It’s been over a year since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody sparked outrage and several days of riots in Baltimore. On May 23rd a verdict in the trial of Officer Edward Nero, one of a group of Baltimore police officers implicated in Gray’s death, was announced. That verdict was not guilty on all counts. But more interesting than the verdict was the judge’s explanation for his not guilty ruling.

One of the key questions was – did Officer Nero follow proper procedures during the arrest of Freddie Gray? That question centered on whether or not this police officer acted properly in helping to place Gray in the police van where he later sustained fatal injuries. The prosecution’s case against Nero was largely based on the fact that the Baltimore Police Department recently enacted a policy that arrested individuals must be seat belted when transported in a police van. Freddie Gray was not secured with a seat belt, which was considered a critical contributing factor to his injuries, and ultimately his death. This new policy was enacted shortly before Gray’s death and Baltimore Police Officers were notified via email.

At this point in the story, the facts ended and the questions began. Had Officer Nero read the email detailing the change in policy requiring suspects to be seat belted? Was he aware of the procedure for properly seat belting a suspect in a police van? The defense argued that Officer Nero had not checked his email and was not aware of the policy change or of procedures to seat belt suspects in police vans. The prosecution’s challenge was that the Baltimore Police Department did not have a process in place to verify that Officers read or understood policy changes. It was also apparently common for Officers to not check their email regularly. Bottom line, the prosecution could not prove that Officer Nero was aware of the change in policy requiring suspects to be secured with a seat belt. This fact was a key reason the judge cited in his not guilty verdict. Since the prosecution could not prove Officer Nero was aware of the seat belt policy, the judge ruled his actions were reasonable, not negligent or criminal.

That’s a profound sequence of events – gaps in effective process and a lack of audit trail for policy and procedure communication becoming critical factors in a high-profile, politically-charged criminal trial. To avoid a repeat of the process gaps surrounding the Freddie Gray case, the Baltimore Police Department has since implemented a technology solution to ensure that policy and procedure changes are distributed to Officers and an audit trail is maintained as Officers read and acknowledge that content. While technology is no panacea for a flawed process, it is an important component of creating an effective process.

Not a Unique Challenge

While this example of gaps in policy and procedure communication focuses on police, we see similar issues in other industries as well; healthcare is a great example. Just like the police officers who rarely checked their email, the same is fairly common among clinical staff in healthcare environments. These individuals – doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants – are not spending their day at a desk in front of a computer. So getting their attention via email is a challenge and acknowledgement of policy and procedure changes is often haphazard in these settings.  We’re actively working with organizations in the healthcare space to help address some of these challenges.

The Lesson

Whether the environment is a police department, a hospital, a manufacturing facility or even a restaurant, ensuring that critical policy, procedure and training information is distributed to staff, and an audit trail of their acknowledgement is recorded, are critical factors to minimizing risk and legal exposure. The first key component is having an effective business process in place to ensure that relevant content is accurate and up-to-date. Next staff must be educated on why understanding and following these policies, procedures, guidelines, and work instructions are critical to their own, and their organization’s success. Then we have to make it easy for them to comply and for us to keep track of their compliance. That’s where the technology comes in. To effectively enable this process change with technology, a platform with the following capabilities is crucial:

  • Web-based – the content you’re distributing should be accessible across any device that your staff may have available to them. Providing the content in a web-based format is the most effective way to ensure usability across the broadest array of devices possible.
  • Easy to use – if it’s difficult to find or access the content, your staff will not embrace the process. The platform you choose must be easy to use to make it simple and quick for staff to access the content, read/digest/acknowledge and get back to work.
  • Mobile-optimized – the individuals to whom we need to distribute content are not necessarily sitting at a desk in front of a computer, they’re walking the halls of a hospital, driving a police car or repairing a production line in a factory. The content must be accessible and optimized for use via smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices so that staff don’t have to stop and walk away from what they’re doing to access the critical information we’re making available to them.
  • Audit trail – in order to keep track of who has accessed and read the content, the platform should allow staff to acknowledge reading the content, with a permanent audit trail of that acknowledgement maintained by the system.
  • Quizzing – while acknowledgement helps to check the compliance box, it doesn’t really guarantee that the staff member read or understood the policy before acknowledging it. Distributing a brief quiz with a policy or procedure, and requiring staff to complete that quiz as part of the acknowledgement, helps you validate that the content has been read and understood.
  • Reporting – effective reporting to show managers which of their staff have/have not acknowledged critical documents or satisfactorily completed quizzes to demonstrate their knowledge.

I stress again that technology alone is not a solution to a process issue, but the right technology platform in conjunction with an effective change management process can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of an organization, and on the reduction of risk. We’ve gathered tremendously valuable information around these topics through hundreds of hours of interviews during the recent launch of our Acadia product. Call or send me an email and we would be happy to share information with you.