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.

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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.)

You can think about officer performance evaluation from three different, though equally important, perspectives. First, an officer’s performance is evaluated by field training officers (FTOs) based on how well they apply academy techniques to real-world scenarios as new recruits.

Continue reading “What Data to Consider when Evaluating a New Officer’s Performance”

A police department is essentially a small community. Departments are predisposed to sharing ideas, norms, attitudes, ethics, and values. Some may value proactivity and arrests, while other departments may value community action and non-enforcement contacts.

Continue reading “How Field Training Officers Influence Police Department Culture”

Sir Robert Peel, the so-called father of modern policing, was early to identify that public trust would be essential to his vision’s success. Both before and after Peel, political theorists have written piles of books and papers on the relationship between people with authority and the people willingly subject to it.

John Locke talked about this relationship using the concept “consent of the governed”, specifically, “no one can be…subjected to the political power of another without his own consent.” His was a revolutionary way of understanding how a free public actually helps to determine the reach and nature of those in authority. Ultimately, theorists and practitioners alike landed on legitimacy as the term of art.

Police legitimacy is the term used when describing whether or not an agency has the trust of its community. Legitimacy is a scalable concept that, depending on the person, can be used to refer to an individual officer or the entire policing profession.

Technology hasn’t been obviously useful in addressing the scenarios and outcomes that affect police legitimacy until recently.  By making it easier to be transparent, tools like body-worn cameras, enterprise-grade police force management software, and early intervention systems have added a new layer to police legitimacy.

Foundations of Police Legitimacy

foundations-of-police-technologyLegitimacy is maintained when the group deciding and enforcing the rules plays by them as well. They must be impartial and objective in upholding the law. If the rule-bound population detects special treatment or bias, especially the self-serving kind, its attitude changes from acceptance to resistance, resentment, and, occasionally, revolution. (Here’s looking at you, King G.)  Peel’s  nine principles of policing is a prescient work that demonstrates the fundamental link between successful policing and police legitimacy.

A Social Institution

Researchers approach police legitimacy as a “riverhead” of social psychology and institutional theory.

Social psychology helps researchers understand how the formation of a person’s perception or outlook might influence their behavior during an encounter with police.

social-institution-normative-empirical-legitimacyPaired with institutional theory, which defines legitimacy as “a generalized perception or assumption that the actions of an entity are desirable, proper, or appropriate within some socially constructed system of norms, values, beliefs, and definitions.”

When legitimacy exists, an institution gets the benefit of the doubt. Remove legitimacy, and that support begins to erode. For police, legitimacy is the difference between compliance and non-compliance, respect and ridicule, support and criticism; the consequences are serious when an agency lacks the support of its community.

Normative and Empirical Legitimacy

Multiple types of legitimacy can exist at the same time. This fact complicates any understanding of police legitimacy, as an agency could be “normatively” legitimate without “empirical” legitimacy.

Researchers distinguish these two forms of legitimacy by their respective source; i.e., whether we’re considering an an agency through the eyes of the government or the public.

Normative legitimacy exists when an agency satisfies an objective criterion determined by an organization higher up the authority food chain.  If an agency lacks any obvious signs of corruption, then they satisfy one condition of normative legitimacy.

The presence of empirical legitimacy, however, depends on the perceptions of citizens.  As you might have guessed, perception is subjective, which means your community might view your agency as illegitimate even if you qualify by normative standards, i.e., a lack of obvious corruption.

Technologies to Improve Community Perception

Just as technology makes it easier for law enforcement to connect with communities, and by extension to better gauge and positively influence empirical legitimacy, it also helps leadership more easily access information they can use to support officers.

Body-Worn Cameras

police-officerThese devices serve a dual purpose: collecting evidence and increasing transparency between law enforcement agencies and their communities. By capturing video of arrests and other interactions, both leadership and civilians can literally see how officers conduct themselves. These devices are impartial by nature – a camera on its own can’t operate with bias towards officers or civilians. BWC’s help move a subjective experience into the realm of objective by opening a contested incident to the oversight of many, diverse reviews.

Early Warning and Intervention Systems

According to CALEA, “the failure of [an] agency to develop a comprehensive [EIS] system can lead to the erosion of public confidence in the agency’s ability to investigate itself, while putting the public and employees in greater risk of danger.”

EIS’s have existed since the 70s. These early solutions existed in agency-specific data silos, though the focus even then was on community perception and uses of force. Having an EIS in place lends itself to both normative and empirical legitimacy. Normative in that it signals your agency is actively monitoring itself, and empirical in that it publicly demonstrates consideration of the public’s experience with your officers.

