Back in 1994 when I was first appointed police chief in Lincoln, one of my priorities was to rewrite the department's policy manual, composed of a few hundred General Orders, covering everything from traffic direction to death notifications. The loose-leaf manual issued to every employee was bulging, bloated, and hopelessly inconsistent in style, individual General Orders having been authored by dozens of people over a couple decades, often in stilted, legalistic prose that sometimes seems to infect police work like a bad virus.
In 1995, I finally set to the task, and we rewrote the entire set. The result was a vastly more concise manual, slimmed down to about an inch. For the next 16 years, my operating rule was simple: if a new word went in, another word had to come out elsewhere. I did not want the manual to return to its former corpulence, because I have a strong belief that familiarity and compliance with a policy manual is inversely correlated with its length. It simply isn't reasonable to expect employees to ingest and remember a collection of policies that resembles the unabridged dictionary.
In the past few years, however, both the Lincoln Police Department and Lincoln Fire &Rescue have converted entirely to online policy manuals. While in most ways this is a good thing, one of the unintended side effects is that the swelling is less noticeable. The imperative to keep the manual svelte has to some extent evaporated. No one is sweating over every paragraph quite so much, trying to figure out how more succinct language could prevent page two from spilling over to a third page.
I acquired a great example of the problem several years ago, from another midwest capital city police department that shall remain nameless. It was a seven-page policy entitled "Escape of Zoo Animals." The seven pages included drawings showing the best shot placement, should it become necessary to deal with various large mammals. I can just imagine a police officer, confronted with a rampaging rhinoceros, reaching for the manual and thumbing to page 543 for instruction.
Of course, with an online manual you could just pull over to the curb and enter rhinoceros in the search box--that is, if you can spell rhinoceros. Some discipline will be necessary to keep the policies trim, and ensure that our employees really can be familiar with the most important guidelines they need to know, and to find the relevant content easily when in doubt.