3 Best Practices for Accelerating Public Safety Policy Review and Approval

By Gregg Satula

Let’s face it: For many agencies, the process of reviewing new policies or policy updates is a real headache. Who should be involved in the process? How long should you plan for review? In some agencies, a strict top-down approach works, with only one or two people reviewing policy content before it’s approved and issued. But in working with thousands of agencies, we’ve found that most benefit from a more collaborative approach.

A policy workgroup is a great way to ensure a balanced and representative approach to customizing and implementing your policy manual. The workgroup can be used to address new policies, policy updates or procedures. All items coming from the workgroup should follow an established workflow to ensure the appropriate and necessary people review the material in a timely manner before it is issued to the membership.

Note: To simplify matters I’ve based the following best practices on an average-size organization.

Build a Small but Diverse Group
Your public safety policy review workgroup should include as few people as possible to accomplish the task in a timely manner. Three people often suffices. You may need more, but don’t allow the group to become needlessly bloated.

Lexipol - Public safety policy review and approvalThere will likely be times where the workgroup members cannot reach unanimity. For this reason, I recommend an odd number of members, so if things ever come to a vote, a majority can be reached. With mutual respect for other members, consensus should be the minimum goal.

While keeping it small, ensure that the group is reasonably diverse. Members of the workgroup can be of any rank, sworn or non-sworn, but at least one should be from middle management or higher and it’s best if all members have supervisory rank. A workgroup without the necessary supervisory presence can lose focus on the need for policy to reflect reasonable rules, expectations and consequences.

It is also best if workgroup members come from different backgrounds or assignments in the organization (e.g., administration, patrol, fire prevention, training). This diversity allows for the workgroup to solve as many issues as possible within the group, without overly relying on external participants.

Set Clear Participation Rules
Participation of public safety policy workgroup members is essential. If a member takes on too many other responsibilities and cannot spend enough time with the workgroup, find a replacement.

Conduct meetings on a regular basis. The appropriate frequency is situational; the needs of each agency differ and can vary over time. If your department is actively implementing a large number of new or updated policies, weekly meetings will be necessary. If you’re in a maintenance mode, meetings may be scheduled in response to legislative or standards updates.

The ability to speak freely is also important. Most circumstances call for a democratic approach, but there will be times where an executive, human resources director or city attorney will give strict directions for the way a policy must be stated. Democracy helps workgroup members and the department take ownership over the process and will help foster buy-in when a policy dictates a significant change in the organization.

Finally, take ego out of the workgroup. I can’t explain how important this is. In most agencies, a new policy is championed and written primarily by one person. This usually leads to some level of emotional attachment to the content or wording. Other members can feel uncomfortable pointing out a grammar error or flawed logic. When I work with agencies as an implementation specialist, I’ve found that being a third party, I can help alleviate this issue. I don’t have any history in the agency or any established relationships with the workgroup members. This helps ensure the discussions are based on logic instead of ego or emotions.

How do you eliminate ego if you’re not working with a third party like Lexipol’s Implementation Services? Consider appointing a member whose background represents broad experience across the organization. If one of your supervisors or command staff has a reputation for diplomacy or is universally respected, that person may be a good choice. Finally, some agencies have had good results using a part-time retired member to head up policy review, which can reduce territorial feelings. The bottom line: A policy is meant to benefit all agency members and the community, not to bolster someone’s resume.

Design a Linear, Efficient Workflow
I’ve worked with agencies whose workflow was so lengthy that by the time the policies were approved, they needed a significant revamp. This is especially common in large organizations or ones that may exist in several locations across a given state or region (e.g., state police, fire protection district). This can expose any agency to increased risk.

To combat this, first identify other entities that will need to participate in the public safety policy review and approval process. It may be a human resources director, city attorney, union representative, academy director and ultimately the agency executive. This helps you visualize different “boxes” that need to be checked off for each policy or procedure.

Next, set linear workflow steps. If multiple groups are simultaneously reviewing the same draft and providing edits or suggestions, it can be difficult to consolidate the information. How often have you experienced multiple versions floating around and no one knows which one is the correct one?

Third, set a time limit for each workflow step. For internal groups, such as subject matter experts or division commanders, reviews should be completed in one to two weeks. For external groups, such as members of other departments or a legal review, more time may be needed; this should be negotiated between participants. Time limits should hold reviewers accountable, but they also need to be realistic and account for seasonal variances in workloads.

The final step of any policy approval workflow is issuing it to the agency members. Members should be provided a means to suggest changes or additions, ideally in writing or electronically so that a record exists.

Policy review is a process that can trip up the most organized, efficient agencies. But by incorporating these best practices, you can streamline the process and eliminate those policy manual woes!

Has your policy review and approval process gotten stuck? Lexipol’s Implementation Services can help guide your policy implementation from start to finish. We have multiple levels of assistance for all budgets. Contact us today to find out more.

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GREGG SATULA is a manager in the Management Services division of Lexipol. Gregg has worked directly with law enforcement and custody agencies across the United States implementing Lexipol manuals and addressing updates.

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Jim Franklin, Executive Director
Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, MN

"Lexipol is, indeed, ahead of the curve with their unique risk management solutions in law enforcement. The Minnesota Sheriffs' Association has been eagerly anticipating the release of the Lexipol Custody Manual. Lexipol meets the needs of law enforcement and custodial agencies by recognizing the emerging challenges facing our agencies, and providing comprehensive tools and resources to reduce liability and risk in a professional and highly efficient manner. The Minnesota Sheriffs' Association is proud of its continued partnership with Lexipol."

Chief Steven Vaccaro
Mokena (IL) Police Department

“If you compare Lexipol to other policy providers, Lexipol is the only one that has policy that has been vetted by other chiefs, industry experts and lawyers. All you have to do is tailor the policies to your agency’s needs.”

