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Police officers are exposed to risk every time that they put their uniforms on. This exposure can result in them being named in citizen complaints, liability claims and lawsuits. Liability claims and lawsuits can have a significant financial impact on police agencies. For example, New York City paid out $500 million in settlements and judgments as a result of police actions from 2005 to 2010 (Lui 2011). From 2000 to 2007 the city of Chicago paid out approximately $126 million as a result of litigation involving the Chicago Police Department (Midwest Human Rights 2011). Litigation costs for American police agencies have increased significantly since the late 1960s. Some police executives have recognized this increase and have started to take proactive measures to reduce officer exposure to risk. Risk management is one of the latest proactive measures being used by some police executives to manage liability.
Risk management is a tool that can help identify and manage potential risks and liability problems within organizations. Organizations adopt risk management because of increasing costs associated with liability claims and litigation, to reduce the risk of harm to their clients and their employees, and to provide a higher quality of service to their clientele (Wong and Rakestraw 1991).
In the past, some people believed that the principles and practices associated with risk management were not applicable to public agencies. This perception is inaccurate as most public agencies can function better if they have the maximum amount of resources available to them. In addition, it could be argued that public organizations are held to a higher level of accountability than private organizations because they are entrusted with budgets that largely come from the community (i.e., taxpayers) (Vincent 1996). If public agencies use risk management to identify risks that often lead to organizational loss, and then make changes with the hope of reducing future loss, they will be able to spend more resources on services to the community instead of settlements for liability claims and litigation. Today, the public sector is among the fastest growing segments of the risk management profession (Vincent 1996).
There are five basic steps in the risk management process that apply to most types of organizations (Ashley and Pearson 1993; Wong and Rakestraw 1991):
- Identify risks, frequency of exposure to risks, and the severity of losses resulting from exposure to risks. To do this, organization members can use data on the history of organizational loss including past litigation and monetary payouts resulting from liability claims. There are three general categories of assets that organizations are responsible for managing including: physical, human and financial assets (Young 2000). Vehicles, buildings, computer equipment and other technological equipment are considered physical assets. If this type of asset is damaged or lost, organizations face costs associated with replacing the item and also any time that is lost during the replacement of the item. Human assets include all employees that work within an organization. Employees are at risk for both physical harm and financial difficulties if injured while on the job. It also costs organizations money to retrain new employees when they need to replace employees that are killed or injured while on the job. Financial assets include any financial resources that are available to organizations that have a direct impact on how organizations are able to function. In public organizations this could include annual budgets and any external grants that can be acquired by an organization.
- Explore methods to manage exposure to identified risks. This step requires a thorough review of an organization’s policies and procedures, training, and the supervision and accountability of employees.
- Choose an appropriate response to manage exposure to identified risks. This might require making changes to policies, employee training, and/or supervision in order to reduce exposure to identified risks.
- Execute the response that was chosen to manage exposure to risks.
- Evaluate the impact that the response has on exposure to identified risks.
The risk management process is not over once the first four steps are completed; this process is ongoing because organizational risks can change over time.
The use of risk management by police agencies seems logical as most of the basic duties associated with police work expose officers to risk (Gallagher 1990b; Wennerholm 1985). Some of those duties include making arrests, pursuing fleeing suspects using patrol cars, using both lethal and non-lethal force on citizens, and serving felony warrants. There are three general benefits of using risk management as part of a police liability management strategy: (1) increase the safety of police officers and the citizens that they serve; (2) increase the quality of police service provided to the public; and (3) financial management of the costs associated with police-involved liability incidents that often result in payouts for liability claims or settlements for lawsuits (Young 2000).
The authorization of the use of force is an aspect of police work that makes it unique to all other professions. This distinctive aspect of police work also contributes greatly to police officer exposure to high levels of risk, which in turn, can lead to litigation, liability claims or citizen complaints. Improper use of lethal and non-lethal force by police officers during arrests, and improper service of due process are two incidents where damages are commonly sought and that settlements are paid out to citizens (del Carmen 1991). Liability Assessment and Awareness International (LAAW) asserts that liability related to police officer use of force can be managed by close supervision (Ashley and Pearson 1993). This group also suggests that department policies should be restrictive when identifying situations where use of force is deemed appropriate in order to keep this type of officer behavior under control. In addition, keeping standards high while reviewing all cases of alleged misuse or abuse of force will allow police executives to get a handle on this type of incident (Ashley and Pearson 1993). These suggestions made by LAAW mirror the findings of research on the use of force, which suggest that restrictive policies and enforced mandatory reporting of use of force incidents can harness this particular police officer behavior (Alpert and Fridell 1992; Pate and Fridell 1995).
