What could you do, as a leader in law enforcement, with a truly holistic and preventative early intervention system? The proposed benefits are well-documented:

  • More insight into negative and positive behavior trends
  • Provide officers an opportunity to self-correct ahead of behavior necessitating disciplinary action
  • Increased police legitimacy and through that improved relationships with the community your agency serves.

Implementing such an EI system sounds like the obvious choice. Unfortunately, most EI systems don’t actually provide this level of insight because they rely on threshold-based systems and simple triggers.

This type of system doesn’t enable supervisors to be proactive when addressing off-track behavior. A research-driven EI system has arrived to meet this need. Knowing a solution exists, what else might prevent your agency from successfully implementing a 21st century early intervention program?

Challenges to Successful EI System Implementation

Despite being around for 30 years (at least in concept), EI systems still face some resistance within agencies. Little of it has to do with the outcome of the system as much as misunderstandings around how the system works and why it exists. The outcome is clear: prevent the need for discipline by addressing off-track behavior before it leads to adverse incidents.  So why do some agencies still struggle to fully realize the potential of EI systems?

Officer Perception

“It is imperative to communicate that the system does not focus on disciplining employees but on assisting supervisors and leadership in preventing disciplinary issues from arising and to improve the overall performance of all agency members.” 1

Because existing EI systems use inaccurate methods for evaluating risk, many officers associate early intervention with being flagged for doing their job. The EI system is not a mechanism for doling out disciplinary measures to your officers. Rather, it’s meant to help supervisors avoid situations where formal discipline is necessary. You need to help your agency understand EI systems from this perspective, highlighting this type of technology is intended to offer additional support to officers, ensuring they are equipped with the training and feedback to do their best possible job.

Uncertainty about Data

“It is also critical for employees to understand how the system works and the factors it considers.” 2

Law enforcement produces a significant amount of data just in the course of doing everyday police work. Sophisticated EI systems use this data to determine how likely an officer is to engage in off-track behavior. Some officers might perceive this as additional tracking or oversight, or worry that personal data is being used to evaluate their ability to do the job. However, this is far from the reality. For example, consider how data and analytics factors into professional sports. Athletes want their data to be captured and analyzed so they can improve their game to the nth degree. EI systems offer a sliver of that some opportunity for excellence. Also, having a clear policy in place delineating between what data is captured, what data is exempt, and how it’s used to power the system will also help alleviate uncertainty.

Inaccurate Data

“Another challenge arises when those responsible for entering data into an EI system are not consistent and diligent in doing so when only some supervisors enter data, the database does not become the robust system needed for an effective EI system.” 3

We’ve all heard the idiom, “garbage in, garbage out.” Because your EI system runs on data, its quality determines the actionability of the insights generated by the software’s analytics. An EIS typically draws on existing data sources like CAD and RMS platforms along with its own data. Ensure your agency is operating in such a way that accurate data becomes the standard operating procedure.

Supervisors Fail to Adopt the System

“Similarly, if supervisors and command personnel do not monitor the EI system, they miss opportunities for proactive intervention with at-risk employees.” 4

The guiding principle of an EI system is its proactivity. You want to provide supervisors with data points they need to intervene ahead of an officer having an adverse incident with a civilian. In fact, your officers should advocate for having supervisors monitor the system – in effect, they are using analytics to support their officers. Subtle changes in behavior can often be imperceptible to the person experiencing them. And supervisors can’t be with every officer all the time, close enough to observe changes in behavior that might indicate a problem. Having an EI system in place that supervisors readily adopt scales the ability of your supervisors to anticipate the needs of your officers. This will lead to better rapport between ranks, and ensure personnel aren’t left without the appropriate support.

For more information about the challenges of implementing EI systems, read the full COPS report, Law Enforcement Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Field, here.


U.S. Department of Justice. 2019. Law Enforcement Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Field. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

Even though Early Intervention Systems have existed in concept and practice since 1989, most agencies haven’t been able to implement a truly proactive instance of one. Historically, EI systems have been developed using thresholds and simple triggers to identify personnel exhibiting off-track behavior. What results is a necessarily retroactive method of supporting your officers, as the problematic behavior must occur before a supervisor receives an alert to address it. This simple system will always fail to realize the full potential of the Early Intervention programs.

In its latest report, Law Enforcement Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Field, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) identified Early Intervention Systems as an important issue for law enforcement executives and personnel. Why now? Because computing power has finally caught up to what was required by the original vision for effective EI systems. And because more than ever we need to be providing officers with the right type of research-backed support at the right time.

What Type of Agency Uses an Early Intervention System?

According to the COPS report, “65% of police departments with over 250 officers had [an EI system] in place.” Because simple triggers were the norm until recently, we know these systems are less effective than they could be.

