How to ensure compliance with department policies and procedures

In order for any organization to operate effectively, compliance with department policies and procedures is key. But how do you ensure employees comply with policies and procedures?

December 22, 2020

Article highlights

  • Ways to encourage your officers to adhere to your compliance policies and procedures.
  • Better policy management leads to better compliance.
  • Employee compliance checklist.

For any organization to operate with excellence, compliance with all policies and procedures is key.

Many high-stakes environments have a legal obligation to ensure compliance. It isn't an option.

Since the work is sensitive – even life-threatening – and affects a wider population, police departments in particular share this responsibility.

Attorney Terrence P. Dwyer addresses this in his article Key Consideration for Good Use-of-Force Policies.

“Good policy and practice provides subsequent legal protection for the individual officer. However, the stark reality of use of force policy in 2010 America is that there are still many police departments operating from agency manuals drafted in the 1970s and 80s with inadequate deadly force guidance for officers.”

Policy and procedure manuals are critical to promoting excellence and safety in your department.

According to Chief W. Dwayne Orrick of the Georgia Police Department, “[They are] the foundation for all of the department’s operations.

“When properly developed and implemented, a policy-procedure manual provides staff with the information to act decisively, consistently, and legally. It also promotes confidence and professional conduct among staff.”

But is having the right policies enough to protect and empower your officers?

While having compliance policies and procedures is a start, officers actually need to comply while on the job. For this reason, compliance expectations need to be accessible, understandable, and up to date.

Here are a few ways to encourage your employees to adhere to your compliance policies and procedures:


Review your policies for understandability

Police consultant Tony Blauer wrote an article entitled The Theory of Presumed Compliance. In it, he offers a new perspective on police officers’ responsibility.

“Responsibility must be read response/ability: one's ability to respond. As a professional police officer, you knowingly and deliberately place yourself in harm's way to 'serve and protect.' You must ask yourself some moral, ethical and legal questions regarding your preparation and response/ability,” Blauer says.

He continues, “Do you feel confident to contain and control violence? What areas do you feel weak in and why aren't you developing those areas? Indifference is not a valid defense, nor is ignorance.”

Officers are responsible for responding to critical situations. But the department must work together to ensure compliance.

When it comes to adhering to compliance policies and procedures, understanding is crucial. If your officers can’t comprehend the expectations, they simply won’t be able to comply.

To avoid indifference, encourage “response-ability,” and promote policy compliance, make sure all your officers understand your manual.

Start by setting up a regular policy review cycle to go over critical policies. You can try a biannual review and then tweak your process as you go.

However you structure your cycle, make a goal of ensuring verbiage is up to date and easy to grasp. As Sgt. Lou Savelli, "There is no alternative to concise, precise, well-worded police policy and procedure. Sending your officers out to serve the public without giving them the direction and guidance they require is essentially equivalent to sending them out unarmed."

Consider a policy committee approach

You might even want to develop a committee with a policy project coordinator, which Chief Orrick recommends.

He writes, “Developing a policy manual is a critical undertaking. One of the first tasks to be completed is the selection of a policy project coordinator.

"The selection of the proper person for this position is critical to the success of the development and implementation of the operations manual. As the leader, the policy project coordinator must have the authority, knowledge, and motivation to make assignments, draft policies, coordinate meetings, and complete the process. Also, the coordinator must have sufficient administrative or clerical support to expedite the development process.”

In addition to a policy coordinator, include your officers in the process. Their perspective might help in developing your manual.

Being part of the process might give them a sense of ownership over the policies to which they are expected to comply.


Whether or not you create a committee, keep in mind the importance of comprehension as you create your materials.

Your officers likely have varying backgrounds. So while you won’t want to dilute critical concepts, make sure they understand and can adhere to your policies. This is especially important on the go and in high-stakes scenarios where lives are on the line.

Make it easy on your officers and put your policies in the cloud

Policy manuals exist for a reason. You created them to set a standard of confidence, safety, and professionalism.

Don’t let your critical information get stuck at headquarters in a set of binders or filing cabinets.

These documents shape the culture of your department, so they need to be at officers’ fingertips – in their cars, on their phones, wherever they are.

You can make these documents accessible everywhere by using the cloud to store them.

If you are considering a transition to cloud storage, you are not alone.

Forbes says digital data storage is the norm for more and more companies, even those who house sensitive documents.

In his article Digital Storage Projections for 2017, expert Tom Coughlin writes, “Cloud storage continues to grow, with increasing use of private and public clouds as well as hybrid clouds containing some private as well as public clouds.”

As you plan how to make your documents more accessible, think about your staff's abilities.

Keep in mind that the cloud may be an unfamiliar concept to some of your officers.

Proper training will be key if you choose to go this route. But because it puts everything your officers need for compliance in one place, cloud storage should simplify things for everyone.

Track who has read and signed which policies

According to the article The Importance of Focused Policy in Modern Policing, compliance manuals are directly related to litigation:

“Two of the biggest and most important issues facing police agencies and their officers today are litigation and negative public perception. Although these two issues are seemingly different they are, in fact, quite connected.

“With the rise of litigation against those who protect and serve and the increase in negative community perception of these officers and their agencies, the cause is quite alarming. Inexcusably, as exposed in numerous court cases and post-incident investigations, a lack of focused policy by police agencies is just that cause.”

Planning ahead is a core component of avoiding legal issues.

As a law enforcement professional, you know it’s more helpful to be proactive than reactive in protecting your officers.

Make sure you lead your department well by getting signatures from everyone as soon as you release a new document. But keep in mind that the days of handing out stacks of paper to sign at roll call are gone.

As technology evolves, you have the opportunity to save both time and money by offering digital policy and procedure manuals.

Electronic signatures are much easier to keep track of, and reducing paper use will cut down on supply needs in your department.

Keep everyone up to date with revisions

Because the world of law enforcement is always evolving, expect regular changes to your compliance manuals. Keeping everyone aware of those changes is difficult.

Make sure you let everyone on your team of any updates when you make them. To avoid confusion, be very clear about what sections you updated.


What good are new policies and procedures if officers don't understand them?

Make sure your team has both read and understood the revised policies. This will help you make sure they can apply compliance standards to their day-to-day work.

To make sure officers can apply the new information to specific scenarios, create simple tests for critical policies. With this information, you can look for gaps in knowledge and opportunities for more training. You can also focus on more personal training where technology isn't enough.

Bring your department to the next level with increased compliance

As a leader in your field, you already know how important compliance is in encouraging professionalism, safety, and success. Take your department to the next level by thinking of ways to encourage compliance with the policies you have already developed.

You will set up your team for safety when it matters most by ensuring your policies are accessible, understandable, and easy to adhere to.

As Terrence P. Dwyer writes, "Police officers deserve to be protected in their assignments, this means more than proper equipment but proper training, policy, and continual assessment of agency practices."

View more on the subject in our comprehensive guide to policy management in law enforcement.

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