Risk Management Is a Way of Life – 6 Timeless Tips


“California catches fire every year. Risk management is not a class I teach; it’s a way of life. Do you really think I’d build my [freaking] house in the [freaking] woods?”

Those are the words of Gordon Graham, retired commander of the California Highway Patrol, attorney, highly valued speaker, and co-founder of Lexipol–a company designed to standardize policy, procedure and training in public safety operations. Today, most of the law enforcement agencies in California are using the Lexipol Knowledge Management System and nearly half of the States are now using this approach to law enforcement operations.

The context of the quote at the outset was Graham telling a story about a woman whose forest-built-home burned down three times after continuing to rebuild it in the same place.

Risk Management Using SROVT

Risk Management Is a Way of Life - 6 Timeless TipsGraham’s concepts are simple. “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.” He developed a philosophy toward training that is easy to remember using SROVT—solid, realistic, ongoing, verifiable training.

Out of every person I’ve heard speak during the course of my career, no one compares with Graham. With him you get a combination of beat cop-legal scholar-stand up comedian. His talent is unparalleled. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, do so!

“You will run into the unthinkable event someday, and you will have to make instantaneous decisions,” Graham has said during many lectures/improv comedy routines. “Whether you are prepared to do so is up to you.”

Attorneys Outnumber Police

The following is a paraphrase of facts he once reminded an auditorium full of cops in California, “There are about 100,000 of you (cops) and 300,000 of them (attorney’s) in this state. That means they have you outnumbered 3-1. In other words, three of them are looking to sue everyone one of you. Since half are unemployed, they are looking to make a buck off your errors. You not only need to do your job right, you need to be able to prove you did it right.”

6 Timeless Tips

Some of his rules of risk management include the following:

  • Organizations must strive for continuous improvement in their personnel.
  • Organizations must hire quality people — “If you hire stupid people, they are not going to get better over time.”
  • An organization’s supervisors must spot problems before they become tragedies.
  • An organization and its members must have a healthy respect for the dangers and risks they face.
  • Organizations must establish performance metrics for its personnel and hold them accountable — “Rules without enforcement are just nice words,” Graham said.
  • An organization and its personnel must be able and willing to learn from their mistakes.

Police work encounters high risk, low frequency events. We need to apply SROVT and basic principles of risk management to each one.

Practice What You Preach

I thought of Graham’s rules for the elimination of civil liability when compiling the news story titled, Police Suffer Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Driving Ford ExplorerThis is a classic example of Graham’s gospel, “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.”

The problem is now well identified as officers have been negatively impacted. Therefore, police managers have a few options:

  • Eliminate Ford Explorers from the fleet (highly unlikely due to expense).
  • Ignore the problem and hope it doesn’t affect your agency (this is gambling).
  • Issue a directive instructing officers to roll down their windows frequently (this is temporary).
  • Purchase carbon monoxide detectors (this is prudent).

While I want to acknowledge that Ford Motor Company has denied allegations, that doesn’t eliminate police liability once a problem has been identified. That is the case here. The purchase of the carbon monoxide detectors for each Ford Explorer might be costly, but it clearly beats the alternative of suffering serious injury or death due a problem that is well documented.

Jim McNeff, editor-in-chief, Law Enforcement Today


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