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Stay Current With Law Enforcement Procedures

At one time, many police departments would keep their policies and procedures unchanged for years, but an era of greater public scrutiny has law enforcement departments wanting to keep up with the professional expectations of policing. Departments should review their policies periodically, and pay close attention to their policies for selection and hiring, use of force and vehicle pursuits.

Selection and hiring
Hiring the best candidate possible is a key factor in making a department safe and effective. Adopting a hiring policy helps departments make the best hire, promote equity and diversity in the department and it should also provide direction for how the department selects its reserve officers and constables. 

Departments don’t always conduct a proper background check of the candidates they hire. Doing so can affirm the decision to hire, or it could reveal issues the department needs to explore further. 

Police chiefs are sometimes hired purely on the strength of their experience, which can become an issue when proper background checks do not take place. Municipalities should hold the candidates under consideration for the position of chief to all of the standards outlined in the selection and hiring policy, just as it would with candidates for any other position in the department. 

Use of force 
While some departments have officers carry only a firearm, others add a Taser, pepper spray, baton or a BolaWrap to the list. There is no standard for what equipment an officer has to carry, but in every case, their use of equipment affects the public perception of the department. The public will always make assessments about how officers use force, and whether an officer could have handled a situation differently. 

A use of force policy should address all equipment issued to the officer to include initial and annual training. Proper equipment use and defensive tactics are skills that will decline without appropriate training. 

All departments should have a policy outlining when an officer can initiate a vehicle pursuit. Whenever a chase occurs, people who are not involved are at risk whenever one occurs, so limiting pursuits to when there is a reasonable suspicion that someone in the vehicle has committed a violent felony — or when there is evidence of reckless driving or driving under the influence — will reduce the potential for incidents. Having a policy that restricts all vehicle pursuits is not recommended. 

The policy should outline that a vehicle chase should not commence until approval is received from the officer’s supervisor and the supervisor should assert control over the pursuit, based on the officer’s communication. The policy also should allow any officer to terminate a pursuit, regardless of the officer’s rank. In addition to hands-on emergency driver training, officers should receive pursuit driving training at least annually, incorporating pursuit-related radio communication.  

Policy reviews and training
Because of changing case law and other variables, departments should review and update their policy and procedure manual at least every three years. The cover portion of the manual should note the date of the review. Some policies may need more frequent updates and should have specific revision dates listed. Tracking revision dates helps clarify what policy was in effect at the time of a reported incident. 

Newly-hired officers should receive the standard operating procedures manual and training on the procedures of each policy. Administer knowledge tests to verify the officer’s understanding of expectations related to the procedure manual. Experienced officers should receive, at a minimum, the department’s high-risk policies on an annual basis, with documented acknowledgment and testing of their understanding on expected procedures. 

The Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services will host a training session on law enforcement policies and procedures on May 17 for members of the SC Municipal Insurance Trust and SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund