include:

Make policies legally defensible

Using a sharing tool, you can easily make documents available to the public to help the community understand your work. Some states and cities require this, making it a legal necessity.

Keep procedures current

Laws around policing are changing quickly, and if officers aren’t adhering to the most recent laws, both they and their department are at risk from litigation.

Policies and procedures must be updated regularly to prevent this risk and to lessen a department’s exposure to liability.

Notify officers of policy and procedure changes

Whenever a policy update is made, that needs to be communicated with your officers. Cloud-based software will allow you to push out notifications to your officers, showing them what has been changed. Learn more about developing effective communication practices in law enforcement.

Create an implementation plan

A key aspect of an effective manual is creating an implementation plan around it to ensure that whenever an update is made, you as a leader know that everyone who needs the update will receive it.

Develop a training plan

Using a mix of in-person and online training is a key step to making sure everyone is up to date on your policies, but it also means having a plan in place to automatically schedule that training.

Your policy-review process should include a training plan.

Test for comprehension

To determine that officers understand your policies, you can use online systems to push out quizzes and tests to determine their knowledge.

Track officer attestation

Lastly, best practices should include an ability to quickly and easily verify that officers have seen and signed off on policies and updates. Tools such as PowerDMS allow administrators to track signatures.

Check out this article for more best practices.

How to ensure compliance

Meeting compliance standards is made significantly easier through some key best practices. It also sets your agency up for an easier accreditation process.

Review your policies for understandability

Officers can’t follow your policies and procedures if they don’t understand them. To check for understandability, set up a regular review cycle and work to make the verbiage up to date and easy to comprehend.

Consider a policy committee approach

Don’t do it all yourself. Bring others into a committee to handle policy management, and consider appointing a policy project coordinator.

It’s also essential to include officers in this work to add their perspective and, again, to make sure they understand the policies.

Planning ahead is a core component of avoiding legal issues

Whenever you release a new document, it should go out immediately to everyone who needs it, and you also need to get signatures to capture proof that everyone has reviewed the document. This can be an arduous task unless you have a good plan up front.

As technology evolves, it’s become easier than ever to automate this process. But even with the latest policy management software, you still have to start with a plan.

Keep everyone up to date with revisions

Policy requirements change frequently, and a bedrock principle of compliance is that an agency must keep its officers up to date on those policies. This requires being crystal clear about what sections of a policy have been updated and making certain that only one version of the policy exists.

By capturing and tracking signatures on revised policy , it’s easier to verify  that officers understand compliance standards and can apply them in the field. 

View this article to learn more about the compliance benefits of good policy management.

One solution to many challenges

There is no shortage of challenges to law enforcement today, but one thing that will help solve a great many of those challenges is a smart, efficient approach to policy and procedure management.

That means putting your law enforcement policies and procedures online to make them immediately accessible to your officers, as well as tracking updates as they happen and collecting proof that officers have reviewed the changes. Learn more about policy management software in law enforcement here.

This work can help increase trust and transparency with your community, as well as protect your agency from liability.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into the work of transforming your agency’s policy and procedure management, you can learn more in these articles that go deeper into specific aspects of policy management.

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