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Blog

October 10, 2023 4 min read

Acadis Blog

Significantly Reduce the Legal Liability of Your Federal Public Safety Agency

Industry:

Law EnforcementPublic Safety

Solution:

Operational Readiness

Public safety in the 21st century is more complex and challenging than ever.

Unfortunately, that also means threats to your effectiveness and authority—from inside and outside your agency—are on the rise.

A Wide Range of Liabilities

Several situations can put a federal public safety agency in the position of having to defend itself in the legal and oversight arenas, such as:

  • Accusations of unfair hiring, promoting, or firing
  • Allegations of misconduct or illegality
  • Failure to comply with policy and statutory requirements‍
  • Insufficient training: In one incident, an agency was warned by its Inspector General that its sensitive data was at risk because the personnel handling it were not adequately trained.
    Reporting: Another agency was cited for failing to submit fingerprint records for some of its personnel to the FBI, as required per the agency’s policy.
  • Certification: A quarterly review of one agency revealed instances of missing or lapsed certifications in several areas.

These sources of liability are challenging enough to manage without factoring in constraints that make litigation more likely and more difficult to defend against.

Complicating Factors

Though all public safety organizations carry a high risk of legal action, the particular set of complications and obligations federal agencies face can make them more vulnerable.

Special oversight

In addition to your internal policies, the numerous federal laws and guidelines—and those who enforce them—may dictate specific ways in which your agency’s duties and activities must be carried out. Navigating all of these requirements is time-consuming for your organization and a source of liability when something is overlooked.

Plus, these regulations can quickly complicate a more straightforward case and generally mean your organization must provide much more documentation than would have seemed relevant upon the first review.

The federal IT landscape

Siloed and decentralized agency documentation can result in missing records and significant delays in compiling crucial documents for your case.

Such incomplete reports and missing information will significantly hinder your ability to defend your organization in court. The longer it takes to retrieve vital information, the less time you have to prepare your legal arguments.

Political realities

Elected officials, as well as political activists, may have considerable power to scrutinize your agency and might request information or investigation.

Unsatisfactory responses, egregious delays, or reports that don’t show the whole story can lead to mistrust and might even make legal action more likely.

Labor disputes

Federal employees are among the most unionized workers in the United States.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the union membership rate of public-sector workers is more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers and is highest among workers in protective service occupations.

This high unionization rate may give employees extra leverage and protection in taking action against your agency.

Given the multifaceted risks of lawsuits against federal agencies, preparing for them can feel like an overwhelming and impossible task.

Readiness-centered leadership can strengthen your shield

Though you can’t foresee every potential scenario leading to litigation or investigation, your federal public safety agency does have the power to address preventable threats.

The key to positioning your agency for optimal defensibility is committing to a formal, ongoing leadership strategy focused on the following areas.

A proactive approach

A multifaceted risk demands a multifaceted response, and readiness-centered leaders should lay out a roadmap that sets standards for their agency’s people, processes, systems, and metrics.

Preparing for litigation happens long before personnel ever begin performing their duties, so having proper policies and documentation in place as soon as possible provides you with the greatest protection.

Full commitment

Transforming your defensibility through readiness isn’t always fast or easy, but it is easier if you can stick to your roadmap and accept that there might be bumps along the way.

Ultimately, all of the effort and resources spent ensuring legal defensibility today will be worth it when they protect you from a costly lawsuit.

Transparency

Though you want to be forthright and accountable when questions are raised, the confidential nature of most federal agency activities can quickly create challenges to that goal.

Yet, despite the difficulty, balancing transparency with protecting sensitive data should be a top priority for agency leaders looking to reduce liability.

Still, these items are much easier said than done. With all of a leader’s competing responsibilities, it can be tempting to view lawsuits as a “tomorrow” problem. Fortunately, technology systems can ease the burden of legal defensibility for time- and resource-strapped leaders.

Technology: A powerful addition to your defenses

Technology isn’t a “magic bullet” for all of your agency’s challenges, but when the right system is properly adopted, it’s a powerful force that facilitates readiness.

By adopting a proactive, technology-enabled readiness strategy, your agency’s operations will be enhanced in several ways that reduce the risk of liability.

Improved consistency

When hiring, employee reviews, and training are all conducted in a consistent, transparent, well-documented manner, your agency is less vulnerable to accusations of bias or discrimination.

Increased efficiency

A centralized, secure system of documentation and information sharing means all authorized parties have access to what they need, free from delays and redundancy.

Always knowing what’s there—and not there

When there’s no opportunity for documentation to get misrouted, lost, or destroyed, it’s clear when training needs to be scheduled, certifications need updating, and other personnel matters need to be addressed.

A culture of accountability and readiness

As your agency staff comes to appreciate and rely on your new readiness-centered system, they are more likely to see their own role in avoiding litigation and unwanted scrutiny—and know how to prepare for it when it does happen.

Ultimately, lawsuits are a fact of life for public safety organizations. But with the right mindset and the right technology supporting that mindset, costly settlements don’t have to be.

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