According to research conducted by our partners at the University of Chicago, EI systems using triggers produce 89% false negatives (i.e., officers who are likely to exhibit off-track behavior are not flagged by the EI system) and 71% false positives (i.e., the officers flagged by your system aren’t actually at-risk of off-track behavior).

Put simply, if you’re relying on triggers to flag at-risk officers, it’s unlikely you’ll ever succeed in identifying the right personnel at the right time. Trigger systems produce these results because they treat every officer – regardless of when or where they’re patrolling – in the same way. This doesn’t reflect the real world of policing.

Early Intervention as a Management Process

The COPS report defines an Early Intervention system as “a management process used in law enforcement agencies to monitor employee performance or behavior via administrative data.” The key word here is data. As mentioned, simple triggers won’t provide the insight you really need to have a meaningful impact in supporting your personnel. Without data, you are just taking a shot in the dark. New EI systems, like Benchmark’s First Sign®, take a data-driven approach. Meaning the system is designed to reflect the specifics of your agency’s data, allowing you and your supervisors to draw informed conclusions based on patterns of behavior and risk factors unavailable to those using simple triggers.

The report also emphasizes an EI System is “not designed to be punitive, but rather a proactive tool.” Again, this only becomes possible when you start with the data.

Anatomy of a Successful Early Intervention Program

If you’re starting to evaluate EI systems for your agency – or re-evaluating an existing one – you’ll find the COPS report valuable. In it, they lay out what makes for a successful EI program.

– It identifies personnel in need of support while also identifying the right support, intervention or training to put the officer back on track.
– It helps an agency better audit the types of training and support it currently has in place, surfacing data that enables supervisors to develop better interventions and provide tailored support.
– It necessitates policies and procedures to ensure personnel are trained to use it, thus ensuring a broad awareness of both the benefits of an EI system as well as the types of data factored into its analysis.
– It’s communicated effectively to the rank-and-file. This offsets any fear or apprehension about a system that could easily be perceived as disciplinary, though it’s critical to emphasize the proactive and non-disciplinary nature.
– It’s easily leveraged by First-Line Supervisors (another focus of this report), ensuring adoption and data fidelity to allow the system to provide valuable insights to stave off at-risk behavior in personnel.

The report is full of invaluable perspective for police executives. We’ll continue to share what we think are the most salient points for agencies looking to implement truly proactive, data-driven EI systems. In the meantime, you can read the full report here.

“Personnel management…is one of the most difficult challenges you face.” – Chuck Ramsey

Over the course of a decades-long career, Chuck Ramsey influenced, defined and communicated police culture at two major agencies. First, as Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, then as Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia.

When he left his leadership role in Chicago for Philadelphia, he anticipated the two agencies would be mostly similar, though he quickly realized the differences would have a bigger impact on his goals for the agency.

How can a police executive proactively shape police culture?

Leaders are likely to find that the universality of police practices can cut both ways. They should allocate sufficient time to understanding their agency’s culture. This is especially critical in circumstances where you’re coming from outside the agency. Ultimately, any time you want to change how an agency operates, you need to understand the why and how of its current state.

Regardless of its familiarity, if your agency’s culture is divisive or fails to support your intended policies and training – such as an increased focus on officer wellness – it’s not the right one.

Try to see beyond the traditional mindset of policing. Its culture can only change by identifying and recognizing the people who do things the right way while intervening to correct and support those who don’t.

During a recent Q&A with Benchmark’s CEO, Ron Huberman, Chuck shared what he learned about developing cultures of excellence and wellness – as both an insider and an outsider – to help today’s leaders better navigate the changing landscape of policing.

Watch the entire discussion below:


What’s expected of leadership from year to year rarely stays the same. While every new cohort of police executives expects to face new challenges, the complexity of contemporary law enforcement is unprecedented. The extent of which is largely due to the impact of new technology on how people communicate and share experiences. If there’s a negative incident between law enforcement and the community, it’s no longer a local issue, it’s a national one.

“It’s not just worrying if something happened in your department; wherever it happens, it can have an impact on it.”

How one agency operates and responds to community expectations can inform the perception of law enforcement across the country. This can have a negative impact on police legitimacy, which is the metric for how law enforcement is perceived by the community they serve. Less perceived legitimacy translates to less respect for law enforcement, which can undercut community engagement efforts and complicate officer safety.

Watch the full Q&A to hear Chuck Ramsey’s thoughts on:

  • Managing relationships with your officers and your community
  • Moving beyond the reliance on legacy candidates in recruiting new officers
  • The actionable information every chief needs to lead effectively

Top Issues Every Leader Should Prioritize in 2020

During his twenty-five-year tenure at LAPD, Dr. Sean Malinowski held a number of challenging roles. At one point, due partly to a background in technology, he served concurrently as Chief of Detectives, Chief Information Officer, ran CompStat, and managed the department’s technology. Dr. Malinowski succeeded by recognizing how each of his roles interacted with the others to drive agency process and outcomes.

