Located on the western border of Indiana, the Vigo County (IN) Sheriff’s Office protects a population of nearly 108,000 with 40 sworn officers and a jail facility with a 270-inmate capacity.
For the Vigo County (IN) Sheriff’s Office (VCSO), policy represented a three-fold challenge.
First and foremost, “The way we did business didn’t have a solid foundation,” says VCSO Major (Ret.) Jeff Fox, who as Major oversaw the agency’s policy revamp project and continues to serve in a civilian capacity with the agency. “It was just the way we did things.” The agency’s policy manual was more than 10 years old, but even when it was written, it was mostly generic. “It was really more of a merit rules book, with basics like how to wear your uniform, the need to be on time to work, etc.,” Major Fox says. “When it came down to having a policy manual that addressed the many aspects of our job, we didn’t have one.” The lack of policies was universal across the agency, affecting both the law enforcement operation and the jail facility.
The lack of policies contributed directly to the VCSO’s second main challenge: inconsistent training and inconsistent practice. “Because we lacked policy, we operated under the assumption, ‘This is the way I was taught to do it,’” Major Fox says. “But who taught you and what they taught you varied. So we were all doing things in different fashions. We had no formal training program.”
Recognizing the risk involved in operating in this manner, the VCSO administration took steps to revamp the agency’s policies. But they quickly found themselves immersed in the third challenge: They simply didn’t have the time and resources to successfully carry out a full-scale policy implementation project. “I worked on it as much as I could,” Major Fox says. “But you have other responsibilities, and it gets shoved back to the corner.”
The first element in the VCSO’s policy solution came through Lexipol’s Indiana Law Enforcement and Custody Policy Manuals. From the start, it was clear that Lexipol’s 160 Indiana-specific policies were much more comprehensive than anything the VCSO had ever worked with. “We discovered many policies we were not even addressing, state and federal laws we had no idea existed,” Major Fox says. “Our patrol manual policies were so outdated, we chose to scrap them and start over with Lexipol’s content.”
As Major Fox began to review and customize the Lexipol law enforcement policies, the Sheriff and the Jail Commander were working on a jail policy manual. “They were developing a manual by taking policies piecemeal from different counties, but they didn’t have anything that was complete,” Major Fox says. “I discovered Lexipol had an Indiana Corrections manual, so I printed out the table of contents for the Sheriff. He looked at it for about 10 minutes and said, ‘It’s the most comprehensive thing I’ve seen, it’s so much better than what we have, buy it.’ So we did.”
VCSO also used Lexipol’s online Knowledge Management System (KMS) as a platform to develop law enforcement and custody procedural manuals, which are cross-referenced and hyperlinked to the policy content.
Lexipol’s policy content was exactly what the VCSO had been looking for, but personnel got bogged down in the policy review process. “We were struggling with implementation from a time-management perspective,” Major Fox says. “We knew it was important, but you come to work and the crisis of the day takes over. We decided we had to do something different to get the project going, so we reached out to Lexipol for ideas.”
Lexipol’s Implementation Services were designed to assist agencies with exactly the project-management issues the VCSO was facing, and they proved to be “the motivation for us to bring the project back to the forefront,” Major Fox says.
Working with Lexipol Professional Services Representative Patrick Kane, the VCSO got back on track. Kane put together a detailed plan with deadlines, scheduled meetings with the VCSO’s policy review group, and led the group through the review and customization process on each policy.
“Lexipol’s Implementation Services program was key to getting our manuals off the shelf,” Major Fox says. “If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t be implemented today. Departments should recognize their limitations and realize they likely don’t have the resources to do it on their own. Implementation Services is key to getting it done. Yes, you’re going to spend additional money, but it’s the right money to spend, because without solid policy, your department is at risk for liability.”
With the policy and procedural content coming together, the VCSO turned its attention to how the new manuals would be rolled out to staff. Again, Lexipol’s Implementation Services proved critical.
The VCSO asked Kane to lead a week-long on-site training and rollout of the new policies. “Police officers and correctional officers aren’t accustomed to change,” Major Fox says. “We wanted to head off objections about the policy content. The Sheriff can stand up there and say, ‘This is the policy,’ but we thought the staff would benefit from someone from outside the agency explaining where the policy manual content came from, and giving examples of recent court rulings, so the content would have meaning.”
About a month prior to the on-site training, VCSO released the manuals to all personnel for review. “We wanted them to know the content before they came to class,” Major Fox says. “But we did not want to debate the content prior to the training.”
The training sessions were scheduled in four-hour blocks, with the administrative team available following each session to discuss proposed changes to policy. “There were a lot of constructive comments during the training,” Major Fox says. “The officers had done their homework, and the supervisors had spent a lot of time with the content because they knew they’d be held responsible.” Because Lexipol’s KMS makes it easy to edit policies and issue changes to staff, the administrative team reacted to officers’ suggestions in real time, discussing proposed changes after the training sessions and issuing approved changes before the next day’s class. That built additional support among staff for the new policies.
The underlying message of the training: The VCSO was seeking to change behavior to fit the new manual, not to craft a manual that matched current behavior. “It was crucial our people understood that,” Major Fox says. Kane, who retired after 26 years in law enforcement in Illinois, explained to staff where the policies had come from and why it was in the officers’ best interests to follow them. “He established credibility and rapport with our people, and they understood they needed to conform to the new policies—we did not have much resistance,” Major Fox says. “And we gained a huge amount of knowledge from his presentations.”
Less than six months after completing implementation of their new Law Enforcement and Corrections Policy Manuals, the VCSO was “already seeing a tremendous benefit,” Major Fox says. Having agency-wide policies and procedures has helped ensure all personnel are operating out of the same playbook. The agency has also added a formal Field Training Officer program and integrated the policy manual into the training program, so all new officers will be introduced to the same content.
Major Fox points to a specific incident to underscore how comprehensive policies and procedures have made a difference: “A few weeks after implementing our manual, one of our deputy sheriffs was arrested by the FBI for extorting money through a school contractor in his position as a School Resource Officer. This was a 37-year veteran, so it was challenging to know how to address the situation. Because we never had a policy manual before, when things would happen, we would react in a knee-jerk fashion, without knowing whether what we were doing was right. But this time, we had that ‘ah-ha moment’—yes, we do have something to guide us; according to our policy, we can do this, we need to call these people, we have these documents. Without the policy manual, we would have flown blind. It helped us deal with a very sensitive matter, both publicly and internally.”
The VCSO’s experience demonstrates that implementing a new policy manual is rarely simply about policies. Rather, it is about the transformation to a best practice agency in which officers, supervisors and administrators operate as one consistent, effective, mission-driven body.