Can a Regional Approach to Public Safety Policy Review Work?

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.

Lexipol Law Enforcement


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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