Hidden Cost of Public Safety Policy Maintenance

by | May 20, 2024

Public safety policy maintenance is an often-overlooked part of effective agency operations. Carefully crafted policies, managed effectively, play a crucial role in ensuring department procedures are consistent, legally compliant and effective in promoting community well-being. At the same time, it’s easy to underestimate the costs involved in creating, updating and training on these policies. These costs can vary greatly depending on the size of the department and the community it serves.

For instance, larger departments may face higher costs due to more extensive and complex policy requirements, whereas smaller departments might struggle with limited resources, institutional inertia or indifferent stakeholders. When considering the amount of time spent on policy maintenance, though — as well as the risk of lawsuits and other legal issues arising from outdated policies — the hidden costs can be substantial for any agency.

Moreover, while many public safety agencies fail to fully appreciate the financial burden of not maintaining effective policies, they may also lack the resources needed to keep internal policies up to date. New laws and court decisions impacting public safety — on the state and federal level — require constant vigilance to ensure policies remain current and compliant. The need for specialized knowledge to interpret legal updates can further complicate the task, often requiring experience and expertise not readily available within the agency.

The failure to maintain up-to-date public safety policies can lead to significant risks. Outdated language can result in inconsistent compliance with laws and statutes, leading to potential legal challenges and loss of public trust. Policy “gaps” (where new and emerging practices, challenges and technologies remain unaddressed) can lead to confusion among employees regarding how to handle sensitive situations. Lawsuits arising from public safety policy failures can be particularly costly, both in terms of financial settlements and the damage to an agency’s reputation. Additionally, the time and effort required to manage these legal issues divert resources away from other critical areas of operations, creating a cycle of inefficiency and increased risk.

Info Sheet: Are Your Agency’s Policies Up to Date? DOWNLOAD NOW!

Internal Staff Resources

Effective public safety policy maintenance requires more than just reviewing and updating your agency’s handbook from time to time. There are many items that can be time-consuming for internal staff, leading to higher salary and overtime costs. These tasks include:

  • Developing new policies: requires drafting comprehensive guidelines and procedures that address emerging issues and align with current legal and operational standards.
  • Reviewing legislation and case law: requires tracking new legislation and judicial decisions to determine their impact on existing public safety policies and ensure the agency remains compliant with current and emerging standards.
  • Developing policy updates: entails revising current policies to reflect new legal requirements, operational changes and lessons learned from recent incidents or feedback from personnel and the community.
  • Outside legal review: entails mitigating potential legal risk on internally developed policies by working with qualified legal professionals to ensure policy language is fully compliant with current laws, decisions and practices.
  • Developing policy training: requires designing and implementing educational programs to ensure all personnel understand and effectively comply with new and updated policies in their daily work.
  • Tracking policy acknowledgements: involves establishing a system to record and verify everyone in the agency has received, read and understood the policies.

Partnering with a trusted source to help your agency stay on top of new legislation and case law, as well as provide a basis for ongoing public safety policy development, can save you time, money and legal headaches. The ability to acknowledge policies and track training electronically saves time initially and down the line when the documentation is needed.

Lawsuits arising from public safety policy failures can be particularly costly, both in terms of financial settlements and the damage to an agency’s reputation.

Lawsuits, Claims and Personal Grievances

Out-of-date policy or lack of policy on specific subjects can cause significant legal and administrative consequences. The ramifications of not properly maintaining your policy manual can lead to costs that include:

  • Attorney fees: hiring legal professionals to review public safety policies, represent the agency in legal matters and provide ongoing legal counsel.
  • Settlements and payouts: financial compensation public safety agencies must pay as a result of lawsuits or claims arising from mistakes or misconduct related to poorly maintained policies and policy training.
  • Producing documentation: the allocation of resources to create, maintain and update detailed records tracking agency personnel policy acknowledgment and training on policy-related topics.
  • Depositions and/or court appearances: the extensive resources required for agency personnel to gather information, meet with legal counsel and appear in court.
  • Responding to community member complaints: the effort and expense associated with investigating, addressing and resolving complaints from the public regarding the agency’s policies or actions.
  • Damage to reputation: the negative impact on the public’s trust and perception of the agency that can result from policy failures, legal issues or incidents of misconduct.

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With up-to-date, legally sound policy, many costs can be avoided entirely. Maintaining policies that meet state and federal requirements, training on those policies and having solid documentation mitigates risk for your personnel, department and community.

Lexipol is a trusted partner to well over 10,000 agencies across the United States. Our experienced legal team is constantly reviewing new legislation and case law to ensure policies are up-to-date and compliant. Avoid the hidden costs of public safety policy maintenance – partner with Lexipol to make sure your agency is prepared.

Note: This article, which was originally published June 9, 2020, has been substantially updated and republished on May 20, 2024

Lexipol provides public safety and local government with solutions that combine the impact of information with the power of technology. We serve more than 2 million first responders and local government officials with policies, training, wellness resources, grant assistance, and news and analysis.

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