Revising Departmental Policy and Procedure Manuals

By Martin, Jeff | Law & Order, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Revising Departmental Policy and Procedure Manuals


Martin, Jeff, Law & Order


In every law enforcement agency, someone is tasked with revising the department manual. Whether or not officially titled, the task to update can be daunting. Some approach the problem by copying manuals from other agencies that are perceived to be good models. Others are left to muddle their way through with little or no guidance.

Some principles exist to clarify the manual's purpose and make it more user-friendly to facilitate comprehension and compliance by personnel. Furthermore, if members of the agency are to take it seriously, it must reflect reality, practicality and the underlying philosophy that accomplishing the departmental mission is more important than detail-oriented rules.

Reality and Practicality

Many department manuals include outdated procedures. For example, one manual stated that under certain conditions patrol officers should contact the Juvenile Unit every time juveniles are encountered in an enforcement context. However, due to the passage of time and changes in an agency's infrastructure, this may only occur in rare circumstances, as the juvenile detectives are no longer on-call or on-duty 24 hours a day.

The solution is to meet with representatives from both the patrol and detective divisions to find out what really occurs. If this actual procedure is legal, safe and efficient, write it into the manual.

Another example is officers should not leave their assigned beats unless directed to by communications, a supervisor or while traveling to the station to end their tours of duty. There are many reasons why officers may travel outside of the boundaries of their assigned beats: in search of clean restrooms or decent eating establishments; conducting follow-up investigations or assisting officers in other beats to solve community problems; or seeking to be proactive when movement or activity in the officer's assigned beat is slow. Unless the organization's goal is to make over supervision a prominent theme of its manual, such rules should not be included.

Avoid Redundancy

Some manuals are divided into sections that address administrative, ethical conduct, procedural and staffing aspects. A weakness to look for and correct includes single high-- liability subjects that are addressed in more than one section. For example, one manual has a use-of-force (UOF) policy in a procedure section, but also addresses judicious use of force in the ethical conduct section.

The problem is two-fold. First, as the case law has developed in this area for the past 16 years, the UOF policy has probably been updated to reflect the changes. However, those revising the manual may forget to update the other pertinent policies and procedures in the other sections. The result is part of the policy manual may state that all force used by officers will be necessary, while the updated section states that all force used will be objectively reasonable. Therefore, personnel may be confused as to what the actual departmental policy is.

The second problem arises when a plaintiff's attorney tries to hold an agency and its members to the more restrictive standard of necessity rather than the more current and Constitutionally correct standard of objective reasonableness. Not only might this confuse a jury, but also could make an agency appear to be generally incompetent.

The solution is to weed out redundant policies and procedures. Consider consolidating such policies into one section of the manual and ensure they reflect only the most current statutory and case law standards. This also makes the revision process much easier.

Updated Sources

Some manuals try to be an all-encompassing, how-to guide for doing practically everything involved in law enforcement. For example, one manual lists the required elements for conducting a field interview. It then continues to list the elements required for a legal detention. This is a problem with improper terminology, as many field interviews can be conducted during consensual contacts, which are different than detentions. …

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