With 2020 in the rear view mirror, protect your agency in the year to come by re-examining these five critical topics.
Pandemics, political and social unrest, and natural disasters converged to create a tiresome and taxing year for law enforcement agencies. The calendar has flipped over to a new year, however the circumstances that we have been dealing with haven't gone away. Even if you have recently reviewed your policy manual, have you looked over it with "2020 hindsight"?
Make sure you don't miss these five high-liability areas:
1. Use of Force
Are you staying up to date on industry-accepted practices? CEOs need to review their policies to make sure they reflect new industry-accepted standards like prohibitions on chokeholds and neck restraints, de-escalation, duty to intervene, and robust statistical reporting and analytics. Utilize resources at our disposal as law enforcement professionals - from the IACP model policy to organizations like 8 Can't Wait which offer models and checklists for policy development.
Of course, each chief has the ability to read the data and decide what is best for their agency. However, making progress in our industry requires a critically objective eye. While there is no need to paralyze an officer's ability to respond safely and effectively, more care and forethought must be given to prevent situations that harm both individuals and the profession as a whole.
2. Fair and Impartial Policing
Does your policy still say "bias based policing"? If so, it's time to make an update. "Fair and impartial policing" is more than a change in wording, but rather a fundamental shift in the approach agencies are taking to ensure that minority groups are not disproportionately policed. This new perspective encourages an active role in eliminating both explicit and implicit biases.
Agencies reviewing their policies should make sure that their policies 1) define what constitutes proper enforcement techniques, 2) institute training programs, 3) establish mechanisms for handling complaints, and 4) promote reviews of policies and practices through statistical and procedural analysis.
3. Employee Use of Social Media
Employees can have an opinion, they just have to be careful how they share it. Agencies have every right to ensure that the conduct of their employees on social media won't have a negative impact on the employee (and the agency's) ability to do business. Smart agencies do a social media check when hiring new employees to ensure their posts and conduct won't discredit the agency and even find it beneficial to perform periodic "checkups" on current employee accounts.
A well-written social media policy offers clear principles as to what is and isn't acceptable for posting online. This involves ensuring that agency investigations, activities, or other sensitive information isn't being posted to personal accounts. By controlling which department-related content can be shared, an agency can also prevent the credibility and professionalism of employees being called into question.
4. Unusual Occurrences
"Oh, that will never happen here." This may be the unspoken refrain that rings through
the minds of many when reviewing unusual occurrence policies. These policies may often be ignored because they aren't frequently used. It can be hard to plan for something we may not ever have experienced. Unusual occurrences are often dynamic, rapidly changing incidents where open policies that act as checklists can prove very beneficial. As always, a scalable ICS-approach to incident management can be communicated throughout your policy manual.
In case you've missed it, this past year we've dealt with a pandemic. Not all pandemics are treated equally - COVID-19 has proven very different from, say ebola. A well-rounded policy would describe procedures for obtaining PPE, population control, protection of critical healthcare infrastructure sites, and the securing and distribution of vaccines.
Mass demonstrations and civil disturbances are another type of occurrence we experienced more frequently. In conjunction with your agency's use of force policy, this is a good time to review what techniques are acceptable for crowd control and when is it acceptable to use them.
5. Hiring Practices
The best way to get rid of "problem employees" is not to hire them in the first place. How often do we see history of the subject officer in a high-profile incident include being previously fired from another agency only to be re-hired somewhere else? Have past skirmishes with the law? Or display other red-flags that a thorough background investigation should have picked up on?
There is no doubt that there is a nationwide shortage of law enforcement officers, but filling vacancies by taking shortcuts in the hiring process is a risky proposition. Agency CEOs can shore up their hiring practices by 1) adopting policies on recruiting and hiring that include thorough background investigations, 2) promoting the hiring of a diverse workforce reflective of the service area, and 3) featuring statistical reporting to ensure the effectiveness of the process.
We're Here to Help
Your agency doesn't have to go about your review process alone. Whether you want a fresh pair of eyes or more detailed policy input, we've got you covered.