By Gregg Satula
When it comes to public safety policy review, does it make sense to use regional workgroups? We get asked this question by customers on occasion. Some would like to work with their neighbors collaboratively; others want to outright copy/paste what a neighboring agency has done.
When I first became a use of force instructor, I quickly learned that when asked anything involving many different moving parts, the best answer was, “It depends.” So, let’s dig into this question a little, and explore when regional review may be advantageous, when it should be avoided and some tips for success. Note: This discussion is limited to policies; procedures generally don’t benefit from regional workgroups.
When Regional Review Can Work
Two key factors point to success using a regional policy review approach:
1. The agencies are of similar size and philosophy, e.g., a rural county or suburbs that neighbor a larger city.
2. The policies being reviewed are expressed in broad terms of what members can or cannot do in situations that reasonably would be encountered. A uniform regulations policy may not be a good candidate for a regional review, for example, while a policy on firefighter response to violent incidents may very well be.
Certain things are very predictable in law enforcement, custody and fire: Police will always have to deal with domestic violence and use of force topics; custody personnel will always have to deal with inmate welfare and strip searches; firefighters will always have to deal with workplace safety and what to do with all that free time between calls. (I come from a law enforcement background, so pardon my lighthearted dig on our fire partners.)
Many of these subjects have state or federal statutes or guidelines. When it comes to strip searches, the rules are the same whether the jail has 50 employees or 500 employees.
From our work with thousands of agencies of all sizes and locations, we’ve learned that in many ways agencies have very similar policies. There are always exceptions, such as a police department that has a black-and-white “no-pursuit” policy, but this is relatively rare. This is why regional review can work.
In fact, I suspect that a regional workgroup would probably make fewer edits or modifications to the content of a Lexipol “master” manual than if an agency reviewed the policies alone. By talking things out, those involved would realize that they address policy topics in a very similar way.
When Regional Review Won’t Work
Regional collaboration for public safety policy review will generally not work for policies related to human resources issues. This does not mean you’re left to recreate the wheel. Many times, these policies are linked to bargained language or tied into policies that are written at a higher level (e.g., city policy trumps police department policy). Lexipol provides a comprehensive set of personnel policies, so if your governmental unit doesn’t have a particular policy or you feel that Lexipol says it better; use ours!
You may also struggle if members of the regional group have drastically different available technology or resources. Let’s say some agencies in the workgroup use a fully digital records management system and some still rely heavily on paper copies. There is no need to skip these policies and leave each agency to work on their own. Instead, use generic terms in the policy, such as “records management system” instead of each agency’s specific system. If you’re referring to how records need to be shared within the department, you can use a term such as “distribute” or “forward” rather than “email.” Use your procedures to capture the terms and processes specific to your agency.
Tips for Success When Working with Neighbors on Policies
When developing an external public safety policy review workgroup you can fall into the same traps of an internal workgroup. (See my last article where I go into more depth on this topic.) Fortunately, if you take some simple steps before you start, you can increase your chances for success.
- Start with something easy. Chances are that there already is a memo of understanding for mutual aid or a shared resource (e.g., an armored vehicle). Use this kind of policy to get everyone acclimated to the process.
- Like internal workgroups, the external workgroup members must be limited to only those who need to participate. I think it’s reasonable to have just one person represent each agency.
- Everyone is busy and meetings can be difficult to schedule, so meeting time is extremely valuable. Use agendas and discussion time limits to keep people on task.
- Doing homework is essential. Review the necessary policies and any other related documents before meeting.
- Consider a web platform that will allow for remote communication, such as Skype, GoToMeeting or WebEx. You can also use Dropbox or Google Docs to share files.
- Identify subject matter experts (SMEs) who may exist in the workgroup agencies. SMEs can greatly assist when discussing specialized or complicated policies (e.g., Inmate Searches, Officer-Involved Shootings and Deaths). Another often-overlooked SME is someone who knows how to edit—anyone who has a background in writing and is familiar with grammar, spelling and formatting rules. This can help in maintaining the overall professional feel to the manuals.
- There will be times when you need legal counsel to review the content from the workgroup. Try to identify limited sources for this (e.g., county attorney, group-funded outside counsel). The more lawyers involved, the more opinions you’ll get in return.
- As most of the people involved in a regional policy workgroup are major players, someone needs to wrangle the personalities. I would absolutely recommend a chairperson to set agendas or coordinate scheduled meetings.
Working with a regional group for public safety policy review adds a layer of complexity, but it can also enhance operational effectiveness by ensuring that agencies operate in a similar fashion at large or complex incidents. Shared policies can also help your local public safety community speak with one voice when it comes to advocating for services or explaining policy to citizens or the media. With the proper preparation and scope of work restrictions, a regional approach to policy review can prove insightful and valuable to your agency.
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.
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.