What Information Does a Chief Need to Run a Modern Police Agency?

High-functioning agencies need to create strategic dashboards to visualize data. Dr. Malinowski thinks of these as windows into the data, and the shape and scope is highly subjective, likely dependent on the preferences and needs of an agency’s executives.

For the LAPD, specifically then-chief Charlie Beck, Dr. Malinowski bucketed data in three windows. The first contained crime data, the second tracked public sentiment, and the third window provided insight into how the agency was doing on risk management – tracking use-of-force incidents and vehicular pursuits, for example.

But data tracking, particularly when in service to prediction, can cause friction between an agency and its community. However, according to Dr. Malinowski, this is largely due to a disconnect around intentions. As he sees it, the data isn’t used to arrest someone before they commit a crime just because an algorithm says they are likely to – but used as an indicator that empowers an agency to take preventative steps. To stop the crime from happening without having to arrest anyone.

This is similar to how Benchmark developed First Sign, our research-based Early Intervention System. We use the power of advanced analytics to help agencies intervene with an officer before off-track behavior results in an adverse incident.

Watch the Q&A below to hear how Dr. Malinowski implemented one of the first Early Warning Systems for the LAPD.

Most chiefs already know why a law enforcement agency would implement an Early Intervention System (EIS). Police early intervention systems are designed to help agency leadership identify officers who need additional support. All in an effort to prevent those individuals from having an adverse incident with a citizen or other personnel.

But what conditions result in an alert, and its accuracy in helping agency leadership effectively intervene, might not be as widely understood.

Traditionally, these systems use triggers tuned to flag an officer whose activity exceeds agency-decided thresholds. Critically, this type of system enables police executives to remain aware of potential personnel issues. However, that awareness comes with a caveat:

Researchers found that trigger-based EIS typically flag the wrong officers:

Visual representation of trigger-based EIS flagging the wrong officers.


In fact, studies found trigger-based solutions produce false negatives 89% of the time, and false positives 71% of the time. If, as studies have found, 17% of your officers will have an adverse incident within a year, can you afford to make decisions using such an inaccurate view of your agency?

How do agencies improve at identifying these officers and successfully intervening?

When we first start working with a partner agency, we help them identify where they’re at on the path to digital transformation.

Modern organizations evolve through several stages of technology adoption and integration


As you can see, there are five stages, beginning with Undefined and ending with Predictive. Traditional EIS can get you as far as the Analytic stage, but the nature of the software means you can’t effectively, and proactively, support your officers using triggers and thresholds.

Watch Nick Montgomery, Chief Research Officer at Benchmark Analytics, share the studies behind Benchmark’s research-based Early Intervention System. You’ll learn how to identify your agency’s current transformational stage and what you gain by evolving to a predictive approach.

You’re no doubt familiar with Early Intervention Systems (EIS) used by law enforcement agencies to identify off-track behavior in officers. However, in recent years, agencies have sought a more proactive and preventative solution that can identify officers before they’re involved in a career-damaging adverse incident.

They’ve found that little has changed in traditional EIS platforms since the initial days of trigger-based systems. How they look has barely kept up with other technology, and the way they work hasn’t been updated since the 70’s.

The emergence of modern problems leads many agencies to reevaluate their current EIS and consider investing in a modern one.

Old technology and new technology

Non-Disciplinary by Design

Far from being a means to discipline, EIS platforms were intended to be non-disciplinary by design. However, using triggers to identify officers in need of additional support has since been found to create situations where EIS platforms are used as hindsight-driven, punitive tools, if they’re used at all.

Unlike classic EIS platforms, a modern EIS is configured to capture and analyze indicators beyond the simple mechanism of triggers and thresholds. This enables them to provide insight that can be used to address an officer before they have an incident that could require disciplinary action. It also provides a greater depth of insight into an agency’s overall health, including officers deserving of recognition, and individuals who have been exposed to a critical number of stressful events.

An EIS is intended to be an objective, smart, and automated mechanism that supports the health, safety and efficacy of your officers. Still, the idea of trusting an algorithm to interpret officer data can be off-putting to those who prefer a human touch. However, a truly modern EIS blends seamlessly with your department, informing and amplifying the impact of your frontline supervisors rather than replacing them.

Similar to the communication and tactical improvement brought about by two-way radios, an EIS extends your supervising staff’s ability to respond to officers in need of support. Furthermore, in recent years agencies have been using EIS to identify officers worthy of recognition for exceptional service.

How Do Early Intervention Systems Work?

Initially, EIS platforms were called “Early Warning” systems. While “Intervention” and “Warning” are sometimes used interchangeably, the latter has gradually fallen out of favor. Consider this –a warning will tell supervisors something is wrong, but it won’t tell supervisors how to help the officer who triggered it.

