Writing Policy and Procedure Manuals in a Small Campus Police Environment

By Johnson, Robert A. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, February 2011 | Go to article overview

Writing Policy and Procedure Manuals in a Small Campus Police Environment


Johnson, Robert A., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


After serving as a law enforcement officer in a large full-service police agency for nearly 40 years, the responsibility writing policy for a small campus police environment seemed a unique challenge. My hob required reviewing and revising existing policy, as well as creating some polices from scratch. What was not obvious in the beginning, however, was the extent that agency cooperation, planning, and organization would be critical to the success of the mission.

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Crime fighting in a campus environment normally is category specific: the majority of offenses fall into three or four major categories. University Police officers seldom must exhibit specific procedural knowledge of more than a handful of crimes. I found that writing policies in this environment required specificity with regard to agency requirements, as well as criminal law and procedure. The need to revise, update, and modify may old directives either procedurally outdated to compromised by existing law added to the scope of the mission. For example, polices regarding domestic violence, internal early warning systems, juvenile procedures, pandemics, criminal intelligence, homeland security, incident command, and bias-based profiling required frequent updates to remain consistent with current practices and law enforcement mandates. As a result, new procedures and reporting requirements became part of the revisions, necessitating frequent meetings with command and component personnel.

One expert describes the well-written directive as supplant to a system of best guesses, common sense, and good luck. (1) Policy writers must establish consistency, responsibility, and standardization through well-written policies and procedures as this information will guide behavior and avoid agency sanctions. They must ensure they do not place the first responder in harms way, open the organization to liability, overdirect simple tasks, or saturate agency members with verbiage that does not facilitate further understanding of the subject matter.

A directive should be specific enough to impart agency procedure and capture the essence of current law yet remain flexible enough to allow for appropriate decision making. Therefore, policy writers must commit time to planning each directive and grouping of directives. Although the task can prove daunting at times, the following chronological steps may help the writing process proceed smoothly with minimal internal resistance and the best chance for success.

Operational Authority

Before any writing or planning begins, the chief executive of the agency should prepare correspondence that will introduce the writer and reflect the job to be accomplished. Although this may prove one of the few times the chief executive will have direct involvement in the process, all agency members (sworn and civilian) must understand the purpose of the endeavor, the expectation of cooperation, and that the project enjoys the support of their leader.

Information Gathering

Policy writers should acquire an organizational chart early in the process. The chart will become the basis upon which responsibility for work completion is determined. Therefore, it must be available, updated, and accurate.

Information acquired as a basis for constructing policy and procedure can come from various places. Old manuals, directives, special orders, pamphlets, memorandums, and training materials can facilitate a general understanding of how the agency has responded in the past to specific situations and mandates. Although the collection of static documentation can help policy writers, written documents do not replace one-on-one meetings with key personnel. Such meetings also can establish relationships not widely known or understood (e.g., as in the case of state regulatory agencies that mandate officer training or federal law that regulates the dissemination of law enforcement records).

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Writing Policy and Procedure Manuals in a Small Campus Police Environment
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