Pelham, a city of about 24,000 located 25 minutes south of Birmingham, is protected by 73 sworn police officers and 80 firefighters. The city’s police and fire departments have been using Lexipol policies since 2018.
In mid-sized communities across the United States, public safety departments are stretched thin. Pelham, Ala., is no different. As frontline staff work to cover calls for service and administrators focus on achieving strategic priorities within budget constraints, there is often little time or resources to keep up with changes in fire and police policy.
Pelham Fire Department (PFD) Chief Mike Reid conducted a thorough review of the department’s policies in 2017. “There were so many holes and gaps,” he says. “For example, we would show new hires the activities they needed to cover during shift changes. And they’d ask where the instructions were written down, so they could review them. But it wasn’t written down. We had gaps like that everywhere. We knew we had to fix this.”
The situation was similar at the Pelham Police Department (PPD). “In 2016, we had an administrative captain redo the policy manual in a ‘general orders’ format so it would be in compliance with CALEA, but that version was never released,” says PPD Captain Doug Setliff. PPD Chief Pat Cheatwood notes, “We’d always been an excellent department and we had policies I thought were OK, but they were still outdated and needed improvement.”
Even when the PPD had time to make changes, the process was cumbersome. “We had a three-ring binder that was 4 to 5 inches thick. When a policy was updated, we had to physically take copies to officers, punch holes in it and put in in the binders,” Capt. Setliff says. Although the department required officers to sign acknowledgment forms when policies were disseminated or updated, these “sign sheets” were challenging to locate. “It was very difficult to do even simple things to address personnel issues,” Capt. Setliff says.
For both the Pelham police and fire departments, the answer to their policy challenges came in the form of Lexipol’s Alabama-specific policy management offerings for law enforcement and fire and rescue. Lexipol offers comprehensive, state-specific policies through an online platform that also delivers policy updates and scenario-based policy training. Additional features allow agencies to easily separate policy from procedure, issue policies electronically and track policy acknowledgments and training assignments.
PFD Chief Reid noticed the quality of the policy content right away. “I remember receiving the Rapid Intervention Team Policy and thinking, this is so easy to understand!” he says. “The policies are easy to remember because they are written to be concise. Instead of having a policy that’s 4 pages long, it’s 1½ pages—with the same substance. I thought, why not make this happen?”
The fire and police departments worked on implementing Lexipol policies at roughly the same time, occasionally sharing strategies for policy review and adoption. Both departments focused heavily on incorporating subject matter experts into the review process. The PFD used a tiered implementation committee broken into areas of expertise such as technical rescue, administrative and EMS.
At the PPD, Capt. Setliff employed a rigorous process of comparing the department’s 2012 manual, the 2016 rewrite that had never been released, and the Lexipol policy content. Once he had a draft together, he would solicit feedback. “So, for instance, we had our traffic unit supervisor review the Traffic Policy and the person who supervisors our in-car camera program review the Mobile Audio/Video Policy,” he says. Although he took on the bulk of the implementation work, Capt. Setliff stresses he didn’t feel alone. “The support from Lexipol has been excellent,” he says. “No matter who I contact, I instantly get an answer. They are so helpful and quick on responses.”
Both departments are using Lexipol’s mobile app to provide personnel with access to the policies. “About 95% of the department uses the app,” says PFD Chief Reid. “Once we showed everybody you don’t have to be in front of a computer or pull out a physical policy manual, it just took off.” PPD Capt. Setliff agrees: “Our officers love the phone access. When I’m out with officers and they have a situation, I’ll ask, what’s the policy? And they pull it up on their phone. Having policy right there when you need it is extremely valuable.”
Lexipol’s Daily Training Bulletins (DTBs), which help reinforce policy comprehension through short scenarios, are another key part of the system. “The DTBs have been great for us because we’re getting instant feedback on the reviews of policy,” Capt. Setliff says. “The officers have been commenting that they enjoy the training because it’s not just a mundane roll call—you’re using the policy in the practical sense. And the supervisors like it because I can provide them a report of who’s staying updated on their policies.”
The PPD and the PFD are realizing the benefits of enhanced personnel accountability, ease of reporting, and confidence that comes from operating under comprehensive, up-to-date policies. “It gives us a great roadmap, from my newest employee to a just-promoted supervisor to my most senior employees,” PFD Chief Reid says. “It makes sense and it’s easy to comply with because it’s easy to retain.”
“With the cultural change happening in law enforcement across the country, you need to know you have the best policies in place,” PPD Chief Cheatwood says. “You can’t be second-guessing yourself whether those polices are good. With Lexipol, you know where every policy came from; you know it’s the best of the best.”
But the three leaders stress that Pelham’s citizens are the recipients of the true value of Lexipol policies.
Following the civil unrest in the summer of 2020, some Pelham community members were concerned about officer burnout and how that could create compassion fatigue, leading to unwarranted use of force. “Thanks to Lexipol, we were already doing many of the things our community members wanted to see,” Capt. Setliff says. “We had Lexipol policies in place—early intervention, psychological evaluations once a year, critical incident review, yearly evaluations, regular review of body-worn camera footage—that addressed these concerns.”
And that in turn builds confidence between community members and the police. “When people start asking questions with an open mic and a forum of 100 people, and they ask whether you have a policy on a specific issue, to be able to tell them with complete confidence that yes, you do, and their tax dollars are paying for the best policy system available—that’s priceless,” says PPD Chief Cheatwood.
With both the police and fire departments using Lexipol’s policy solutions, the city is providing unified, consistent emergency response. “Lexipol solidifies and supports what we’re doing from a public safety perspective,” PFD Chief Reid says. “Our policies comply with federal and state law and the most up-to-date standards, for both fire and law enforcement. It gives our citizens great peace of mind to know we are operating under national standards of care and coverage for incidents such as traffic accidents, vehicle pursuits, and fire and medical calls. With Lexipol, we’re following the latest best practices for our business of providing protection to the public.”