A new chief’s guide to updating the P&P manual

As with any official document that represents the department, thoroughly review every aspect of the P&P manual at your new agency, and ensure it is updated and tailored to your department

You’re a new chief of police arriving to your new job at a small department. You didn’t work in that town before. Among the first things you should do when you arrive — after spending time with your new employees and getting to know the lay of the land, of course — is to look at the department’s policies and procedures (P&Ps) manual. 

Frequently, you may find that the P&P manual is in serious need of updating — this is particularly true if the agency has had problems in the past. You may find that the manual is a hard copy in a three-ring binder, stuck up on a shelf with a thick film of dust on it. You may find that the manual is simply a Xeroxed copy of a much larger department’s manual, with the name of the department changed. In such a manual, you may well find references to a variety of ranks and positions that don’t exist in your new department. You may also find policies that are incredibly dated in both theory and practice.

Here are some ways to get in front of that problem before that problem gets in front of you. 

Time Bomb in a Binder
It is amazing how few town administrators — not to mention chiefs — in small jurisdictions don’t appreciate what a time bomb an outdated or ignored policy manual can be, or how departments rise or fall by their policies. Generally, that ignorance changes immediately after the department, chief, and/or town get sued over something an officer did, and the settlement amount is a sizable percentage of the fiscal year budget. Such developments tend to significantly shorten the chief’s tenure!

Typically, one of the first steps a plaintiff’s attorney will do is obtain whatever policy manual exists. If the officer’s actions were a violation of policy, it’s Christmas in July for the plaintiff. It also can open up the door for claims of “failure to train and/or supervise” against supervisors and administrators. 

If the manual is so dated that the policies in question are actually counter to established “best practices” — or even in violation of current case law — it can happily (for the plaintiff) add additional zeros to the check the town’s insurance company is going to write.

Off-the-Shelf Solution, Sort of...
What to do? The best course is to find in your state a nationally- or state-accredited department that is close to the size of your department. Contact the chief of that department, and ask him/her for a copy of the P&P manual on disk or flash drive. In order to obtain and maintain accreditation, that department’s policies had to pass muster with the accrediting organization and be updated regularly. That definitely puts a check mark in the positive column for you in future potential litigation. It also provides you with a proven format and content for updating or replacing archaic policies and procedures. 

While you don’t need to re-invent the wheel, it’s important that you don’t just make copies and slap them in a binder. Take the time to read through each policy that you are looking to adopt or incorporate, and tailor it specifically to your department, not the department from which it came. Don’t have any majors or captains? No sex crimes unit? No motors unit? Make sure they’re not referenced in your new policy. 

Be sure that the duties in the policy are designated to the appropriate person or rank. In many cases, that may wind up being you, the chief. If your department doesn’t perform certain functions, make sure you P&P manual doesn’t say you do. 

As with case reports, the last thing you want in court is hearing your policy make you sound like group of incompetent Bozos. If the plaintiff’s attorney is able to highlight such mistakes, it will help bolster the assertion that the department didn’t really intend to operate in a professional manner in the first place. After all, the chief obviously couldn’t even be bothered to read the very policies that he or she signed their name to, and supposedly expected the officers to follow.

Enlist Your Officers’ Help
As with any official document that represents the department, thoroughly review every aspect of the P&P manual at your new agency, and ensure it is updated and tailored to your department. 

Don’t do it by yourself — enlist the help of those who will be affected by those policies. Give a copy of a proposed new or updated policy to every member of the department, ask them to highlight any errors they see, and supply feedback on any issues they see. 

By doing so, you’ll likely ensure that any typographical or grammatical errors are caught. Perhaps more important than that, there will be no question that the officers had several opportunities to read the policy if violations subsequently occur — they may well raise some considerations that you hadn’t thought about. They will hopefully have more buy-in on policies and procedures when they actually had opportunity to help shape them. 

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