Leveraging Technology to Achieve Accountability in Law Enforcement… Today’s ChallengesBy Bill McAuliffe
Director of Professional Services for Lexipol
The policies that an organization has in place is a crucial aspect when measuring accountability. It defines the structure of the organization and sets the expectations for achieving accountability. Today, there are more community stakeholders than ever before who have a heightened interest in law enforcement policies. There is increased demand for community involvement in drafting policies and for policies to be publicly accessible. Going beyond transparency, the community is looking to compare what agencies are doing and what the policy is stating. In essence, they are performing a policy and practice conformance. This is leading to more scrutiny into certain activities such as use of force, racial profiling, K9 use, and whether they should be used at all.
While it’s beneficial for communities to be involved in the creation of policies, this expectation places a high burden on already under-resourced departments. Not only do they need to interpret the legislation and rewrite policies and procedures, but they now have to also educate the citizens. Because if they’re going to be involved, they need a baseline of knowledge. In addition, agencies are now faced with the challenge of maintaining their policies. They realize that it’s a huge undertaking to go through a full review and update their policies and make it current. On top of these surmounting challenges, is increasing scrutiny from the public eye and a drive to hold agencies accountable to their possible outdated policies.
Once agencies update their policies, another challenge is keeping agency members current. And the best way to do this is through training. Keeping policies top of mind will help sharpen that skillset, allowing members to act and react to incidents within policy.
Why Care About Policy?
Policy is the skeletal structure of an organization. It provides the foundation and the structure of how all things happen, and it codifies who’s responsible for what within that organization. Lack of policy or good policy can impact agencies physically such as line of duty injuries or deaths, financially through lawsuits, and politically by a damaged reputation and loss of job.
A framework to assess whether agency policies are effective is through ensuring they are applicable, practical, and functional for the organization. It’s also crucial that agency policies, practices, and procedures have conformance to keep the agency legally defensible.
Ensuring that policy is applicable is by necessitating a clear understanding of the agency services that is provided to its jurisdiction. Important questions to ask is whether this content is appropriate to have in the agency manual. Does it fit with our operations of what we do? If not, perhaps it can be modified to align with how the agency operates and what it can provide.
The second test is asking whether they are practical for the agency. Do we have the equipment? Do we have the staff? Do we have the budget? And if it’s not, how can it be modified so that it is practical?
There are often a disconnect between the administrative ranks and those on the front lines. When I climbed the ranks from Corporal, to Sergeant, to Lieutenant, I noticed that my understanding of the day-to-day operations started to diminish. Due to this disconnect, it’s important to ensure that what is applied in policy can actually be applied in real life. This can be done through discussions with frontline supervisors or operators to align your perspective with reality.
It’s crucial that agency policies are synchronized with agency practices. If it doesn’t fall in line, confusion can occur amongst your ranks and increase the likelihood of detrimental situations in the field. This can cause a level of distrust with the citizens leading them to question your organization and how it is operated. In the case that your agency is sued in civil court, it’s important to note that the first thing they will review is your policy manual. They will compare the actions taken compared to the policy written and challenge your agency on any discrepancies.
Technology and Mitigating Risk
To begin evaluating how technology can help mitigate risk, it’s important to understand what mitigating risk looks like. Risk can be broken down into high-risk low frequency and high-risk high frequency. Due to the low frequency aspect, high-risk low frequency risks are the most dangerous in public safety. The skills to manage these risks can become rusty as it doesn’t occur often.
Mitigating risk is simply taking logical steps to lower the likelihood of bad things to happen. And a great way to mitigate risk is by ensuring your agency has well-written policies that are reinforced with good training. Technology like Lexipol’s application can help agencies achieve that. It’s crucial to go through policies on a regular basis with training so it’s in the forefront of your officers’ mind. By doing so, they’re more likely to act and react within those policies. This makes it less likely to violate the rights of citizens in the community and act in a manner that is going to bring claims of wrongdoing. Recording policy acknowledgement and policy training is just as important.
In addition to using Lexipol to track training and policies, InTime can help mitigate risk and ensure compliance by tracking members’ qualifications and certifications. For instance, if you’re scheduling an event that requires members of your agency to carry riot equipment in patrol. Officers are able to sort and identify all the members who are riot team qualified by creating specific tags or attributes for your agency employees and schedule them appropriately based on the event that you have coming up. In addition, these tags can be used for recertification to ensure that all of your members maintain that qualification. Technology can be used to improve effectiveness in various ways such as managing time, assignments, recording policy acknowledgement, tracking training, and much more. It enables you to hold your staff accountable by having proof that they acknowledged the policy. Lexipol’s platform also allows officers to easily access their policy manuals on their phone.
It’s a challenging time in this industry and law enforcement leaders all over the country are facing the same problems. It’s crucial to start the process of evaluating your existing policies. The applicable, practical, functional, and practice conformance test is a great place to start reviewing agency policies. Using technology can help save time, build accountability, build records for future reference, to help your agency become as defensible as it can.
Want to learn more? Watch our webinar with Bill McAuliffe on this topic here.
About the Author
Director of Professional Services for Lexipol
Bill McAuliffe is the Director of Professional Services for Lexipol and a 25-year veteran of law enforcement and corrections. He served six years as a lieutenant in positions including Patrol Division Commander, Jail Commander, and the Office of Professional Standards. While working for the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office in California he was a member of the Sheriff’s SWAT Entry team and the K9 Unit before relocating to Sandpoint, Idaho. Bill is an original member of the Lexipol Professional Services Team and continues to play a critical role in improving the services Lexipol provides and nurturing relationships with Lexipol partners.
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