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Practical written directives.

Most police agencies operate on the basis of their written directives, which form the cornerstone for departmental procedures and spell out a department's philosophy on various matters, including its partnership with the community. Further, written directives provide crucial information on legal requirements, training guidelines, and disciplinary matters.

Administrators who understand the critical nature of written directives should also understand that their department's manuals must be well-organized and clearly written. Manuals that hibernate in a police cruiser's trunk or an officer's locker benefit no one, not the officer, the department, or the citizens they serve. The presentation of the material impacts on how frequently officers choose to use such a reference tool.


Many departments have two major sources of written directives: The General Order Manual (GOM) and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) Manuals. The roots of many of these manuals lie in laws passed in the 1950's, when police officer standards and training commissions decreed that police operations should be detailed in writing. The directives often include a title, number, effective date, policy statement, purpose statement, and procedures.

General Order Manual

The heart of a department's written directives is normally the General Order Manual. This manual provides daily direction for departmental operations.

Various philosophies exist on what should be included in the manual. The format often mirrors the size, function, and philosophy of the agency. Small agencies that police low-crime residential communities might include extensive philosophical statements, while larger agencies may produce lengthy, detailed manuals. Some agencies divide procedures into separate administrative and procedural manuals and restrict distribution to save on printing expenses.

Most GOMs also include procedures that affect all personnel. The manuals provide exact guidance to officers on how to execute specific procedures.

General orders should be grouped in the manual by function with no accompanying purpose statements, and titles should describe succinctly the subject matter. Orders that need a purpose paragraph have been titled improperly.

Standard Operating Procedures

Standard Operating Procedures are another integral part of written directives found in most police departments. SOPs are procedures or regulations that affect the operations of components within the department, such as precincts or divisions. For example, a Planning and Research Division SOP may detail how to structure the department's GOM.

SOPs may restrict, but not expand, authority granted by general orders. Examples of this may include control and use of pool vehicles at the precinct, standby scheduling for callout of public information officers, or procedures for maintaining accountability of facsimile machine use. For smaller departments, especially those housed in a single location, general orders may function as standard operating procedures as well.


There is no ideal way to format law enforcement manuals, given the range of variations in workforce size, function, and jurisdiction of various agencies. Agencies may choose a format based on tradition or practicality.

A major consideration is that manuals be user-friendly, permitting easy reference in the field. Officers on mobile patrol should be able to open and refer to the manual in the police cruiser. Bearing this in mind, most departments print their manuals on standard-size paper. This is because manuals published on smaller-size paper tend to be thicker and more unwieldy, making them more difficult to use.

The written directives for the Prince George's County, Maryland, Police Department are printed in a three-column, newsprint-style format, using desktop publishing software. This format is easier to read and less expensive to print than single-column copy. Further, the 12-font type used for directives reduces the number of pages needed, because approximately 10 to 20 percent more text can be placed on a page.

Numbering the manual pages can be a hindrance, because with revisions, the page numbers are likely to change. However, the numbers of the general orders themselves are important because the index identifies specific information by general order number. Also important is the effective date of the page, which should appear at the bottom of the page.


Because many police directives are based on law or political climate, they may require periodic revisions. Loose-leaf designs facilitate easy changes, allowing agencies to simply issue revised pages with highlighted or underlined changes.

The Prince George's County department prints an insert-delete page with each new group of general orders. This page includes specific instructions on what to take out or insert, as well as a GOM master checklist.

Some agencies issue bound manuals, which offer a more professional appearance. The disadvantage to this format is that it requires agencies to reprint the entire manual periodically. Officers must make interim handwritten changes to the text, based on special orders or through department wide teletype messages. This method may result in more problems, because many officers find it burdensome to insert revisions into loose-leaf binders, much less actually writing new material directly on the pages.

In order to limit the number of necessary revisions, names and telephone numbers should be left out of specific general orders. Instead, job titles, such' as "district commanding officer" (rather than "district captain") should be used. This eliminates problems caused by rank changes or departmental reorganizations that result in the reallocation of a position to a different rank.


In large agencies, general orders are written for the entire department. A high-ranking officer--delegated by the executive officer--approves routine, noncontroversial orders following staff review. Of course, the chief approves potentially controversial matters, such as the pursuit policy.

It is best not to have the agency head sign general orders unless there is a legal reason for doing so. In fact, there are valid reasons to avoid the practice. For example, it is expensive to reprint the general orders when these individuals leave the agency. Additionally, it may be inconvenient to delay the orders while awaiting the signature. To document approval authority for the directives, a single general order stating that the manual is issued on the authority of the chief of police (or whatever title is given to the head of the agency) should suffice.

Writing Style

It is crucial to tailor the writing style of written directives to the audience. Failure to write clear, understandable directives results in misunderstandings and a lack of communication. For example, presenting the regulations in complicated "legalese" will not serve any agency. Using legal verbiage only serves to confuse the officers who must use the manuals. In some discipline cases, police administrative heating boards have exonerated officers charged with committing a prohibited act following a successful defense that the officer could not understand the directive at issue.

When writing directives, administrators should avoid restating the laws upon which they are based. However, the material from which the orders were written should be referenced. Some agencies reference the material by adding "For additional or amplified information, refer to ...." The reference can be printed in a smaller font just below the appropriate section.

Issuing Manuals

In most law enforcement agencies, each officer receives a copy of the manual, as well as all updates. Some agencies also issue manuals to civilian employees.

All recipients of the manual should sign a receipt for each manual, as well as for any subsequent revisions. This documentation could prove critical in cases where manual materials are used as promotional material or when disciplinary action is being brought against an officer based on a regulation within the manual.


Granted, there are many more interesting issues in law enforcement than written directives. Yet, all law enforcement personnel need to realize that clear, concisely written directives increase the effectiveness of police departments. Only through the availability of such directives can officers act independently, knowing that they understand fully how to fulfill their duties and responsibilities and the stand their departments take on certain issues.

Captain Chertok commands the Planning and Research Division of the Prince George's County, Maryland, Police Department.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Focus on Administration
Author:Chertok, Alan
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Jun 1, 1994
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