Another common police activity that exposes police officers to risk is arrest (Kappeler 2006). In some cases, citizens make claims that police officers made a “false arrest.” False arrest can be defined as “the unlawful seizure and detention of a person” by a police officer (Kappeler 2006). False arrest claims consist of those cases where individuals believe that police officers did not have probable cause to stop or question them or unlawfully detained them. To avoid liability resulting from allegations of false arrest, police officers can obtain a warrant prior to making arrests (when possible). Securing a search warrant prior to arrest takes the authority of determining probable cause away from police officers and places the responsibility on judges. Because making arrests is such a common police action, it is not always possible to obtain a warrant prior to making an arrest. It would also be beneficial if police officers receive thorough training on when it is and is not appropriate to make arrests.
Another high-risk liability incident that often results in organizational loss is the operation of police vehicles. Typical liability incidents involving police vehicles include participation in high speed pursuits, the use of emergency lights and equipment when police vehicles are parked, the placement of people and vehicles during traffic stops and the investigation of traffic accidents, and the failure to use or misuse police vehicle occupant restraints (Ashley and Pearson 1993). Geoffrey Alpert and his colleagues discuss some of the ways to identify and respond to exposure to risks related to police vehicle operations in their book, Police Pursuits: What We Know. Alpert and his colleagues suggest that police executives scrutinize the history of their organization’s losses, review both past and pending lawsuits filed against their organization, and then survey police personnel to measure their knowledge of policies and liability issues associated with the operation of police vehicles (Alpert et al. 2000). Since the operation of police vehicles is an essential and required part of policing, the identification and management of the risks associated with vehicle operation becomes a necessary task for police executives. Similar to the research on police officer use of force, the research on police pursuits has found that clarification of pursuit policies, enforced mandatory reporting, and constant monitoring of pursuit activities will reduce the frequency of pursuits, as well as injuries and accidents that can result from this activity (Alpert and Fridell 1992).
Police agencies become exposed to risk when police services are not conducted within defined jurisdictional boundaries. Roughly 10 % of police-involved litigation is related to jurisdictional issues (Liability Assessment and Awareness International Inc. 2001). Police actions such as vehicular pursuits, surveillance or investigation of crimes require that police officers involved in those incidents understand jurisdictional boundaries.
Canine units can also be a source of liability for police agencies (American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California 1992). Some jurisdictions, such as Los Angeles, rely heavily on canine units to help them find and then capture fleeing suspects. As a result, the number of dog bites has also increased. It has been reported “that an average of nearly one person per day is bitten by Los Angeles Police Department canines” and that “more than 900 men, women, and children have been attacked and mauled by these dogs in a 3 year period (American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California 1992).” There is also evidence that the LAPD uses canine units in predominantly minority-populated neighborhoods of Los Angeles more frequently than other neighborhoods (Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department 2000). With police agencies of all sizes beginning to utilize canines in their daily operations, liability could become more of a concern in the future.
Several professional groups and national publications have recognized the potential benefits of using risk management in police organizations and have provided some guidance for the implementation of risk management. The Public Risk Management Association – PRIMA (a professional trade association of risk managers) published a police liability assessment guide that outlines the police activities that pose the greatest liability risks for police officers. PRIMA’s liability guide identifies the use of firearms and other non-lethal weapons, police pursuits, defensive tactics, and hostage situations as some of the activities that pose a high level of risk to police organizations. The PRIMA guide notes that adequate training in high-risk incidents, along with department policies that clearly define procedures in high-risk incidents is critical in the control of police liability (PRIMAFILE 2000).
The Police Chief (a magazine geared toward police practitioners) has also featured articles focused on the importance of risk management as it relates to police liability. In addition to highlighting the importance of implementing risk management programs in police organizations, these articles suggest that risk management can potentially bolster the level of police professionalism (Gallagher 1990b). Several articles on the use of risk management by police agencies have been featured in Business Insurance magazine, National Underwriter magazine, and Public Risk magazine, which are publications geared toward risk managers and insurance professionals. These articles highlight the fact that very few police agencies actually have in-house risk management divisions, and that risk management programs can help police executives identify problematic officer behaviors that can lead to litigation and liability claims (Ceniceros 1998; Heazeltine 1986; Wojcik 1994). It is important to point out that all of these articles appearing in these publications are based on professional experiences of risk managers and other insurance professionals, and not based on empirical research.
