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Managing Risk for Non-Risk Managers Practical Perspectives for Police Professionals

Author: Andy Borrello, May 2001

Every time police officers put their body armor on…risk management. The air bags mounted in the steering wheels and dashboards of their patrol cars…risk management. The suction-cupped rubber mats kids sit on in the bathtub…risk management. The annoying speed bumps we are forced to drive over in parking lots…risk management. Risk management (RM) is easy to recognize and is pervasive in all aspects of our personal and professional lives.

In law enforcement, the management of risk is an expansive and critical aspect as well, primarily due to the diversity and complexities police work entails. Police officers must carry weapons, drive at high speeds, and have the authority under law to deprive others of their precious freedom. At times, police work must be performed under the worst circumstances - dealing with domestic violence, confronting combative offenders, working fatigued or with limited personnel, and often with only seconds to make a critical decision. This unique blend of authority and power combined with the dynamics of police work can create an invasive climate for risk and potential exposure to liability.

While RM is essential to public safety, it remains somewhat elusive in terms of a definitive working definition that is specific to law enforcement. Most officers only formal association with RM occurs when they study limited academic portions of this subject in preparation for promotional testing. It is commonly regarded as something someone else does. RM is often considered as an exclusive characteristic of upper management, the sole responsibility of administration, or an element that is wholly performed by human resources, none of which is true.

DEFINING RISK MANAGEMENT

In a seminar called Mission Accomplished presented through the Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC), risk management is defined, in part, as a discipline for dealing with uncertainty. Nationally recognized risk management expert, Gordon Graham, illustrates in his training that RM is getting the right thing done the right way the first time while treating everyone involved with the highest level of dignity and respect possible under the circumstances.

Risk management is any action taken by any member of an organization that will eliminate, mitigate, or control risk. It is the process of making and carrying out decisions, processes, policy, training, directives, discipline, supervision, or procedures to stop or reduce the adverse effects of loss to an organization. Risk can be complex - researching and developing new policy and procedures to prevent or control sexual harassment or it can be simple - tacking down a loose piece of carpet at the top of the stairs.

Risk management is certainly tangible. It is found in thorough background investigations to hire the best officers, retaining appropriate insurance, maintaining a safe work environment, or properly servicing and maintaining equipment in good working order. Risk management is also conceptual, strongly influenced by ethics, self-control, professionalism, leadership, self-disciplined behavior, or quality customer service. Risk management's foundation is built upon maintaining safety and saving money through loss reduction or elimination and also serves as a protective blanket from civil liability.

RESPONSIBILITY FOR CONTROLLING RISK

Most law enforcement agencies do not have a formal in-house risk manager. This function is most often approached through a collaborative effort between management, administration, human resources, an in-house city or external contractual attorney, or professional consultants. So who is responsible for controlling, reducing, or eliminating risk in police work? The answer is simple: everyone in the organization. Police personnel at every level are stakeholders in the organization and as such, are risk managers. They are key, individually and collectively, to their agency's success in controlling loss and liability through risk, negligence, or omission.

Example:

A field-training officer who begins to date his/her trainee might consider these actions as a conflict of interest - simply not a good idea. Despite this conflict the dating continues throughout the training. Looking through the eyes of a risk manager, this scenario has the potential to be disastrous. Should the trainee fail to pass probation and face termination, the problems facing the agency could range from conduct unbecoming an officer (training officer) to serious allegations of sexual harassment. If any member of the organization recognized the potential risk of this scenario and action was taken to mitigate the problem, effective risk management occurred and the organization would have benefited tremendously. The action taken to confront this risk could have come from a fellow officer, the training officer, the trainee, the supervisor, or any other party who had knowledge of the situation. The key is to develop an organizational culture that maintains a strong and collective bias for action. Every member of a police organization should be empowered with the responsibility to act when it comes to managing risk.

RISK SOLVING FORMULA

The measures taken to deal with risk can be fairly simple. In most cases where the potential for risk or the identification of a problem has been revealed, most police departments maintain an existing process, procedure, or a specific person or division to solve it or to control it. While risk management formulas vary in complexity and depth, depending on the situation, a simple and straightforward formula can be applied effectively and found highly successful in a majority of situations.

The following self-explanatory model illustrates a simple five-step formula that can be easily applied to most areas of risk. This process is sequential, allows for flexibility, and can be applied under a number of circumstances by anyone with any level of experience.

Example:

A chief of police had determined that portions of his/her organization's policy were obsolete and in need of modification. A committee consisting of members of the command staff, the city attorney, and selected subject matter experts were selected to meet and identify needed changes. The committee found the department's pursuit policy was grossly outdated - lacking in proper terminology, conflicting with other portions of policy, was vague, and tended to be incongruent with current case law and contemporary training (Step 1 - Identify Risk).

The areas in need of change were closely examined and clear descriptions of why the changes were needed were documented. The policy was contrasted and compared to model policies obtained from the International Association of Chiefs of Police as well as polices utilized by surrounding agencies. Members of the committee consulted with their outside sources and through 360-degree feedback obtained valuable insight and additional ideas (all of us are smarter than one of us) as to what needed to be improved. (Step 2 - Analyze Risk).

The committee reached a consensus regarding all the changes that needed to be implemented. The findings were reduced to a formal report with detailed recommendations for new policy and a strategy for specific training that should follow its approval and implementation. The report was submitted to and approved by the chief and the policy, which was once outdated and subject to liability, became cutting-edge. It was a product worthy to be used as a model for the next agency that opts to enter this process. The policy was disseminated to all employees and training in its content was conducted (Step 3 - Develop Strategy and Act).

The chief of police directed his Patrol Division captain to make formal inquiries at staff meetings regarding the policy over the following four months. Over this period, information was gathered showing the policy was well received by patrol officers, department trainers, and supervisors. Officers felt the policy vastly clarified what their parameters were while pursuing violators and first-line supervisors were much more comfortable with the added specificity which clarified when to let a pursuits continue and when to stop them. The pursuits that occurred during this time frame were closely examined and it was found that the decisions made by pursuing officers tended to be more responsible, the communication between the dispatcher and involved pursuing units was more effective, and the collaboration with outside assisting agencies was more efficient. (Step 4 - Assess Action)

One of the agency's administrative lieutenants was assigned to monitor the agency's pursuits and to investigate any substantial problems. Furthermore, any information regarding police pursuit related issues was to be collected and recorded to potentially benefit future changes in policy or pursuit training (Step 5 - Monitor Risk).

CONCLUSION

Risk management - the concept - is important to any police organization, however the concept alone has little value if it cannot be made tangible and put into practice. The practice of managing risk is both an individual and team effort and is most effective when all members of an organization realize the importance of and accept the responsibility for organizational and individual safety and loss reduction. Two of the foundational qualities commonly seen in the most successful police officers are found in their ability to make good decisions and solve problems. Risk management - concept and practice - is making good decisions and solving problems and through this, police officers and the organizations they serve realize the value and importance of the management of risk by non-risk managers.

Andrew Borrello is a sergeant with the San Gabriel, CA, Police Department, a California P.O.S.T. Master Instructor and a first time contributor to the Leadership Bulletin. He is the author of "Oral Interview Dynamics" and conducts promotional training seminars and consultation. Sergeant Borrello can be reached by e-mail at promote411@aol.com

The National Executive Institute Associates Leadership Bulletin editor is Edward J. Tully. He served with the FBI as a Special Agent from 1962 to 1993. He is presently the Executive Director of the National Executive Institute Associates and the Major City Chiefs. You can reach him via e-mail at tullye@aol.com or by writing to 308 Altoona Drive, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401