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Police Force and Policy

How good cops can be hung out to dry by those they work for.

Traditionally, police responses have been concerned with threats in society that are external to the organization. As a result, little attention is given to the preparation for internal organizational threats. Police deviance and negligence of duty cannot be predicted in absolute terms; however, the potential is inherent in every agency.

To compound this problem, it has been reported in both empirical and anecdotal outlets that job applicants and hires are increasingly “high risk.” Additionally, administrators are failing to meet organizational needs such as providing officers the tools they need (which are applicable to ALL law enforcement officers under federal law) and then supporting them in doing so. This further introduces opportunities for deviance or negligence into the agency. My articles Who’s Really In Charge Of The Police? and Police Use of Force: Not Always For Public Consumption further helps to address the laws, responsibility and hierarchy of police administration.

Side note: It is important to understand that the use of the phrase "minimum force" is not legally accurate. The only word that should be used is "reasonable," as that is the legal litmus test for examining the use of force under the 4th Amendement in our federal case precedent Graham v. Connor (1989). Furthermore, no court has ever banned the use of ANY use of force instrument or tool--the policymakers do that, i.e. chiefs, sheriffs, commissions, councils, & special interest groups.

Considering internal threats, research has indicated reasons why subordinates have traditionally failed to follow operational procedures. In many situations, individuals do not know what the organizational objectives are, how to do them or why. From a conventional business model, when managers attempt to address the problem of nonperformance they often neglect the fact that employees have a lack of knowledge regarding their job duties. If police administrators fail to implement, communicate, or follow policy, officers will have no direction or will find little importance in following policy themselves. Control over the organization, then, becomes limited or non-existent. Over a period of time, this pattern may lead to non-random risks that perpetuate deviant or negligent opportunities. Failure to anticipate problems will ultimately create a reactive approach to organizational security and public safety instead of a proactive one.

To protect police assets, consistently using the same management tools helps to reduce the opportunity for negligence in police use of force. This includes understanding organizational objectives, controlling through documentation, as well as implementing other risk reduction strategies. Defending a police organization against negligent operational claims can be difficult. Exploring policies and procedures and responding to specific defense queries comprise some of these difficulties. Understanding a strategy of defense litigation can actually help an agency organize and define their position relative to the incident.

Risk Management

Elements of organizational dynamics provide the framework for risk management as a social science model of proximate cause. This common sense application allows police administrators to learn from training and control through documentation so that deviant or negligent opportunity may be anticipated in terms of foreseeability. This strategy isolates four key variables in explaining or defending a police organization’s proactive prevention efforts. They consist of policy, control, risk, and foreseeability although I will only be addressing policy here. The goals are to:

1.) Support and participate in intervention methods;

2.) Intervene before an incident occurs (this anticipates why officers need to follow policy);

3.) Reduce the probability of a criminal or negligent act being completed by the officer through effective control measures.


As a result of criminal and civil litigation relative to police actions, law enforcement organizations are consistently inundated with accountability factors—some helpful; others not so helpful—in an effort to improve police standards, control crime and serve the public. These factors are explicitly conveyed through certain tools and resources including training and education. Organizational policy, however, is the cornerstone of effective communication between the employer and employee in respect to identifying goals and operations within the organization. It also defines the first variable in event-tree risk management.

Without policy, and more specifically written policy, there can be no anticipation of police deviance or negligent behavior. Consequently, security is documented only in the administrator’s mind. While some departments have written policies others have patterns of practice. Patterns of practice, however, are not documented and may open up the department to claims of negligence should something go wrong. For example, exceeding the speed limit in response to emergencies is a common practice in policing. Without written documentation that stipulates how fast over the speed limit is reasonable or what emergencies warrant such speed, the department or officer can be held liable for negligent actions should a person be injured or property destroyed.

Definitions: It is important to define policy and procedure, as the two are not synonymous. A policy is defined as “A definite course or method of action to guide and determine present and future decisions, or a guide to decision-making under a given set of circumstances within the framework of corporate objectives, goals and management philosophies” (Kinnaird, 2014). A procedure, on the other hand, is often defined as a particular or consistent way of doing something. Furthermore, it explains how to implement or carry out a policy. Both provide accountability measures for the department.

Communication: A policy and procedure manual serves as an explicit means of translation between the administration and the rest of the organization. Members of the organization may implicitly know the philosophies; however, it cannot be assumed that they are known by the organization as a whole. Through a written means of communication”…this knowledge is shared and understood as an explicit body of knowledge. The purpose is to disseminate information, inform members of the organization about recent management decisions or to signal the community about organizational purpose” (Kinnaird, 2014, p. 75).

Time: Mandatory retraining is a large part of work in contemporary police society and consumes numerous hours both inside and outside of police duty. Although police academies, workshops, and seminars provide basic instruction in use of force activities, they oftentimes do not consider departmental policies and procedures. It is therefore up to the individual departments to train their members on the expectations, goals and objectives of the organization in respect to certain aspects of departmental protocol. Furthermore, many policy manuals reiterate duties as instructed at police academies, promoting an acquired knowledge in an effort to maintain standards of service. Mandatory retraining, then, can be left for the acquisition of new knowledge for other law enforcement functions.

Strengthening Operations: When an organization acquires knowledge collectively they also benefit collectively. Although the mission may be the same, law enforcement agencies are made up of many different divisions and written policy in the use of force ensures that everyone in the department follows appropriate agendas. From detectives to jailers to department heads, it is critical that each member of the organization understands and interprets their positional objectives and capabilities as well as the overall departmental objective. Providing a written communication method that is comprehensive in respect to all divisions will promote quality and consistent directives that should be followed by all members of the organization.

Planning For New or Changing Policy

Administrative and strategic planning is critical to the proper functioning of departmental operations. If an organization is to remain healthy, it must pursue realistic objectives as well. The old adage explaining that it is much easier to keep the patient well than it is to cure his sickness is true to a certain extent. Police administrators must anticipate changes and emergencies in the organization both internally and externally. If an inmate in the county jail needs medical treatment, a determination of who will handle the transportation must be made. Will there be sufficient help in their place should something happen? Likewise, changes in case law may require a reorganization of departmental procedures. Finally, crime and societal threats are always changing. Although there exists a principle of commitment in establishing the goals and objectives of a police organization, there is even more of a commitment in putting those objectives to work!


Graham v. Connor, 109 S. Ct. 1865 (1989);

Kinnaird, B. (2014). Use of force: Expert guidance for decisive force response. New York: Loosleaf Law Publications.