The implementation of risk management could also provide non-monetary benefits to police agencies. Police executives need to consider the extent to which integrity violations by police officers impact individual officer careers, other police officers working within the same organization, the police organization as whole, and ultimately, the relationship between the police and the community. After non-monetary costs have been identified by risk managers, changes could be made to include information in education and training programs to teach police officers that their decisions and actions cost their departments far more than settlements or liability claim payouts.
Research on the use of risk management by police agencies in the United States can best be described as very limited. Most of the published literature on this topic has been written by professionals that have experience working with police agencies that use risk management, but is not based on empirical research (Gallagher 1990a). Only within the last decade has any discussion of risk management emerged in the academic literature. In his book, Police Accountability: The Role of Citizen Oversight, Samuel Walker reports that “One of the most notable failures of both police departments and other city officials has been their neglect of modern concepts of risk management and in particular their refusal to examine incidents that result in litigation and seek to correct the underlying problems (Walker 2001).” He also provides a thorough discussion on the potential benefits that can result from using risk management, early warning systems, and citizen oversight as police accountability mechanisms.
Geoffrey Alpert and his colleagues devote a chapter to risk management and police liability in their book, Police Pursuits: What We Know (Alpert et al. 2000). In this research paper, risk management is discussed in the context of a “plan of action” to prevent costly payouts and injuries associated with vehicular police pursuits. The authors discuss risk management in terms of police agencies taking a proactive or “front-end” approach instead of a reactive approach to the implementation of risk management. The “front-end” approach is the idea that police agencies should implement risk management practices before a major liability incident occurs as opposed to after (Alpert et al. 2000). This research paper provides a comprehensive overview of the principles and potential benefits of risk management, as well as suggestions for applying risk management practices to control liability related to vehicular police pursuits.
Samuel Walker and Geoffrey Alpert also wrote an article that discusses the use of early warning systems as risk management in police agencies which was included in the book, Policing and Misconduct that was edited by Kimberly Michelle Lersch (Walker and Alpert 2002). An early warning system is a data-based management tool which tracks problematic behavior exhibited by police officers (Walker and Alpert 2002). Early warning systems are used to identify problem officers before they do something that will result in some organizational loss (such as liability claims or lawsuits). Once problem officers are identified by the early warning system they receive some form of intervention, which can include retraining, additional training or verbal counseling by his or her supervisor. One could argue that early warning systems could be a useful tool for agencies that have adopted or plan to adopt risk management to control police liability incidents.
The chapters devoted to risk management in the three previously mentioned books are important and informative; however, these chapters did not include any evidence-based research on the use of risk management by police agencies. The first empirical study on this topic did not appear in print until 2004 (Archbold 2004). Carol Archbold conducted the first study of the use of risk management by police agencies in the United States. This study utilized interview and survey data from a national sample, and in-depth case studies of four police agencies that use risk management to control liability.
In the first stage of Archbold’s study, telephone interviews were conducted with a nationwide sample of 354 local and county law enforcement agencies employing 200+ sworn employees. The interviews were used to determine if and how police agencies utilized risk management to manage their liability. A series of telephone interviews were conducted with police administrators, city attorneys, and internal affairs personnel associated with all 354 police agencies in order to get a full picture of how each agency uses risk management. The telephone interviews revealed that only 14 of the 354 (slightly less than 4 %) of the large police agencies use risk management in their police liability management efforts (Archbold 2004; Archbold 2005). Next, each of the 14 police agencies that reported that they use risk management were faxed a survey. The purpose of the survey instrument was to learn more about how risk management is utilized, how risk management fits into the organizational structure of police agencies, and why these police agencies decided to adopt risk management. All 14 police agencies completed the survey. And finally, four of the 14 research sites were chosen for in-depth case study analyses; the research sites include Charlotte, North Carolina; Los Angeles, California; Las Vegas, Nevada and Portland, Oregon (Archbold 2004 and see also Archbold 2005). These risk management programs were visited to see first-hand how risk management is incorporated into liability management in each agency. Further details from this study can be found in its entirety in the book, Police accountability, risk management, and legal advising (Archbold 2004).
