How Police Services Can Preserve Institutional Knowledge


Did you know that some traffic cones are flammable? I didn’t realize this until I tried to develop a new traffic control device by combining flares and traffic cones. Before that, no one in my agency had ever wondered if traffic cones were flammable, but my accidental experience lit up an unknown stranger.

Whenever I meet new agents from my old agency and introduce myself, their faces light up when they tell me they heard from me during their continuing education on not leaving things arsonists get too close to traffic cones. Having that kind of celebrity status hurts a bit. Nonetheless, I am proud of my former agency’s efforts to protect government property and preserve “institutional knowledge,” which is information held by past and present members of an organization.

Like the losses caused by the conflagration, there is an old saying that every time an elder dies a library burns to the ground. The saying is reminiscent of the knowledge toll paid by law enforcement agencies and their communities when seasoned officers leave their jobs, sometimes referred to as a “brain drain.”

Agencies that do not effectively capture the job-specific knowledge possessed by departing individuals will have to devote more resources to upgrading new agents.

Agencies that do not effectively capture the job-specific knowledge possessed by departing individuals will have to devote more resources to upgrading new agents. (Getty Images)

The past year has seen an increase in the number of people leaving law enforcement, and agencies that have not effectively captured the job-specific knowledge these people possess will need to devote more resources to updating. level of new agents. They will also likely see a recurrence of errors and inefficiencies that were previously mitigated by knowledgeable officers who left.

Agencies should take the lead in developing systems that help prevent the loss of institutional knowledge. And preserving institutional knowledge doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are four steps agencies can take to start their institutional knowledge libraries:

1. Assign responsibility to a “librarian” of institutional knowledge

Most directors and agency members probably think it’s a good idea to have a library of institutional knowledge. But, as with any project, not assigning responsibility for the task is a sure way to prevent it from being completed.

Agencies must choose who they want to be responsible for collecting and disseminating institutional knowledge. This could be the agency’s training manager, but it could also be another agency member with the skills needed for the assignment, such as interviewing, writing, and managing reports. knowledge. Perhaps the information could be organized and distributed using an agency repository similar to the Police Institutional Knowledge Project1.

2. Foster a culture of collective learning and knowledge retention

What seems familiar to one person can be an eye-opener to another. Agency management should encourage agency members to share important but perhaps lesser known lessons they have learned with the Institutional Knowledge Librarian. These lessons can cover a number of topics, such as tips for keeping people safe, tips for increasing efficiency, or other tips for improving performance or quality of life.

Providing the Institutional Knowledge Library with information from sources such as media reports of notable events and critical incident debriefing materials created by agencies is another way to help agencies preserve relevant institutional information.

3. Use the convenience of mobile communication devices provided by the agency

Most of the agency members are used to creating and sending texts, emails and videos using their mobile devices provided by the agency. Why not use this technology to easily record lessons learned? For example, the facility’s knowledge librarian may record brief interviews with members who have useful knowledge to share. Members can also individually share knowledge that might be of use to others by creating a video on their mobile device where they describe their experiences, tips or lessons learned, much like Gordon Graham’s today’s advice. Or they can document their knowledge via SMS or email. They can then send their videos and messages to the facility’s knowledge librarian for collection and dissemination, as appropriate.

4. Consider converting the best information into policy or procedure

Some knowledge or lessons are so important that agencies should consider incorporating them into policies or procedures as organizational best practices in the future.


I once arrested a career criminal who told me that among all the cops, we know everything about what goes on in the world of crime; we just don’t talk to each other about what we know.

When someone asks why we do something a certain way, do you know the answer? And when someone asks you the best way to do something you’ve never done before? You might not know it, but I bet some past or current members of your organization do. And you can easily find these answers if your organization has a strong library of institutional knowledge. However, if your institutional knowledge library contains only the ashes of lost wisdom, your organization may be caught in an ineffective loop of relearning lessons and repeating avoidable mistakes.

Participate in the Police Institutional Knowledge Project1

Participate in the Police Institutional Knowledge Project1

Police1 established the Institutional Knowledge Project to create a repository of lessons learned around people management, policies, training, supervision and discipline that can be applied by future generations of supervisors and leaders of police when dealing with similar situations.


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