According to the National Police Foundation, using intervention terminology “emphasizes the role of the agency in providing officers with support and resources to address problems at their earliest stage.” Most police executives would agree helping officers is preferable to punishing them.

The important part, regardless of what term you use, is that you are aware an officer is exhibiting behavior pre-determined to be atypical, enabling your supervisory team to take preventative actions that “promote officer safety, health and wellness, and success.”

old typewriter new computer

The first generation of EIS platforms relied heavily on the mechanics of triggers and thresholds. Agencies would select a set of indicators and then define thresholds for each one. For example, if an officer had three use-of-force instances in a single month, that would trigger an alert for a supervisor.

Though innovative at the time, recent advancements in technology allow for the development of sophisticated systems that refine triggers to allow for truly preventative action. A peer-reviewed study from our partners at the University of Chicago identified that most trigger-based systems result in a 78% false positive and 90% false negative rate.

These trigger-based systems can often orient the attention of supervisors in the wrong direction, wasting time and introducing the risk that officers in need of support will slip through the cracks. Beyond that, they often aren’t configured to provide an early enough warning.

Regardless, an EIS is an essential part of any modern agency’s personnel management toolkit for myriad reasons.

For more information about alternatives to a trigger-based approach, such as using analytics to convert data into insights, check out First Sign®.

Why would your agency want an EIS?

In a report on EIS best practices, the National Police Foundation defined one as “a personnel management tool designed to identify potential individual or group concerns at the earliest possible stage so that intervention and support can be offered in an effort to re-direct performance and behaviors toward organizational goals.”

In other words, an EIS can help you know where to focus your management efforts. Most companies and organizations have some type of support system or tool in place to position employees to succeed. Usually this falls under the purview of human resources. Agencies can apply some of these existing principles to how they think about supporting officers. EIS platforms are particularly well-suited to support agencies and their officers in the following ways.

Protect Your Officers (and Their Careers)

Law enforcement officers regularly must adapt to high-stress, complex (often unfamiliar) situations. They’re also expected to thoroughly document these events, including everything from when use of force is required to vehicle pursuits. This makes their profession unusual in that a lot of data is produced but not much is done with it to help personnel.

Early EIS platforms worked off indicators chosen through intuition. While this gets agencies part of the way towards a system that can help prevent officers from drifting into adverse behavior, these indicators alone simply aren’t enough to make sense of all the data generated by today’s LEOs.

A modern EIS allows supervisors and police executives to take truly preventative action, without getting bogged down in false positives and false negatives.

Accreditation Compliance

CALEA offers multiple tiers, but table stakes for accreditation include guidance on EIS usage. According to CALEA standard 35.1.9, agencies with an EIS must also have a “written directive” to provide structure around definitions of behavioral indicators, reviews of identified employees, remedial action, and so on. In CALEA’s own words, “the failure of an agency to develop a comprehensive system can lead to the erosion of public confidence in the agency’s ability to investigate itself, while putting the public and agency employees in greater risk of danger.”

Relationship with Community

A survey of nearly 2,000 residents of U.S. metro areas, “found that 75% of white respondents and 80% of Black and Hispanic respondents favored the use of early warning systems as an accountability mechanism within police agencies.” As communities continue to ask for more transparency and insight into how police agencies identify and address officers whose behavior does not align with their expectations, modern EIS platforms offer a solution that signals an agency is investing in not only the well-being of their officers, but the well-being of the community.

start here

6 Baseline Functions to Look for in an EIS

As you prepare to either reevaluate your existing early intervention system or consider purchasing one for your agency, here are some baseline functions you should seek.

Trigger or Threshold Mechanisms

Though research indicates these mechanisms are no longer enough (and can often mislead supervisors), they still provide some insight into the frequency of certain events. Though you might find yourself

A Research Base

While it’s great to gain insight into your officers, there’s only so much you can do comparing your agency against itself. Implementing an EIS built on top of a longitudinal research base helps you understand your officers in the context of policing across a variety of departments.

21st Century Analytics

Data without analytics isn’t very useful. If your EIS doesn’t come with advanced analytics, your team will be left to crunch the numbers on their own. And at the rate that law enforcement produces data, it’s nearly impossible for an individual to derive any meaningful insight without the help of modern technology.

Situational Evaluation

Your EIS should be able to interpret information based on situational data. This is critical to avoiding false positive and false negatives. If your EIS can’t process data in the context of a situation, the results won’t differentiate between a justifiably active officer and an off-track one.

Temporal Evaluation

When something occurred should also factor into the information you receive from your EIS. Whether a series of events happened during third watch, on the weekend, in the morning, or during a large event should factor into which officers are flagged, if any.

Command Channel Review Support

While all agencies have some review process, our experience has revealed that each one is unique. That’s why it’s key for your EIS to be flexible enough to align with your command channel review.

