How To Develop a Policy

Do your research and follow an outline to create a fleshed out protocol that benefits your agency and officers.

Amaury Murgado Headshot

Having a clear outline and vision is the first step to creating effective policy. (Photo: Getty Images)Having a clear outline and vision is the first step to creating effective policy. (Photo: Getty Images)

Very few people are trained in how to write a policy, so most agencies just obtain policy samples from other departments and cut and paste something to fit their needs. If they are accredited or in the process of becoming accredited, they will go one step further and include the accreditation company's guidelines for a specific topic. Add a legal review by a staff attorney and that's pretty much it.

Since law enforcement officers are primarily trained to deal with public safety and not in how to write policy, some type of guidance is usually needed. Luckily, there are formats and outlines readily available. Though the subject matter is not rocket science, it is very involved, and should follow a prescribed process. Here is an outline that has helped me in the past.

1. Identify and define the problem/need. The first step is to define the problem/need. What's the point of writing it? What problem are you trying to solve or prevent? Is it going to be general in nature or cover a very specific topic? Do you have any statistics, facts, or studies to help back up your argument?

2. Identify purpose. Once you define the problem or need, identify what your policy intends to do. Is it to educate, give specific instructions, or give broad guidance that officers can use in their decision-making? You need to spend some time here and not write something like, "The purpose of this policy is to create a policy on searching vehicles." That's not a purpose but an introductory statement. Your purpose should have several points and serve as a mission statement for the policy.

3. Identify who will take lead responsibility. Someone must oversee this task. Someone needs to direct the effort and be responsible for the outcome. You need a point of contact for input, drafts, and revisions. Though forming a policy review committee is a great idea, someone must still take the lead.

4. Gather information to conduct research. This is a critical step but one that is often applied incorrectly. Your research should apply to your situation and your agency. You must compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Your agency is unique, so your solution must fit your agency and not just mimic someone else's. Here are some ways you can gather needed information:

  • Read policies created by other organizations like yours on the same topic
  • Research applicable legislation at the local, state, and federal levels
  • Conduct meetings with people with experience in the topic
  • Conduct in-house surveys of those that the policy would affect
  • Search industry magazines and journals for articles
  • Search for research papers on your topic
  • Look at accreditation standards

5. Draft policy to define what and procedures to define how. Understand that a draft is a preliminary attempt. It's a way to get your thoughts on paper. You will have many revisions before you're done. Policy is the what and the procedure is the how. A procedure must have everything someone needs to know to perform the policy and repeat that performance consistently. You must outline the policy steps very clearly. Since words have meaning, check for clarity, accuracy, and completeness. Writing a policy is not the time to show off your vocabulary so use clear and concise language. Your main goal is to identify how the policy works and who is responsible for making what happen and when.

6. Consult with subject matter experts and users. I have never understood why an agency would not include input from the very people their decisions will affect. For example, in my former agency we had a command staff that bought a series of light bars for the patrol units without asking the officers or the manager of our vehicle maintenance for input. To put it mildly, the light bars sucked, and no one was happy with them. Make sure you speak to people that know the subject matter you are writing about. You should pass out draft copies of your policy for formal input as well. You'll be missing valuable insights if you don't.

Good policymaking involves conducting research specifically relevant to your agency. (Photo: Getty Images)Good policymaking involves conducting research specifically relevant to your agency. (Photo: Getty Images)

7. Finalize and approve policy. Once you get the policy the way you like it, finalize and approve it. Make sure that everyone understands what's going on and when it starts. Make sure that any training required to implement the policy is done beforehand. If you have to ease into a new policy, use training bulletins or memos for each stage of the transition until you are ready for the full policy.

8. Implement. Making it happen is the hardest part. You must make sure you get as much buy-in as possible. Supervisors and managers must also support and enforce the policy. There is nothing worse than turning a blind eye when convenient. The policy either applies to everyone or it applies to no one.

9. Communicate. Following the adoption of the policy, it should be communicated throughout the organization. If the policy is not explained well, or if any training is bypassed, it will fail. For example, use roll call training as an opportunity to cover the new policy and answer questions.

10. Monitor, review, and revise. In any project management you monitor, review, and revise. Situations change. A policy that worked well five years ago will need updating. For example, body cameras have changed the entire law enforcement landscape. Policies are always subject to change and need some type of mechanism to do so.

I like the use of policy review committees, especially where members of each division/section are represented. You only meet when necessary and only after each member has spent time reading and editing the policy that is going to be discussed. That way, you don't waste any time. When I served on my agency's policy review committee we always had some heated discussions. Get a room full of Type A personalities arguing about what they think needs to be done, and it's the best reality TV show not on cable.

Policy and Procedure

Whether your policy serves a purpose or is nothing more than a paper tiger, it still deserves your utmost attention. You have to remember that policies are written to protect the agency and not the officer. They are written in a way to give the agency as much wiggle room as possible. I always found it hypocritical when a captain or higher-up would say policy is a guideline and not set in stone but then turn around and use the same guideline (now set in stone) for discipline. Anytime you can get involved, you end up helping your fellow officers as you try to strike a balance between their interests and that of the agency.

If you get the chance to participate in any policy review capacity, I highly recommend it. Look at it this way: You can either complain about your agency or try to change it. One of the best ways to change it is to have a say in its policies and procedures. At the end of the day, outside of how leadership is applied, it's policy and procedure that will help make or break your agency.

Amaury Murgado is a retired special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office with over 30 years of experience. He retired a master sergeant from the Army Reserve. He currently serves as the Business Development Manager for Live Free Armory.

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Amaury Murgado Headshot
Lieutenant (Ret.)
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