Darrell Ross and Madhava Bodapati conducted a study that was published in 2006 which examined the risk exposure and law enforcement liability in the state of Michigan from 1985 to 1999 (Ross and Bodapati 2006). This study used records that were collected and maintained by the Michigan Municipality Risk Management Authority (MMRMA), a group that provides insurance and risk management services to law enforcement agencies in the state of Michigan. The purpose of the study was to determine the common types of litigated cases brought against law enforcement agencies in Michigan and to also examine their trends over time. Analysis of the data revealed that incidents involving automobiles without injuries was the most frequent type of claim, followed by use of excessive force, damage or destruction of property, vehicular pursuits without injuries, and false arrest/ imprisonment (Ross and Bodapati 2006). The most costly type of claims involved wrongful death/fatalities followed by attempted suicide while in custody, medical care while in custody, suicide while in custody, and automobile accidents which involved injuries (Ross and Bodapati 2006). Overall, the study found that claims filed against Michigan police agencies along with costs associated with those claims are relatively low; annually, there was an average of 752 claims for 151 law enforcement agencies. The authors concluded that “risk management services and agency practices appear to be making a difference overall (Ross and Bodapati 2006).” This study is important as it is one of the first published studies to assess the impact that risk management has on police liability.
If there are both financial and non-monetary benefits that can potentially result from using risk management, why isn’t it more common in American police agencies? Risk management professionals that have helped implement risk management programs in American police organizations have identified what they believe are potential barriers to implementation. First, policing has traditionally been focused on crime fighting without any worry about financial costs (Gallagher 1990b). With an increase in litigation involving police officers in recent years, more police executives are becoming as concerned with fiscal responsibilities as they are with their crime control efforts (Ceniceros 1998). Police agencies need resources to be able to provide quality services to the public, which means that they need to utilize their resources in the most efficient way possible.
Another potential barrier is the cost associated with implementing risk management programs. Large cities are able to justify their need for hiring professional risk managers for reducing costs associated with police liability. Mediumsized and smaller cities have a harder time justifying the need for risk management as their exposure to liability is not as great as police agencies serving communities with much larger populations (Los Angeles County 2003). Some less expensive alternatives to hiring a full-time risk manager or implementing a risk management division includes the expansion of the duties for individuals that work directly with police-related liability (such as city managers or city attorneys), employing only a few risk managers to service a large area or region that encompasses several small or medium cities with less populations or more rural areas, or an “as needed” risk management committee consisting of city attorneys, police department representatives and insurance agents or risk assessors (O’Brien and Wilcox 1985).
Confusion about the best way to measure the impact of risk management within police organizations could be another reason that so few police agencies use this management tool. The monetary benefits of risk management are easy to quantify and analyze in regard to impact; however, some would argue that it is impossible to measure the liability claims and lawsuits that have been prevented as a result of risk management efforts. In addition, the impact on police professionalism and the quality of police services provided to the community are also not easy to quantify (Young 2000). Because resources are often limited in police organizations, it could be difficult to justify the need for an in-house risk manager or division if there are no outcome measures for the non-monetary benefits.
Another barrier to the implementation of risk management within police agencies is the lack of research on the use of risk management by police agencies in the United States. There are several websites on the Internet that provide information on risk management training for police agencies. There are also training seminars offered by individual risk management experts that travel across the country training police personnel (such as G. Patrick Gallagher and Gordon Graham). The problem is that there has been very little evidence-based research on the use of risk management in police agencies.
After reviewing existing literature on risk management in policing, it is clear that additional research needs to be conducted in the future. Despite the increase in costs associated with police liability in the last four decades, very little is known about how risk management might help manage those costs. Other than the two studies conducted by Archbold, and Ross and Bodapadi, there have not been any in-depth studies of the impact that risk management has on costs related to police liability. Future research should include studies similar to the Ross and Bodapadi study in other regions and municipalities across the United States. The use of risk management by medium and small police agencies should also be examined in the future. It should not be assumed that medium and small police agencies do not have organizational loss related to liability incidents. The use of early warning systems as part of risk management efforts should also be examined as there is a growing interest in the use of this particular oversight mechanism. The extent to which risk management enhances police professionalism and police officer accountability should also be studied in the future. In conclusion, we still have a lot to learn about the use and impact of risk management in American police agencies.
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