Choosing an EIS is an important decision for an agency. Consider seeking out a partner who understands the complexities of policing who can also leverage the power of advanced analytics.

Policing has always asked its officers to make difficult decisions about the nature of law enforcement. But three decades of advancements in police technology introduced a new level of complexity to those choices.

Most police executives rose through the ranks fully expecting – perhaps even motivated – to tackle systemic barriers to effective law enforcement. However, few could have anticipated the rapid changes to the public perception of policing’s role in society and the national spotlight that’s been directed at it for most of the 21st century. Law enforcement now requires those in leadership roles to make many of the same technologically complex decisions traditionally reserved for executives in other professions.

Data Centers, cloud technology, cybersecurity, smart cities, chatbots and A.I., virtual reality, IoT, V2X, predictive analytics: a police executive needs to be comfortable with this terminology to make effective decisions about operational and technological investments for their agency.

What Your Officers Think about New Technology

A recent report published by Accenture surveyed hundreds of law enforcement professionals globally to develop a hypothesis for what policing could look like in the future. While the mission hasn’t changed – defined in the report as “protecting the public, preventing crime and keeping the peace, while maintaining the public’s trust” – effective service depends on agencies developing “a more agile workforce and rely[ing] on an increasingly expanded ecosystem of partners.”

Of the officers interviewed, 76% believe the demand for digital skills will increase over the next three to five years. 75% expressed a belief that digital skills will be required and demonstrated an interest in acquiring those skills.

But officers don’t decide what technology they use. That’s up to the supervisors and executives.

Your officers expect their leaders to quickly and accurately assess the implications of new technologies; to understand how and why a technology came to exist, in what ways it’s likely to evolve, and whether your officers will benefit. Additionally, you have to anticipate your community’s perspective as stakeholders impacted by the adoption of new technology.

Sources of Complexity in Law Enforcement

Most readers have more computing power in their pocket or strapped to their wrist than what was available to police through most of the 20th century. It’s relatively easy to point to the upside of new technology, but that upside is often accompanied by higher expectations and increasing operational complexity.

First police vehicle, Akron, Ohio, 1899

According to some researchers, complexity is introduced to policing via six channels. In recent decades, each has gone undergone a rapid evolution, at times through an expanded mission scope or bringing new stakeholders to the law enforcement table.


When the average person thinks of police work, they possibly think of deterring petty crime like theft and tagging or solving crimes like homicides and burglary. But the scope has expanded greatly in the 21st century. Now police are asked to account for terrorism, immigration issues, cybercrime, and escalated narcotics work involving deadly opioids.

Instead of reactive deterrence, police are expected to proactively deter crime. This means using tools and methodologies to anticipate crime before it happens and introduce a police presence into the area where it’s projected to occur. Because environment plays such a fundamental role in proactive policing, officers now have to wrestle with social issues that were previously outside their purview.

Public Demands

We cover this topic in depth here and here. Whereas historically law enforcement took their cues from leadership and occasionally politicians, now there is no shortage of perspectives on how police should operate in the 21st century. Communities increasingly want a seat at the table and a say in how they are policed. Which makes Community Engagement a critical part of any police strategy.


Until recently, police worked by patrolling in squad cars, responding to calls as needed, and investigating reported crimes. That’s a tight loop of accountability and responsibility. However, that’s expanded to include overlapping strategies like Broken windows, Community-oriented policing, Hot-spots policing, and Intelligence-led policing.

Most agencies will find that a blend of these approaches is the best fit for their community and officers. However, each strategy entails new specializations, new ways of thinking, and often new technology.


The duty belt used to hold your baton, handcuffs, a firearm, and two-way radio. Now you’ll find TASERS, Mobile Computer Databases (MCDs), body cameras, and pepper spray. Beyond that, new technology is useful at departmental level as well. Leveraging advancements in overall computing power, agencies are able to take advantage of CCT, automatic license plate readers, and social media to keep communities safe.

There are also technology applications to empower managers to better serve their officers. Advanced analytics can help agencies with good data hygiene to identify patterns in officer behavior that could warrant intervention. At Benchmark, we use powerful models developed with the University of Chicago to power police force management, early intervention, and officer support.

Accountability and Resources

According to the research, the U.S. investigated the “patterns and practices” of over 50 law enforcement agencies since the early 90s. Half of these investigations led to consent decrees instituted via judicial supervision.

New requirements and evolved responsibilities bring new demands on already limited resources. They also require new ways of thinking, and new specialized knowledge (e.g., cybersecurity). At the same time, resources aren’t necessarily growing in turn.

It’s a challenge to identify and evaluate the varied ways in which these channels interact with one another to create additional complexity. While technology might be a source of complexity in some situations, technology can also solve it.

Technology as Source and Solution

This is why your technology decisions are so important. Though it’s been identified as a channel that introduces complexity, Police Technology is a broad category. Its spot on the list is partially due to its categorical breadth compared to the days of the truncheon, whistle and lantern.

