Write It Out: The Importance of the Law Enforcement Procedures Manual

by | August 17, 2020

Your agency has just completed a robust update of its policies: Many policies have been revised to reflect new legislation and case law, some policies have been completely redone and some have been newly developed. Time to relax, right? Not exactly.

A well-maintained, up-to-date policy manual is key to the ongoing success and safety of your agency, officers and community, but it isn’t a one-and-done solution. In law enforcement, it is vital that each moving part – policy, procedure, training, expectations, accountability – aligns with one another to form a cohesive and professional approach to policing. Developing a law enforcement procedures manual that directly correlates to your policies is a clear next step to ensuring your agency meets standards and provides the best service.

Policy vs. Procedure: Why You Need Both

If you have great policies but none of your officers know how to follow them, there’s a chance they will be largely ineffective. Policies set the expectation and procedures outline how the expectation will be met. Procedures can differ between agencies depending on size, resources and the community, so it’s important to develop procedures that meet your specific needs. Incorporating industry best practices is crucial, but they need to be adapted to work for your agency. In many ways, procedures can be just as complex as policies – they require great attention to detail and effective communication to staff members to ensure they are properly implemented.

Sometimes agencies attempt to combine their policy and procedures manual into a single document, leading to guidelines that are hard to follow and difficult to maintain. While policies and procedures are certainly tied to one another, developing separate, connected manuals is more efficient and effective when it comes to implementation and maintenance. Drawing clear lines between what the policy states and how to achieve it will help solidify both policies and procedures in the minds of your officers.

Evolving Best Practices

Law enforcement is an ever-changing profession – new local, state and federal regulations, updated case law, innovative technology and dynamic industry standards all play a role in the development of a solid law enforcement procedures manual.

As legislation and best practices evolve, your procedures should do the same. Legislation and case law are frequently changing and your agency is required to stay current on new regulations and expectations. To ensure the safety of officers and the community, the efficacy of your processes and even the prosecution of cases, it is crucial to continuously maintain your procedures manual in a way that reflects the most updated information available.

For example, when your agency deploys new equipment or technology, it can change how data is recorded, uploaded and stored. Newer models also offer different features and minor (or major) changes in functional processes. All this requires documentation to explain proper use. Technology continues to progress and your procedures manual cannot lag behind. While initial training for law enforcement covers current standards, procedures should be active and evolving to help officers stay up to date on the best and correct way to perform their jobs.

Reducing Risk

When it comes to procedures, risk can take many forms. Officer safety, community safety and agency liability are three areas of risk your agency faces when you don’t have an adequate, updated and top-of-mind procedures manual.

Drawing clear lines between what the policy states and how to achieve it will help solidify both policies and procedures in the minds of your officers.

A procedures manual organizes information about pertinent state and federal laws, presents it clearly to officers and serves as a regular reminder of the processes. If your agency lacks consistency through clearly stated procedures, some officers may not be acting in accordance with the law, putting both officer and community safety at risk, as well as exposing the agency to liability. While all risk cannot be eliminated, procedures exist to help agencies minimize it as much as possible.

Improving Professionalism

The public expects a professional police force – and this includes having standard procedures across the board. Without a written manual, processes must be shared among officers by word-of-mouth, which can lead to important steps being missed, forgotten or executed differently. The initial process can be changed significantly by the time it gets communicated to each officer. When law enforcement agencies outline their procedures clearly and make them central in day-to-day operations, they can expect consistency and increased professionalism.

Even on administrative tasks such as record-keeping, consistency is key. When officers differ in the way they use technology, upload data or record and input information, it is difficult and inefficient to maintain and review due to inconsistencies. Procedures affect every operation, from administrative to field tasks. A process that seems simple to one officer may be counterintuitive for another – and in the field, proper, well-known procedures can lead to a tragedy avoided and the preservation of life.

Developing an effective procedures manual for law enforcement requires a significant amount of research, time and collaboration. Lexipol has developed a framework that contains necessary procedures, the related federal regulations and industry best practices to begin the customization process for your agency. While each agency is different, this guide serves as an effective jumping off point and contains updated, pertinent information to ensure your procedures adhere to federal laws and best practices. These procedures correspond directly to specific policies in our policy manual to help your agency clearly draw connections between the two.

Learn more about Lexipol’s Law Enforcement Procedure Framework.


GREGG SATULA is a content developer for Lexipol, where he works to provide law enforcement agencies with the best policy and procedure content.



GARY SPARGER is retired from the West Lafayette Police Department in Indiana. He served for 28 years and retired as Patrol Captain. Gary is a graduate of Purdue University, the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command and the FBI National Academy. He serves as a State Development Representative for Lexipol.

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