It’s hard to know where to begin when creating a policy and procedure manual.
Whether you’re launching a new program in your department or revising long-standing policies, you may find yourself wondering how to write a particular policy. Crafting effective policies takes planning, research, and revision, but the process doesn’t have to be painful.
Below are some best practices for writing policies and procedures for law enforcement. You can also download a handy checklist to follow along with the process.
Philosophy of Good Policy
Policies and procedures are far more than lists of rules that employees need to follow.
At the core, policies communicate the mission, values, and guiding principles of an organization. Before you start outlining and writing policies and procedures, you’ll need to think through the big-picture goals and values of your agency.
Established goals and values help focus policies and practices.
The philosophies behind policies matter because policies and procedures can’t address every possible situation officers will face. Some procedures will outline a process that never varies. But, more often, employees will have to exercise their own discretion in critical situations.
Well-written policies help guide decision-making. For example, a law enforcement use-of-force policy can’t give officers step-by-step instructions on every situation they’ll encounter.
But a well-written policy that emphasizes things such as the value of human life, open communication, and safety practices can help officers make the best decision at the moment.
Avoiding deliberate indifference
Simply put, deliberate indifference happens when an organization ignores a potentially risky situation that could result in the violation of constitutional rights.
For example, an agency could be charged with deliberate indifference if leaders failed to follow through on investigating a report of sexual harassment.
Avoiding deliberate indifference starts with good policy. When writing policies and procedures, organizational leaders should anticipate potential risks and dangerous situations in their industry.
Effective policies hold all staff accountable by outlining how to handle critical incidents, creating checks and balances, and establishing disciplinary measures.
Three Pillars of Excellence
Policies and procedures are the starting point for organizational excellence. However, they are not the only piece of the puzzle. The excellence of a law enforcement organization is upheld by three pillars.
If any fail, the chances of that department failing increases.
Policies and procedures guide day-to-day operations, set clear expectations for officers, and guard against liability issues.
Training communicates expectations and teaches employees how to apply policy in real-life situations. Effective training will allow employees to practice regular procedures and prepare them for critical or emergency situations.
Of course, organizations have to follow through on policies and training in order to hold employees accountable.
This doesn’t mean that command staff supervisors have to constantly be looking over officers’ shoulders. But it does mean establishing firm discipline structures.
How to Write Effective Policies and Procedures
Step 1: Get organized
Identify key policies
Not all policies are created equal. Certain policies are more important than others in laying the groundwork for smooth operations. Before you start writing policies and procedures, make a list of all the policies that address national, state, or local laws and regulations.
Identify the high-liability issues in your industry—the issues most likely to land your organization in court. You’ll want to spend more time on these than on others.
Along with high-risk issues, think through expectations and acceptable behavior for different areas of operations. Which procedures are essential for employees to complete correctly?
What incidents has your agency faced in the past? Consider the 80/20 principle. Which 20 percent of your policies will give you 80 percent of your results?
According to the State of Policy in Law Enforcement report, the top ten most important policy topics for law enforcement are:
- Body-worn Cameras
- Sexual Assault
- Social Media
- Use of Force
- Bias-based Policing
- Active Shooter
- Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Begin with the end in mind
Policies need to be clear, focused, and consistent. Before you start writing policies and procedures for a specific area, try to anticipate questions or objections officers may have.
Policies can’t cover every situation, but they should provide clear guidelines and action steps. This means that along with considering the mission and purpose behind policies, you need to consider the following questions:
- How should officers report on this?
- How will this be supervised?
- Can this be investigated?
- Can employees be trained on this?
Thinking through these questions will make sure employees can live out your policy in the real world. Reporting, supervision, investigation, and training make your policy “come to life” and affect the everyday decisions of employees.
Step 2: Find reliable source material
You don’t have to start from scratch when creating a new policy. Policies should be tailored to your agency, but don’t make the mistake of creating them without consulting outside sources.
Accreditation and certification standards
Referring to accreditation standards can help ensure that your policies and procedures follow the best practices in law enforcement.
Accrediting bodies like CALEA often have resources and forums that can help with writing and revising your policies and procedures.
Similar agencies with sample policies
Law enforcement agencies often publish policies online and are more than happy to share their department’s stance on particular issues. These can serve as helpful templates for your own policies. A similar approach is to start with model policies on sites such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Some organizations may even seek input directly from other, similar organizations. In a study conducted by PowerDMS and the Police Foundation, 96 percent of law enforcement agencies surveyed said they sought input from other agencies.
Case law is constantly changing in law enforcement. Therefore, consulting legal experts is a crucial step in risk management. Talking with a lawyer or a representative from an organization such as the ACLU can help you write policies and procedures that keep your officers out of court.