Source: Walton, H. D. “Some Recent Advances in Police Technology.” (1982)

However, contemporary police technology extends beyond the tools and techniques you use in the field. While the introduction of body-worn cameras, TASERS, Mobile Computer Databases (MCDs), automated license plate readers (ALPRs) and DNA analysis help police manage crime, on their own, they don’t provide much insight into the overall effectiveness of police.

Useful Guides to Navigate New Terrain

Police technology needs to perform for an agency under volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) conditions. Part of fully using new technology is understanding its why. People go on auto-pilot when it comes to upgrading their phone or acquiring some other shiny tech, but a different mindset is needed for evaluating technology for work.

Luckily, choosing technology for your department is not an exercise requiring you to reinvent the wheel. Organizations like IACP and PERF recognized that police executives needed to develop a shared framework for choosing, implementing, and using technology.

IACP’s Technology Policy Framework (2014)

This framework sets out a set of “universal principles” to “be viewed as a guide in the development of effective policies for technologies.” This is useful for agencies concerned with data security, protecting the privacy of their officers, and conserving ever-tight resources.

From the report:

“Agencies should define the purpose, objectives, and requirements for implementing specific technology, and identify the types of data captured, stored, generated, or otherwise produced.”

“Agencies should articulate in writing, educate personnel regarding, and enforce agency policies and procedures governing adoption, deployment, use, and access to the technology and the data it provides. These policies and procedures should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis, and whenever the technology or its use, or use of the data it provides significantly changes.”

The whole framework is worth reviewing whenever you plan to invest in a new technology.

PERF and Lockheed Martin’s Law Enforcement Technology Needs Assessment (2009)

PERF and Lockheed Martin approached the question of police technology from a different perspective. Instead of guidance on policy, they set out to, “explore and document:

  • The operational needs of law enforcement agencies
  • The law enforcement perspective on technology—including beliefs about its effectiveness
  • A prioritized list of technologies to develop for law enforcement
  • Barriers to the introduction of technology in the LEA community”

Ultimately, the study found that adopting new technology depends on police executives who “understand the importance of technology and can link technology to the agency’s overarching strategic goals.”

Simple is No Longer an Option

The technology landscape is not likely to simplify in the coming years. If anything, police executives will have to become comfortable working and delegating within an ecosystem of complex technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the rapidly expanding Internet of Things, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

There isn’t a single solution to offsetting the complexity introduced through technology, but there are solutions. Finding the right technology partners is a good first step after you’ve gone through the exercises to uncover what your agency needs in the context of its goals. After you’ve made a decision on a technology, you need to introduce it to your officers and champion adoption. We’ll address the typical pain points agency’s experience during an implementation and ways to avoid them.

(Ed. Note – This is the second part of a two-post series. Read the first post here.)

On Oct. 7, 2015, more than 100 of the nation’s leading law enforcement officers and politicians met in Washington D.C. to discuss the recent rise in violence experienced in a number of major U.S. cities. Convened by then U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the purpose of the panel was to not only determine why violent crime was increasing in major cities but also how law enforcement could address it.

Police Use of Force: The YouTube Effect

The discussion took an interesting turn when the head of Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), Chuck Wexler, suggested that “perhaps the most difficult to calibrate, but the most significant, is this notion of a reduction in proactive policing.” Wexler was trying to point out a gap in cause and effect. Was crime a rising wave overpowering law enforcement agencies across the country, or was something else leading to the perceived rise in violent crime? Could it be that police were less proactive than they were? And if so, what was the cause?

Leaders from multiple major cities noted an emerging trend they were calling, “the YouTube Effect.” They’d observed their officers withdrawing from proactive policing following a cluster of high-profile cases where the use of force had been captured on video and distributed on different platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. These videos took split-second decisions and exposed them to an unprecedented level of public scrutiny.

Officers and law enforcement leadership weren’t prepared to manage the speed and amplification of negative sentiment made possible by social media. Seemingly overnight, what once might have been considered the exception became representative of law enforcement in its entirety. Officers found themselves existing in a limbo between law enforcement expectations and fearing that a single misinterpreted encounter could lead to a career-ending media frenzy. Or worse.

Later that month, in an address to several hundred law students, then FBI Director James Comey asked: “In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime?” Additionally, Comey said reducing crime requires a strong police presence of officers willing to proactively seek out and stop criminal activity. Increasingly, it seemed, this willingness was offset by the perceived threat of viral videos.

Data Points: What Does Law Enforcement Think?

In 2017, the nonpartisan research group, the Pew Research Center partnered with the National Police Research Platform to conduct an expansive study of 7,917 American police officers, working in departments of 100 or more officers. The purpose of this study was to determine officers’ opinions of the policing profession amid widespread calls for police reform and anti-police protests.

