Are You in the Habit of Looking Up Your Agency’s Policy?

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series. Click here for the previous article.

Gordon Graham here again—and thanks for your continued support and kind comments regarding this series on risk management. For purposes of continuity, here is a quick overview of the 10-step decision-making process I introduced in an earlier article:

  1. Identify and clarify the issue. If it is a preservation-of-life event, act immediately (#8). Short of that, identify what needs to be decided.
  2. Do I have time to think? If so, move on to #3. If not, hopefully you picked this up on your risk assessment and through constant training have learned how to best act in this situation.
  3. Can I handle this event? If so, move to #4. If not, get it to someone who can handle it and follow through to make sure it got done.
  4. What is the policy of our agency re: this event? If policy exists, follow the policy. If there is no policy, refer to the mission statement of your organization and make sure your action is consistent with this statement.
  5. What is our past practice in this type of event? You may not have handled this type of event before, but maybe someone in your organization has. Consistency is critical.
  6. What are the ethical issues involved in this event? We must be concerned not just about doing things right but doing the right thing right.
  7. What are the consequences of my actions? Smart people consider consequences before they occur.
  8. Make and implement your decision. Remember it is not too late to go back to #1 to make sure you are still headed in the right direction.
  9. Document as necessary why you did what you did.
  10. If you learned something new, share it with your peers.

So let us assume you have properly identified what needs to be decided and you have time to think and you have jurisdiction regarding the involved matter. What’s next?

Steps four through seven are what I call the core of the decision-making process. As such, they warrant closer examination, starting with step four, which asks you to consider, “What is the policy of our agency regarding this type of event?”

PLEASE get in the habit of looking up your policy on low-frequency events—and then following the policy!

I am presupposing that you have well-written policies—if you are a client of Lexipol, I know this is true. Not to digress, but the co-founder of Lexipol is my partner Bruce Praet. In my opinion he is the finest police defense lawyer in America today. Bruce wrote many of the original Lexipol policies some 20 years ago. As Lexipol has grown, he and I have assembled a team of great lawyers and public safety professionals, each highly respected in their respective state of practice. Not only does this team develop the policy initially, but they continue to monitor legislative and court activities on the federal and state level to make sure the policies are up to date and consistent with any changes or developments in state law.

With this in mind, when you’re facing a decision on a low-frequency event, and you have time to think and you have jurisdiction, PLEASE get in the habit of looking up your policy! This is not an article on civil liability, but the easiest way to lose a civil case is to have a policy in place that says, “This is the way you do it” when you did it a different way and someone suffered a harm or a loss. That is instant civil liability, or more formally stated, “negligence per se.”

So PLEASE get in the habit of looking up your policy on low-frequency events—and then following the policy! Generally, you don’t have to look up policy on high-frequency events because by the very nature of the task (high frequency), you do that task a lot and if you were not doing it right, you would have already heard about your failure to follow policy.

When I tell audiences to get in the habit of looking up their policy, I often get the comment, “You act like we carry our massive policy manual around in our pocket.” My response to that is: YOU ARE CORRECT. If you are a Lexipol client agency, you can carry the policy manual in your pocket—right on your smartphone.

Whether using IOS or Android, phone or tablet, personnel in Lexipol agencies can instantly access their agency policies through the Lexipol app. It’s a simple way to ensure your behavior is consistent with your agency’s policy.

I don’t pretend for a minute to understand how, but you can even search your policy manual using your voice, or type in a keyword—so you don’t have to know the policy number or formal name. And here I was still getting used to MDTs.

On those occasions where there is no specific policy on the type of decision you’re facing, you must default to your agency’s mission statement—what your chief has determined you are all about as an agency. Ensure your behavior is in line with this mission statement.

I don’t know your specific mission statement, but I do recall the mission statement of the California Highway Patrol when I was active: “To provide the California motorist with safe, rapid and economical use of the California highway system and to assist local law enforcement as necessary to fulfill their duties.” Whenever I got involved in something on duty, I would apply the applicable policy. And on those rare occasions when there was no specific policy, I would use this mission statement as a guide.

So there you have it! When you have time and jurisdiction, PLEASE get in the habit of looking up policy. And if no policy exists, make sure your behavior is consistent you’re your agency’s mission statement.

In my next article, I’ll cover the importance of consistency by and between personnel on your department. Until then, thanks again for reading this piece and I will be back soon.

TIMELY TAKEAWAY—Take the time right now to look up the mission statement of your chief and understand what it means. If your agency does not have a meaningful mission statement, then perhaps now is the time to sit down as a group and ask, “What are we all about as a department?” Also, I am hopeful your mission statement incorporates some thoughts on the sanctity of life and how important preservation of life is to everyone in your community.

Gordon Graham

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

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