Public entity risk pools frequently face new challenges and areas of concern. After all, schools, public safety and public works are all high-risk areas when it comes to potential claims. Staying on top of new trends can help risk pools better manage costs.
One challenge that’s sprung up in the past few years has to do with the consistency of policies across law enforcement agencies within the pool. Member police agencies may exhibit a wide array of differences across their policies. Some members are in large, urban areas with a liberal jurisdiction and others may be in rural, more conservative venues. In the face of these differences, member police agencies sometimes see no reason to get involved in cross-department policy discussions or work together toward policy standardization.
Despite the venue differences, it is becoming important for pools to work with their members to help them develop policies in a relatively similar manner. With the growing number of highly publicized police incidents, the plaintiff attorney world has started trying to gain more information regarding the pool’s involvement in member agency policies. On some recent cases, the plaintiff’s attorney has sought to review the policies of all police agencies in the pool. Their goal: To identify aspects of the involved agency’s policy that are not written as well as other member’s policies.
With the growing number of highly publicized police incidents, plaintiff’s attorneys have started trying to gain more information regarding the pool’s involvement in member agency policies.
This may sound like a non-issue, but it can quickly cause trouble. In one instance, when an attorney did find some policy differences, they tried to make it appear that the pool did not care enough to keep their members up to date with essential policy content. Another time, an attorney threatened a pool over inconsistent policies, saying the pool would be added to the lawsuit he intended to file. Policy inconsistency is also becoming something an attorney will use to generate negative jury thoughts should a case go to trial.
Achieving greater policy consistency across your member agencies may seem like a lofty goal, but here are three ways to get started.
Focus on Training & Updates
It’s not always easy to get all pool members to want to work together when putting together internal policies, so it may help to focus on specific areas at first. Two areas that often come under legal scrutiny are training requirements and policy updates.
Plaintiff’s lawyers will seize on discrepancies in training requirements across agencies in the same pool. Well-written policies often separate training requirements into specific sections, making these an easy target for comparison across agencies. Foster a discussion with your members about why training requirements are different, especially on key policies such as use of force or body cameras. Can the training requirements be brought closer in alignment?
Another key area is to ensure member policies are promptly updated when new state or federal legislation is passed or cases are decided that can have an impact on law enforcement procedures. Sometimes, those changes are not highly publicized. Failure to keep up with legal changes is probably the biggest reason law enforcement policies become outdated. And it’s so easy for lawyers to capitalize on out-of-date policies—even if they mostly involve technicalities—to cast doubt on the agency and the public entity risk pool.
The bottom line: Member policies are never going to be written identically, but there are some aspects, like training and legislative requirements, that need to appear more consistent.
Consider Using a Third-Party Policy Provider
Many law enforcement policies are written by an entity’s legal department. While these lawyers are certainly capable of writing decent policies, legal departments do not always have high levels of experience in public safety. They also have many other non-related legal issues on their desk that can distract their attention. Utilizing a service focused directly on law enforcement policies ensures the policies cover all the areas that need to be addressed.
This is where Lexipol can provide a powerful advantage. Lexipol works with urban and rural agencies and can help them adopt policies that are consistent across jurisdictions while still providing the opportunity to customize for the specific venue.
When a pool gets Lexipol involved in working with their members, it can also help with keeping policies up to date and ensuring they meet all legal requirements. Lexipol is constantly monitoring the changes that occur at the state level and they update pool members when any changes take place. That is another reason to work with Lexipol, because updating agency policies is not always high on the to-do list of an agency.
Work with Your Insurance Carrier
As the importance of consistently written policies continues to grow, another place to seek information is your insurance carrier. They have been dealing with other cases within your state and from around the country, so they may be able to share “lessons learned”-type information that can be helpful to improve your member’s policies. Annual pool meetings are always a good way to get members to share recent experiences to help other members find a way to avoid similar issues.
You can’t just snap your fingers and make your police agency members adopt the same policies—in many cases, differences are necessary. But you can start the educational process and explore options for keeping your members up to date on laws and best practices. Doing so will help keep things running better for the member agencies and help you strengthen relationships with your members.