The study, one of the largest of its kind ever conducted, surveyed American police officers on a variety of topics, mostly related to their feelings about their profession, how society views policing and how these things have changed over time. Considering the sample size (7,917), this study presents a statistically accurate representation of law enforcement’s feelings on the topic of policing.

Police on Policing

According to the study, 86% of officer respondents said the policing profession is now harder due to recent high-profile fatal encounters between police and minorities, and these incidents have made policing more dangerous. Additionally, it found 86% of officer respondents from departments with 2,600 officers or more said their fellow officers are more hesitant to stop and question individuals who may appear suspicious.

Furthermore, 85% of officer respondents in the 2,600 officer or more category reported being more reluctant to use force, even when force is warranted.

In regard to actually using force, 56% of officer respondents were concerned their peers would spend too much time diagnosing situations before acting decisively, while 41% were concerned their peers wouldn’t spend enough time diagnosing situations before acting.

That being said, 84% of officer respondents felt officers should be required to intervene when they felt a fellow officer was using excessive force.

When addressing use-of-force policies, 26% of officer respondents felt their department’s use of force guidelines were too restrictive, while 73% sided with the policies striking the right balance between restrictive and too lenient.

Additionally, 34% of officer respondents felt their department’s use-of-force guidelines were very helpful, while 51% felt the policies were somewhat helpful. The remainder of that final group (14%) felt that the guidelines were not helpful in use-of-force situations.

Resolutions Through Legislation

The State of California chose to take a more official route to addressing police use of force following the March 2018 shooting of Stephen Clark by Sacramento Police Officers. Within days of the shooting, the Sacramento Police released the officer’s body cam footage, which was quickly shared across various social media platforms.

In response to widespread activist support, California legislators introduced Assembly Bill 392, which aimed to re-define when a police officer can use deadly force; recommending a shift from the Supreme Court standard of “reasonable” to a new threshold of “necessary”. Under this bill, an officer must justify why deadly force is necessary, though opponents worry it could subject the officer’s decision to the relatively easier analysis of 20/20 hindsight. Additionally, the bill includes the definition that an officer face an ‘imminent harm’ which “is not merely a fear of future harm, no matter how great the fear and no matter how great the likelihood of the harm, but one that… must be instantly confronted.”

Following initial disagreements about the language of AB 392, law enforcement organizations, the public, and legislators were able to come to a resolution on AB 392, which, as of this writing, is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

Decide in Seconds, Revisit for Years

The use of force is undergoing a rapid transformation catalyzed by factors like the “YouTube Effect” and new state legislation. There’s a natural tendency to resist change, but there’s no putting this particular genie back in the bottle. Law enforcement is still a relatively young profession, only formally coming to being in the early 19th century. What feels like change is actually evolution: as the environment introduces new challenges to law enforcement, agencies adapt and become better able to serve their community because of it.

There’s no denying that many use-of-force instances necessarily result from split-second decisions. What police executives can do to offset the frustration and reluctance stemming from the increased scrutiny is put systems and technology in place to ensure officers have the best preparation to make the best decisions in those seconds.

How Data, Psychology and Mass Media Can Affect Perception of Law Enforcement Encounters

One of the most challenging issues facing police executives is the impact of use-of-force incidents on the relationship between law enforcement and the public. Law enforcement, due to the nature of its role, is empowered to use reasonable force as defined by municipal and state legislation or policy.

The use-of-force continuum exists to provide officers with an escalating variety of methods to maintain order and encourage adherence to the law. However, the scope of that empowerment has become a national question, and law enforcement is facing escalated scrutiny. While any oversight is generally good for agencies (it provides a relatively accelerated feedback loop, making it quicker and easier to improve), the current trend can seem overwhelming, especially with the ubiquity of smart phone cameras.  use-of-force-incidents-often-recorded

It’s important to remember everyone is operating with a limited set of data.  Most citizens and sworn officers instinctively evaluate available data (personal and professional experience, books, television, websites, social media, actual neighbors) using innate – and learned – analytic models that might not be suited to dissecting the complexity of a critical incident. If you’ve never been exposed to a dataset, regardless whether it confirms or contradicts your perspective, it might as well not exist let alone influence your take on a situation.

In an effort to broaden the view of police executives wanting to address use of force in their agencies, the FBI announced an initiative to collect use-of-force data in 2018. The nationwide scope of this project will enable data analysts in law enforcement to evaluate the use of force at a nationwide level and compare those findings to what they are seeing at their agency. Holistic access like this has rarely been available to police leadership, which isn’t to say information about use of force has been scarce.

Evaluating Law Enforcement Service with a Public Lens

Since the early 20th century, researchers have attempted to measure public perception of law enforcement and the effect it has on officer efficacy. Arthur Bellman, with an assist from August Vollmer, is one the first people to develop a means to quantify police work. In 1935, he published a paper titled “Police Service Rating Scale.”