Captain Jesus Ochoa
Coronado (CA) Police Department

“Knowing that Lexipol is keeping our policies current means that there isn’t something else for us to worry about. We can focus on our jobs. That definitely gives us peace of mind.”

Chief Joseph Morris
Arapahoe Community College (CO) Police Department

“Officers are not infallible. We have limited memories like everyone else. Working under stress presents more challenges. There are times we need to access policies in the field so we are comfortable in our decision making. The mobile application has been great for this!”

Lt. Victor Pecoraro
Auburn (CA) Police Department

“The updates are super easy because you can pop them open, see the redline versions and be able to edit it on the fly. Once I learned I could do that, I was excited.”

Chief Corry Blount
Bartonville (TX) Police Department

“I feel comfortable that when we issue a policy, it covers what it needs to cover. It’s the most comprehensive policy content I’ve used in my career.”

Chief Greg Knott
Basalt (CO) Police Department

“Lexipol gives you peace of mind because the policies that you’re implementing have been reviewed by professionals in the field and by attorneys—not just your agency’s legal counsel.”

Lt. Ed Alvarez
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) (CA) Police Department

“I like the mobile app because it tells me no matter where I am when I have updates to complete or when people take the DTBs. No matter where I am, I have access. The officers can get real-time updates. Everything is at their fingertips, any time.”

Assistant Chief Bill Holmer
Glen Ellyn (IL) Police Department

“It’s a no-brainer for me. Someone is watching for changes to laws for me, and then tweaking the content based on those changes or updates in best practices.”

Deputy Chief Robin Passwater
Kankakee (IL) Police Department

“If you don’t have Lexipol, even with a full-time person dedicated to policy, there’s almost no way you can keep updated on all the laws and also have the training component. It’s an excellent system.”

Commander Leslie Burns
Mercer Island (WA) Police Department

“Lexipol provides a huge advantage for agencies pursuing accreditation. The tools take about 60% of the difficulty out of the accreditation process. If you want to be accredited, this is the way to do it.”

Chief Steven Vaccaro
Mokena (IL) Police Department

“If you compare Lexipol to other policy providers, Lexipol is the only one that has policy that has been vetted by other chiefs, industry experts and lawyers. All you have to do is tailor the policies to your agency’s needs.”

Chief Ralph Maher
Oak Creek (CO) Police Department

“With Lexipol, I know our policy manual is going to be up to date. I can turn my back on it today and tomorrow there will be any needed updates waiting for me. That allows me to focus on some of the other things I have to do as a chief.”

Chief Jeff Wilson
Orofino (ID) Police Department

“The Lexipol Policy Manual is easy to use, it’s convenient and you have peace of mind knowing that you have a thorough manual that is going to stand up to any challenge the agency may face.”

Chief Kelly Stillman
Rocky River (OH) Police Department

“I can’t say enough about the positives from a chief’s perspective. I don’t know why everyone isn’t with Lexipol.”

Deputy Chief John McGinty
Simi Valley (CA) Police Department

“You get sued for your policies or you get sued for your actions, or both. You can only do so much about actions. But having Lexipol gives me confidence that if we draw a lawsuit, our policies won’t come under attack.”

Sheriff Gerald Antinoro
Storey County (NV) Sheriff’s Office

“Lexipol is one of the best products I have seen in my 30+ years in law enforcement.”

Lt. Lauren Osborne
Surry County (NC) Sheriff’s Office

“If there’s a change as a result of case law, or a procedure that needs to change, Lexipol does the legwork, sends it to us, we approve it and send it out to our people for acknowledgement—and it’s all documented.”

Chief David Maine
The Village of Hunting Valley (OH) Police Department

“What we had before Lexipol had been around for years. It was like every other policy manual I had seen: It didn’t get the updates it needed. The Lexipol manual is a living, breathing document.”

Chief Mike Reitan
West Fargo (ND) Police Department

“To have a source that does all the vetting of the policy for me, making sure they’re current and correct, that’s a huge relief for me.”

Captain Jeff Schneider
Yakima (WA) Police Department

“KMS tracks and logs when people acknowledge and accept updates, which is very important, and it lets us track who isn’t getting the updates so we can give them the appropriate attention.”

Chief John Defore
Hiawatha, KS

“By offering 365 daily training bulletins to my officers, I am saving far more than the cost of the software every year. In fact, I was able to show my commissioners a cost savings by utilizing Lexipol for our policy and policy training needs.”

Lt. Craig Capps
White County (TN) Sheriff's Office

"I would recommend Lexipol to any law enforcement agency, whether three-person or 2,000-person—it makes no difference. The program works.”

Sheriff Blaine Breshears
Morgan County (UT) Sheriff's Office

“We had a use of force lawsuit, and as soon as the attorneys discovered that we have Lexipol, they said, ‘We won’t have an issue there.’ Our policies were never in question.”

Chief Deputy Klint Anderson
Weber County (UT) Sheriff's Office

“We spent a considerable amount of money and effort trying to develop and maintain comprehensive and legally based policies and procedures. Lexipol has relieved us of that burden and provided us with a policy system that we have great confidence in and that we can tailor to suit our particular goals and community standards.”

Sgt. Bryan Ward
Cumberland County (PA) Sheriff's Office

"Calling Lexipol an insurance policy doesn’t do it justice, because it doesn’t capture the enormous power that partnering with Lexipol provides.”

Chief Deputy Ray Saylo
Carson City (NV) Sheriff's Office

"It’s a huge priority of this administration to teach policy to our sergeants, and Lexipol’s Daily Training Bulletins help us do that. We are constantly drilling into them that policy will protect them as an individual officer. If they ensure that their people are following policy, even if they’re sued, they will be OK.”

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