Neil Pollock: As a public order commander, ideally, you should start your log as soon as you are allocated to an operation. It will enable you to give a better overall picture of any issues or intelligence that may affect your decisions on the day of the event.

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Neil Pollock is a Britisch Police Instructor and Subject Matter Expert: Public Order Management.

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Why do Police Commanders need to record decisions?

This might not be the most exciting article you will ever read, but it might save you a lot of sleepless nights, your job, and your pension.

As we have seen lately, decisions made by individual officers and Police Departments are scrutinised like never before.

Yet, while the decisions made by those individuals are clear to be seen by all, the rationale behind them is sometimes harder to decipher?

The media, politicians, and the general public will look at those actions with 20/20 hindsight and comment accordingly.

It is also possible that courts or public inquiries will scrutinise your actions many years after the event, and your notes will be your only reference to your actions.

The case of the Hillsborough football tragedy highlights this, with the event occurring in 1989 but not being concluded until 30 years later.

As a public order commander, ideally, you should start your log as soon as you are allocated to an operation.

It will enable you to give a better overall picture of any issues or intelligence that may affect your decisions on the day of the event.

Decisions should be recorded in a consistent and logical format that is easy to follow and decipher at a later date.

If, for example, in the lead-up to an event, certain tactical options are deemed as not suitable – that needs to be recorded with a rationale as to what other tactics might be used.

Intelligence or previous history of a group might influence the level of protective equipment officers are required to wear.

This, in turn, may have an adverse effect on the crowd dynamics, so the rationale for wearing or not wearing the protective equipment and the additional risk this might put the officers in, and how that might affect their actions all have to be considered and logged.

It can also be relevant when working on multi-agency operations.

A good example of this might include where advice is being given to an event organiser who decides to go against the police advice, possibly to save money.

When they see that their actions are being logged, they will often revisit the arguments for the proposed action and re-evaluate their position.

On the day of the event, it might be more difficult to record your decisions.

It will be recognised by a court or public inquiry that it is not easy to record decisions while involved in an ongoing fast-moving incident involving disorderly behavior or wearing protective equipment.

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A good decision log is one of the best safety nets for after-action investigations

A dictaphone or body-worn video might be an option, but your clarity of thought might not come across well when transcribed for the court process.

It might also pick up unwanted comments from officers under high-stress levels, which might be seen differently when not in context.

Requesting a radio operator to note down events or deployments is also an option, but these can sometimes be lost or misunderstood.

The use of a dedicated loggist is a tried and tested system method and is used extensively across the UK and Canada.

This is further enhanced if the commander and loggist work together regularly.

The relationship is one that will develop over time.

In the first instance, it may require the commander to highlight what he/she needs to record.

Still, the relationship and understanding of the thought process develop over time, and I have seen many examples of loggists who know exactly what needs recording without prompting.

As alluded to above, a standardised document should be used across the agency to provide consistency; most will have one-page showing decisions with the facing page left clear for the commander to record the rationale for those decisions.

It can also contain a range of aide memoirs to assist the user in times of stress.

Having a consistent document allows easy completion as familiarity develops and the process is standardised.

It should be completed at the time of events, but it is recognised that this is not always possible, so it should be regularly updated when there is a quiet period; however, if this does not happen, every effort should be made to record the action and rationale at the earliest practical time.

Good practice is creating a system to allow the logs to be indexed and stored where they can be easily accessed and referenced as required, with disposal in line with local document retention policies.

Post-event, the log can be used as part of the debriefing process and review all the units assigned and/or deployed during the event.

A good decision log is one of the best safety nets for after-action investigations and will enhance your credibility as a professional public order commander.

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Photos by Neil Pollock