Making it Accessible
Manuals need to be user friendly and accessible to the public. No one is going to read a manual written in legalese and filled with jargon. And people definitely won’t read the manual if they don't know it is online or can't find it on the department's website!
Making a manual accessible is easier said than done, and certain strategies may work better for some departments than others. Still, there are some pointers to keep in mind.
The manual must be easy to find online (for example, through a Google search) and easy to find on the department's website. And it must be easy to search and navigate.
Navigating the Manual
Once people find the manual, it has to be organized in a way that makes it accessible. Manuals and patrol guides tend to be long documents filled with a great deal of information. They need to be organized in a logical, simple way so that someone outside of the department can skim through the manual and find the topics that interest them.
Departments may have to re-organize their manuals before they publish them, to make the manual suitable for the public. Most police department manuals are divided into many sections, but often this comes more from convenience or growth of the manual over time than from a well thought-out system. (Indeed, departments may find that a manual helpful to the public is helpful to the organization as well!).
The following features will help departments create a user-friendly manual.
Section titles and headers
This may seem obvious, and most manuals already have them. But are they clear? Do they direct the reader to the main topic of that section? Are they filled with jargon? These are all questions for departments to keep in mind.
No matter what format the manual comes in (PDF, html, Word document), users need to be able to easily search the full document.
A strong search function is important, because all the useful information on one topic (such as body-worn cameras, or use of force) might not be in the same section. Readers need to be able to find all discussions of a topic they’re interested in.
Table of Contents
This simple, easy-to-create feature, can make a big difference to readers.
Not only does it allow the public to see what’s in the manual, but it also lets readers know what has been kept confidential.
For example, the Phoenix Police Department tells readers what sections are “restricted.”
To make this more user-friendly for the reader, Phoenix could add page numbers and a brief explanation of why the section is redacted. This can be in the table of contents, or on a filler page where the section would otherwise appear in the manual.
Adding a “date effective” in the Table of Contents is a great way of keeping the manual up to date.
Depending on the manual’s format, police departments also can integrate the Table of Contents into the manual itself, for a more interactive experience. Check out the Chicago Police Department for a creative example of an effective table of contents.
Sometimes information about a certain topic is located in different places throughout the manual, and the table of contents won’t be very helpful at conveying that information.
For example, the department’s use of force policy may be in one place, but the information on investigating complaints of excessive force may be located in another.
An index can solve this problem. For example, the Los Angeles Police Department has a hyperlinked index for readers.
Still, even the most thorough index can’t anticipate every user’s interest, so being able to search the entire manual is still very important.