Recently, advances in data science have allowed agencies to implement research-driven solutions that promote an evidence-based approach to how we configure technology to alert us to officers in need of support, as well as the intervention chosen to help that officer. Agencies can use advanced technologies like machine learning to prevent officers from having an adverse event that could diminish empirical legitimacy and ruin an officer’s career.

Many professions and industries (e.g., schools, hospitals, manufacturers, software providers) use accreditation to define and distribute policy standards based on the experience and authority of the accrediting body. Beyond the pragmatic benefit of access to best practices, accreditation signals that a company or organization wants to align itself to proven, and quality assured, modes of operating. Some believe it can serve, “as a credible sign of departmental competence, and building a reputation for competence can benefit the department…and the city as a whole.”

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) has championed changes in policing that improve agency performance and professionalism in the eyes of the community while promoting the well-being and safety of officers since its founding in 1979.  CALEA offers accreditation to law enforcement agencies dependent on their ability to align with its policies and operational standards.

However, CALEA is not the only accreditation game in town. State programs emerged to make accreditation accessible to agencies with leaner budgets. Programs like the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation, Inc., and  the one offered by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs emerged that now account for the accreditation of additional agencies. (CALEA’s fees are based on the number of full-time personnel employed by your agency – this number includes sworn and non-sworn.)

The Illinois Law Enforcement Accreditation Program (ILEAP) offered by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police (ILACP) is one of the twenty-two state accreditation programs (as of 2017) with offerings similar to those provided by CALEA. Each will offer its own take on best practices, which could be important to your agency if you feel differences in region or headcount will impact your ability to benefit from the guidelines.

A Worthwhile Commitment

Any organization that’s gone through the process will tell you that accreditation is a commitment. It’s not a one-and-done deal; your agency will need to periodically obtain reaccreditation, which can be a heavier lift than your agency’s first go-around because you have to demonstrate proof of compliance for more years. Digitization has made this easier in recent years, allowing your accreditation managers to move away from shipping paper files via FedEx to web documents hosted and managed through the cloud.

row-togetherAccreditation is also an investment. Your agency is literally buying into the insight and time-tested authority of your accreditor, whether it’s CALEA or a state-specific program. Spending hard-won budget, assigning extra duties to over-worked personnel, and tackling the necessary process changes to become compliant. As one researcher put it, “Accreditation is a voluntary process that demands organizational resources without a guaranteed outcome.”

This uncertainty can lead to resistance or outright dismissal of accreditation. Which means pursuing it can require a lot of change management savvy. It’s hard to introduce something new if it makes your audience  feel like they’re doing things wrong, or that what they have to offer isn’t enough. But no one loses when they become accredited. It provides peace of mind for your leadership team and the community.

The Benefits of Accreditation

Instead of wondering why your officers operate the way they do, you can ease community concern by discussing the third-party standards you manage against.  Because of the number of stakeholders involved in this type of transition, it’s advantageous to know the benefits of accreditation before attempting to sell it internally.

According to CALEA, these are the benefits to gaining accreditation:

  • Increased community advocacy
  • Staunch support from government officials
  • Stronger defense against civil lawsuits
  • Reduced risk and liability exposure
  • Greater accountability within the agency

Increased Community Advocacy

Pursuing accreditation tells  your community that professionalism and high performance are important to your agency. You demonstrate that you’re willing to invest in your department (time, resources, and so on) to ensure the service delivered by your officers is par none. Beyond any implicit direction, some of CALEA’s policies explicitly direct agencies to develop community groups.

Staunch Support from Government Officials

Identifying and aligning an organization around effective policies is challenging (or else accreditation wouldn’t exist) due to the many unavoidable interpersonal dynamics at play. Having a third-party available to spot-check your department on best practices attracts the support of government officials because it streamlines an added layer of accountability. Instead of relying on intuition or inherited wisdom, you can manage your department and mitigate risk using validated policies.

Stronger Defense Against Civil Lawsuits

A lot of civil litigation can be summed up in a phrase on the tip of many a parent’s tongue: you should’ve known better. In trying to determine whether or not an agency can be found liable, it’s not uncommon for attorneys to look at existing policy. If your agency’s policies resulted from ad-hoc gut decisions over the years, it’s harder for you to demonstrate you or your officer did the right thing given the circumstances. However, your defense is stronger if you can show you complied with guidelines issues by an accreditor like CALEA. It shows your agency has made an investment in professionalism and performance to ensure against the likelihood of receiving claims of negligence.

Reduced Risk and Liability Exposure

Accreditation policies like CALEA’s are written to reduce the likelihood of a negative outcome. By structuring your agency’s policies around CALEA’s, you are leveraging its collective experience which ensures you minimize blind spots and maintain awareness of best practices.