In it, he suggests an “objective instrument” to measure police performance, “according to certain standards.” (Bellman’s model might resemble some of the policies found in today’s law enforcement accreditation – a much more reasonable application of his framework).

Subsequent papers were quick to point out that the absence or presence of one of Bellman’s variables could not be used to scientifically quantify the service rating of an agency. However, Bellman’s paper shows that an appetite for understanding the public’s role in judging the efficacy of policing is nothing new.

Police-Public Contact Survey

Every three years, the U.S. Department of Justice conducts their Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS), which attempts to gather data on a variety of metrics associated with police-public interactions, including use of force. The 2015 survey revealed that approximately 53.5 million people aged 16 years or older had contact with the police during the previous 12 months. Of those 53.5 million contacts, approximately 27 million were police-initiated — and approximately 5 million resulted in the individual receiving either the threat of force or the use of force by law enforcement.

Though the data sets seem sound, a 2018 research study published in the Public Library of Science found that the four iterations of the PPCS (one every three years) contained enough variation that year-to-year comparisons were statistically problematic. Further, the researchers noted that the PPCS is a targeted survey (US residents aged 15 and older, English speaking only, with access and ability to answer survey questions), that naturally eliminates any possible respondents that do not fit the requirement or can’t answer the questions (but may still have experienced police use of force).

Unfortunately, the lack of complete data on police use of force is creating more conflict than cohesion. Activist groups and journalists continue to push lawmakers for increased police oversight, but the absence of use-of-force data is a major hurdle to satisfying these requests.

The demand, and expectations, for government transparency have reached the point where some media outlets have chosen to create their own “use-of-force databases” to satisfy the public’s desire for information.

Crowd-Sourced Use-of-Force Databases

As you can see, while crowd-sourced data can be useful in understanding the sentiment of a particular group, it’s not a sustainable resource for guiding corrective action. It’s just not complete or scientifically rigorous enough to compel wide-scale change. This is why digitization of existing personnel data, as well as contributing to projects like the FBI’s, are critical to the success of data-driven policing. Using data to inform your management and personnel strategies is a natural extension of evidence-based policing. It enables you to determine effective policies based on longitudinal data rather than anecdotal information.

Media outlets construct ad-hoc databases by searching through a massive volume of articles, reports, police records (secured through a state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws), or crowd-sourced submissions.

While these databases contain many bytes of potentially useful information about use-of-force incidents, they are not held to any particular standard of statistical analysis or reporting requirements. Outlets can source data at will by using any method they wish and are not required to make their data accessible for peer-review. As noted by journalism researchers in a 2013 study, while many journalists strive for accuracy, methods for verifying information differ journalist to journalist.

While potentially well-meaning, presenting data in this manner can affect public perception on police use of force. While the data access is a positive, analysis is not something the average citizen is trained to do. In the same way we need to approach any article with a critical eye it’s important to teach people to recognize that data on its own is objective, the visualizations we apply to it can’t possibly be.


The Psychology of Perception

In 1973, research psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman began to share groundbreaking research in cognitive biases and the psychology of decision making. Among their most prominent works was their research that discovered the availability heuristic and, subsequently, the accompanying cognitive error known as availability bias. Their findings have since been replicated countless times and their theories have been added to the basic tenets of psychology.

Heuristic is a fancy term for mental shortcuts, and, in this case, the availability heuristic is a mental shortcut where individuals make decisions or draw conclusions dependent on how recently information entered their memory. Subsequently, availability bias occurs when the recency of that information informs judgments on a broader scale. What this means is we’re more likely to give more weight to information we’ve experienced or learned recently than something perhaps truer but less obvious or top of mind.

The unfortunate conclusion is that, coupled with an unprecedented alignment in media coverage of law enforcement, citizens begin to anticipate police use force, act non-compliant in accordance to that anticipation, and situations escalate to require more force than might have been necessary.

In a similar vein, citizens are more likely to believe that all police interactions can result in sudden unexpected violence, based on the frequency of media reports covering police use of force. Such beliefs can lead some people to experience far more anxiety, or react unexpectedly, during routine police actions such as traffic stops.

Otherwise innocent encounters may result in citizens resisting police control simply because they fear being the victim of “police brutality”. Tragically, regardless of the cause, officers would be forced to respond to such resistance, leading to a perpetuation of the vicious cycle favoring a narrative focused on “police brutality” rather than one focused on legitimacy and improved relationships with citizens.

We are not only dealing with an inescapable hiccup in rational thinking (the availability bias), but the combined limited and limitless nature of communication in the age of non-stop, and social, media. This is not to say that policing should exist without scrutiny, but that we should understand, and circulate, how cognitive biases affect our perception of the seemingly obvious.

(Ed. Note – This is part 1 of a two-post series. Read part two here.)