Police Policies and Procedures Manual Best Practices

It’s standard practice for any police department to have a policy manual.

December 29, 2020

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It’s standard practice for any police department to have a policy manual. But more than that, an effective police policies and procedures manual is a requirement for safety and professionalism.

To put it simply, your officers can’t comply with your department’s standards if don’t know them.

For this reason, the policy and procedures manual is a foundational document for operations within any police department, according to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

“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,” writes Chief W. Dwayne Orrick of the Cordele, Georgia Police Department.

As a leader in your department, it’s up to you to both create and enforce your policies and procedures manual. Expect the process of developing an effective police policies and procedures manual to be fairly complex. You will want to cover all your bases by including the right policies; however, the work doesn’t stop there.

How you organize and communicate your content also plays a role in your manual’s effectiveness. Fortunately, complex and difficult are not the same thing. By keeping best practices in mind, creating and communicating a police policy and procedure manual could be simpler than you think.

Here are a few important things to think about when developing law enforcement policies of your own.

Take Your Policies and Procedures Manual Online

If you want to ensure maximum compliance in your department, it’s helpful to be open to new ways of doing things.

For example, taking your police policy and procedure manual online could have a big impact. As more and more departments move toward cloud storage, the old-fashioned method of issuing three-ring binders for officers to store in their vehicles is a thing of the past – for good reason.

Access policies and procedures anytime, anywhere

With your department’s policy manual online instead of in a vehicle’s trunk, your officers can access policies and procedures anytime, anywhere from any laptop, smartphone, or tablet.

Whether on the field or in the office, they will be able to pull up important documents and search quickly for what they need without rifling through papers.

Online storage also ensures your team has access to the most up-to-date policies. Without the time-consuming burden of the three-ring binder, compliance is simple.

Easily update and maintain your manual

Digital storage also makes life easier for you, since you will be able to update and revise your policies more easily. You can collaborate with multiple users, track changes or comments, and have a simpler review cycle than with a printed manual.

Similarly, cloud storage means your officers won’t have to print out new copies of important documents. Because they won’t have to manually organize and update binders, they will have more time to focus on their jobs.


Cut costs and help the environment

Going online also saves your department money by cutting printing and paper/supply costs. Of course, paperless policies are also better for the environment. You may be surprised the impact cloud storage can have on both nature and your bottom line.

So far, PowerDMS customers have saved 100,000 trees and $25 million in paper costs.

Make it accessible to the public

Did you know some states require law enforcement agencies to put their policy manuals online? Digital storage gives the public the opportunity to better understand your operations.

When they can access police policies and procedures manuals, they will see why you react the way you do in certain circumstances. This helps create a culture of transparency with those you serve, building trust along the way.

Update Your Manual Regularly

In our 2017 State of Policy report, we gathered data from more than 340 law enforcement officers regarding a number of policy and training topics. Not surprisingly, we found that the majority of police departments value consistent updates to policy manuals.

Seventy-three percent of respondents said policies should be reviewed and updated constantly. However, only 48% do it annually or less often. 5% never review or update their manual.

There are many important reasons to update your manual frequently. As you know, both best practices and laws are always evolving.

Updating your policy manual helps you protect your agency from litigation and ensure your officers are adhering to most recent laws.

Make your policies legally defensible

Along the same lines, making your policies legally defensible is a must. Risk prevention and management are two crucial aspects of building effective policy manuals.

With solid policies at the core of your department, you can take great strides toward protecting your organization. Consider involving legal experts such as lawyers or representatives from the ACLU.

You will also want to refer to the right source material, such as accreditation standards or sample policies from other states.

Keep your procedures up to date

You already know why it’s crucial to update your policies. It’s equally important to keep your procedures up to date. Because technology changes so quickly, you may even have to update your procedures more frequently than your actual policies.

Try to review your procedures regularly to look for outdated processes. You will also want to update language and references to irrelevant technology. All of this will protect you from liability issues down the road.

Alert officers when you change a policy or procedure

If you update your policy and procedure manual, your team needs to know. Sending out e-notifications is crucial. But you also need to highlight exactly what has and hasn’t changed.

For example, it wouldn’t be effective for your officers to re-read your whole manual if you only updated one procedure.

Online software like PowerDMS will show your officers a comparison, highlighting what you updated or removed.

Create an Implementation Plan

It’s not enough to hand officers a policy manual and expect them to stay current with every change throughout their career.

You will need a plan to keep your entire department on top of all changes.

Being proactive in this way could reduce liability for your department, since it shows you have done everything you can to make sure officers know how to comply.


Develop a training plan

Again, for your policies and procedures to be truly effective, your officers need to know how to comply. That’s where training comes in.

Thankfully, online training makes this process much easier. Keep in mind not every policy or procedure change needs formal, classroom training.

In fact, this may be a waste of resources in some cases. Some policies may just need a mention at roll call or a short, online presentation. Others need more thorough, scenario-based training.

Either way, make planning training a regular part of your policy review process. Prioritizing training will ensure your officers know how to act on your standards.

Test for comprehension

Similarly, simply sending out a policy doesn’t mean officers understand what they need to do as a result. Instead of formal training, which can be costly, you can send out short quizzes/tests about aspects of the policy manual to see how well officers know what to do.

Tools like PowerDMS allow you to customize tests so your officers can quickly demonstrate their knowledge. You can also use tests to identify gaps where you may need more training or clearer policy language.

Track officer attestation

With a tool like PowerDMS, your team can not only review new documents more easily. They can also sign off on your documents. This is a crucial aspect of compliance since simply viewing documents isn’t enough to understand them.

Tracking signatures also helps provide legal defense for your department. Being able to prove your officers have read your most recent policy documents demonstrates your agency’s commitment to compliance.

As you know, your police policy and procedure manual will differ from other departments’. It will also continue to evolve over time, requiring vigilant updates and revisions.

The most important thing to keep in mind as you develop your manual is that your policies should reflect your agency’s mission. When you create each one of your policies and procedures through the lens of your end goal, you will have a powerful foundation for your document. And when you are more invested in your policies, your officers will be, too.

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