Greater Accountability within the Agency

It’s easier to hold someone accountable when you have an objective standard to point to. Instead of relying on hierarchy to move personnel in your desired direction, accreditation provides a blueprint that gets you there without slowing down to defend every decision. You’ll likely still receive pushback from your officers, but a goal of accreditation is a lot easier to accept than a one-off policy change for a single department. Accreditation is like any system; it moves the decision-making impetus away from you. That’s why it’s critical to have a good system in place.

What are Your Next Steps?

benchmark-compliance-shield-calea-accreditationTimelines for accreditation vary by department. It depends on the accreditation you’re seeking, the number of assessors available at any given time, and the number of full-time employees you have on staff. The aforementioned ILEAP program takes between 16-18 months from application to awarding of accreditation. The right technology can expedite the process (the less paper files you have to wrangle, the better), but it still takes time to review your existing policies, identify any gaps, determine what proofs you’ll use to demonstrate compliance (e.g., video of officers using their lights when responding to a call), and conduct both a mock assessment and the real one.

After you’ve achieved accreditation, how do you ensure compliance? Having technology in place to track your people data, including mandatory training, procedures, and reporting, can make it easier to maintain your status. Subsequent reaccreditations tend to take longer because you have more to report – usually multiple years of proofs required to show your agency is actually using the provided policies.

It’s likely no child has ever spent a wish on becoming a paper pusher, but it’s an unavoidable part of nearly every job. Some companies, like those serving other businesses or selling goods directly to consumers, have pivoted to cloud-based document management, while others, namely government agencies and organizations serving the public, continue along the paper trail.

Paper continues to factor into your agency’s processes through its familiarity and ubiquity. At least, that’s how it’s been until recently. Digital products have rapidly assumed a commonplace role in the day-to-day of most people’s lives. People have skilled-up entirely on their own in order to communicate where their friends, family, and colleagues spend most of their time: online.

Most agencies find moving to a cloud-based or digital document management approach provides more control over compliance (like CALEA accreditation), security, collaboration, and general efficiency. If that sounds compelling, here’s where to start.

Preparing for a paperless agency

Identify and map your paper-based workflows

You can’t go paperless without knowing how you currently use paper. Instead of asking your team to provide a run-down of all the ways they use paper, make a list of the most important documents you see on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Then it’s time for a little reverse engineering. Trace the identified documents to their source (e.g., the first iteration of a Use -of-Force report, or the officer who fielded a citizen complaint), noting every person or process it encounters along the way. This exercise will uncover the many ways paper moves through your department and provide a roadmap for digitization.

What stays, what goes

While you identify your agency’s paper-based workflows, from where they originate to where they terminate, you can begin choosing which ones you’ll digitize and which you can abandon.

This step will vary by agency. While businesses might reinvent their processes every few years, many law enforcement agencies move at a slower pace. Modes of operating continue on through generations of law enforcement, adopted and perpetuated because, “That’s just how we do it.”

Pick an agreed upon time to start digitizing…and stick to it

This is where many businesses and agencies get stuck when moving away from paper (or while navigating any kind of change). There’s where you want to be and there’s where you’re at. Balancing between those realities can be uncomfortable, but necessary, for many leaders. The time-tested way to expedite change-management is to draw a line in the sand between past and present operations.

Choose a date for your agency to fully commit to digital processes, stick to it, and accept that some paper might find its way to your desk.

Support new processes with training (preferably online)

Why and How (Most) Police Departments Should Go PaperlessTo ensure paper becomes the exception to the rule, your team will need training on your department’s new way of doing things. Once, you might have distributed print-outs to explain new methods or alert your personnel to changes. Embrace your new paperless agency by using an online training solution to teach people how to use your new digital processes. You can learn more about online training platforms, often called Learning Management Systems (LMS), here.

Why it’s worth your department’s time

Going paperless might sound daunting, but it pays off in the long run. Especially for organizations that handle a lot of data, are compelled to operate transparently, or have a field-based workforce. There are plenty of unique advantages each department will realize on the way to digitization, but we often see the following three outcomes regardless of an agency’s size or specifics.

Reduce the effort of compliance and accreditation

Law enforcement agencies are increasingly subject to a number of data transparency laws. Recent examples include California Senate Bill 1421 and Colorado’s House Bill 19-1119. Both of these laws require departments to produce documents related to internal affairs cases upon request from the public. Doing so with paper and excel spreadsheets just isn’t feasible. Consider the time your personnel would spend on a single request. What could they be doing instead?

