Updating police policy: The importance of policy and procedure

Winfield Police Chief Brett Burleson

By Luke Brantley
Staff writer
WINFIELD — During a city council meeting back on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, the Winfield City Council voted to allow the Winfield Police Department to purchase new software to update its standard operating procedure.
The software program, from a company called Lexipol, allows police departments to go back through their current policies and keep them up-to-date based on federal and state laws, as well as best practices.
According to Winfield Police Chief Brett Burleson, police departments must have policies in place for any type of call that officers respond to.
Now, Burleson is working with Lexipol to update his departments SOP, which Burleson says is essential for any department to function.
“There’s a policy for the city that every city employee goes by,” Burleson said. “Then for us, we have to have an SOP that basically lays out most every kind of call that you would go to. In that call, there needs to be a set of guidelines or parameters that you have to stay within when you get on that call—who do you notify, what do you do when you get there.
“So, for everything that we do, there is a policy that covers that and how we act. It’s like for other jobs, you have a set of rules or guidelines that you have to meet. You can’t go over those lines. You can’t just do whatever you want to do.
“Law enforcement is the same thing. There has to be a boundary. It’s what keeps us from taking justice into our own hands. It’s basically a policy that separates the good guys from the bad guys.”
Burleson said having a good policy in place can help prove if an officer acted properly or improperly if a case was taken to court.
“What they would do is take our report, our body camera footage and witness statements—they would take all of those and match them to our policy. If everything that is in those was done within the boundaries of those policies, then my officer has done everything that he needed to do. That’s not saying that you can’t still take a lawsuit, but it keeps my department and officers honest as to how they handled that call, so that everything is uniform.
“When you go to that call, we’re all going to handle it the same way. We might not say the same things or do it in the exact order, but we’re going to do it within those boundaries.
“The attorney will pull out our policies and procedures and ask ‘Did you do this?’ And in the body cam and dash cam, those things will show what we did or what we didn’t do, and either my officer will have done the right thing, or he won’t have based on a good, solid policy.”
Certain police policies, especially those involving the use of force, have been under increased scrutiny over the last few years. According to Burleson, that has had a major impact on policy.
“That’s why we want to make sure that everything’s updated,” he said. “For example, when the terrible event happened to George Floyd, right after that, the federal government mandated that chokeholds would no longer be part of any SOP across the nation.
“You had to have that in your SOP, or you didn’t get federal funding. In most updated procedures, that’s already in there. Chokeholds have never been something that was used for that. It’s considered lethal force, and it needs to be deemed as such under that continuum.
“For an administrator, it helps me sleep easier at night knowing that my policies are good policies, they’re up to date and they’re covering every officer who hits the streets. What I want our citizens to know is that they are absolutely schooled regularly on these policies to make sure they know what to do on every call they go out on.”
Burleson explained that whenever a change is made to the policy, a notification is sent to him, the city attorney and all the police officers.
Officers are then required to read the new policy and take a test on it, the results of which go in their personnel file.
The policy can easily be pulled up on officers’ phones and computers for quick reference if they need to double check while on a call.

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