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Stitching up a suit-proof policy.

Stitching Up a Suit-Proof Policy

IF YOU ATTENDED SOME OF THE SESsions at the 34th Annual ASIS Seminar and Exhibits in Boston last year, you'll know these stories are not too far from reality. Negligent or inadequate security has become the latest grounds for litigation and a source of huge settlements in business, government, and industry. The purpose of this article is to show from my standpoint as a technical assistant and expert witness where the soft spots are in providing security. We will examine how to document security operations in a way that might lessen the impact from the inevitable litigation.

Policies and procedures present an opportunity to show either strength or a soft underbelly in regard to lawsuits alleging negligent security. However, before you rush out to beg, borrow, or steal policy and procedure manuals from friends in your line of business to copy on your corporate letterhead, you might consider the following six p's for guidance:

Policy. A policy describes a management decision on a specific issue or concept. Well-written, clear policy eliminates having to redecide issues already resolved, giving employees a guide for correct action in similar situations.

Procedure. A procedure lists what steps an individual or team should take to complete an action following a specific policy decision. Procedures should have specific starting and stopping points and include reports. According to the old saying, "If it ain't documented, it didn't happen." It is essential to leave a documented trail to protect your actions because any undocumented actions can and usually will come back to bite you.

Practice. No set of policies and procedures is valid if practice in the field does not correspond with what has been written. Tasks done incorrectly or illegally because procedures have not been written down and followed are no worse than not doing what is written down. Do not make policies and procedures about a specific action if it is clear you have neither the personnel nor the financial resources to follow them. Instead, you must document these short-comings to your superiors and keep pushing to get those people and resources. Also, if certain practices are neither needed nor required, they should be eliminated. Then resources can be used for what is essential to protect your agency's assets from lawsuits.

Production. Policies and procedures can often get so dry and unreadable that the average staff person or security officer either will not read them or cannot understand them. These critical documents must be written in clear, concise, and readable language. Also, a standardized format helps readers know exactly where to look when they have questions regarding their duties.

Post orders. Every assignment must have a set of post orders that cover the duties and expectations of a specific job or post. To have any value, however, these post orders must be developed and written in conjunction with the people who work those posts. Simply to prepare a laundry list of tasks for a post is useless if they cannot be accomplished by the person assigned. This is your best tool for justifying staff levels--use it!

Perseverance. Policy, procedure, practice, production, and post orders must be living documents. If you expend the effort to write them down and then fail to review and revise them or have the staff read them, your agency is not protected. Reviewing and rewriting are not only smart activities, they are essential. If you do not have the resources to produce and update a current and valid set of policies and procedures, you must find a way to do so.

This simple list of p's allows you to analyze needs for a reasonably suit-proof policy and procedure manual. Remember: You court disaster by trying to operate an agency with a gigantic set of policies and procedures that cannot be followed with your resources. Eyewash is nice to show someone you are trying to impress, but substance is what the attorney for the litigant is looking for.

Also, it is equally dangerous to operate with ancient and inadequate policies and procedures that do not correctly describe what is being done with available resources. Carefully drafted policies and procedures that reflect actual practice, contain solid post orders that can be read and understood, and are kept current amount to sound management and cheap insurance.

In addition to negligent or inadequate security, personal damage suits, torts, and civil rights actions are costing companies millions of dollars each year. The first items attorneys look for when handling lawsuits against businesses are the businesses' policies and procedures. When policies and procedures are weak, lawyers often decide to go ahead and sue. On the other hand, if they find complete, correct, and current policies and procedures and concurrent practice, they back off. One of your best defenses is a strong set of policies and procedures.

Most small business administrators are far too busy to write new policies and procedures and seldom have enough administrative support to get them rewritten when practices change and no longer match policies. The result is either policies and procedures that are too brief, too old, and do not reflect practice or that are borrowed from some other company, reflect practices that are impossible to accomplish within your resources, and are just for show. In either case useless policies and procedures are the foundation for a successful lawsuit.

As a responsible manager, you should take the time to analyze your present policies and procedures and find the time, personnel, hardware, and software to carry them out properly. The cost of the entire process will be much less than even the smallest out-of-court settlement. If you haven't got the in-house skills to accomplish the task, consider using a knowledgeable consultant. A good, solid set of policies and procedures is the same as a good protective vest for a police officer--the protection is well worth the cost.

Clifford E. Simonsen, CPP, is president of Criminogenesis, a security consulting firm in Edmonds, WA. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:security department's policies and procedures
Author:Simonsen, Clifford E.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:Avoiding a catch-22.
Next Article:The private use of public records.

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