Less paperwork, more police work

It’s a basic truth – the more time your officers spend on paperwork, the less time they’re spending out in the community. For better or worse, short-changing either isn’t acceptable, so your officers end up burning the candle at both ends. The impact is felt in your department, in your communities, and in the homes of your officers.

Improved collaboration between your agency and third-parties

No agency exists in a vacuum. Many use third-parties for training materials, accreditation management, and other operational support. Mentioned previously, most companies have started to embrace cloud content and data management. By working off paper, you won’t restrict your agency so much as devalue the impact third-party providers could have on your officers.

If you want to implement new de-escalation training, but the company only provides digital courses with online tests, would your officers be prepared to use them? Would you be able to evaluate the impact of that training by looking at whatever field reports are on hand? You might be able to do so, with enough time and assuming that data has been captured accurately. But time is a luxury in law enforcement.

Long-lasting impact

Going paperless might sound intimidating to some, but your agency will continue to feel the positive impact for years to come. Paper was the reigning method of knowledge management for…a long time. Going digital will ensure your agency can focus on issues more important than process management, like community engagement.

Learn more about the Benchmark Management System® (BMS) here.

In a 2017 study, the Vera Institute published a study on state-level police reform. They found two goals drove the majority of new laws: increase police confidence and improve police safety. Between 2015 and 2016, “34 states and the District of Columbia enacted at least 79 bills, executive orders, or resolutions . . .to change some aspect of policing policy or practice.” When looking at the entire data set, researchers identified three outcome categories for the new legislation: “improve policing practices; document police operations; and increase accountability in police use of force cases.”

There’s an underlying function all agencies must acquire in order to fully comply with these new laws without over-burdening their personnel or exhausting their budgets, and that’s the ability to effectively capture officer data. For many police executives in these states, transparent data is rarely a choice. It’s now a necessity.

Bringing a Wheelbarrow to the Indy 500

Trying to manage the data requirements of new legislation using legacy methods like spreadsheets and carbon paper is akin to racing the Indy 500 with a wheelbarrow. Even more contemporary systems like Excel falter under sophisticated reporting and redaction demands.

To some degree, this is due to an imbalance between the current reality of public sector IT and the expectations of citizens accustomed to private sector innovation. Outsiders will see any additional oversight as a natural extension of existing policies and reporting. In reality, most agencies are capturing and analyzing data through a variety of home-grown and third-party systems like CAD’s and RMS’s.

Without a holistic platform in place integrating this software, you end up with data silos that require manual intervention to yield a comprehensive report on agency activity. This disconnect leaves police executives with a massive lift to ensure their agency is compliant without burning out their sworn and civilian personnel.

However, those same expectations, and requirements, of the private sector have also driven down what once were prohibitive costs of enterprise technology. Now companies invest in shifting IT from on-premise to the cloud. As the cost of deploying software from the cloud declines, sophisticated governance and compliance technology is becoming available to police departments at costs affordable on government budgets.

California’s SB 1421: The Bearable Lightness of Data

data-is-weightlessLast year California legislators passed Senate Bill 1421. It called for agencies to make myriad record types related to police misconduct cases available to public requests.

Information that must now be available upon request includes:

  • Records related to any incident where a law enforcement officer fired a gun at a person (regardless of whether someone was hit), or used force that resulted in serious injury or death.  These records are public whether the department found the officer acted properly or not.
  • Records related to incidents where the agency found that an officer committed sexual assault against a member of the public—which includes attempts to coerce sex or proposition sex while on duty.
  • Records related to incidents where the agency found that an officer engaged in dishonesty in the investigation, reporting, or prosecution of crime or police misconduct. This kind of dishonesty could include filing a false report, testifying untruthfully, or planting evidence. (Source: ACLU of Southern California)

Many agencies were unprepared for the logistics necessary to comply with SB 1421. What they found was existing systems were incapable of handling the digitization of legacy files (including CDs and floppy disks), of which in many cases, there are entire warehouses. Post-digitization, those agencies are likely looking at terabytes of data to manage, analyze, and scrub for protected data.

California’s SB 1421 is likely to become the rule rather than the exception. Which is why police executives across the country are starting to reassess their existing technology stacks, especially in terms of governance, compliance, and risk management.

Software is a force multiplier, allowing you to do more with less while freeing your personnel to work on more valuable projects.

While every agency will derive unique value, here  are some of the general benefits agencies realize by adopting previously unavailable technology to comply with new state laws.

Reduce the risk of human error

There’s a reason we say that “to err is human.” Which is why it’s great that software is less fallible than we are. This isn’t to say you won’t require IT’s help to implement technology to support officer data initiatives. But having a system that doesn’t need sleep or caffeine to focus will drastically lower the risk you’ll lose or disclose critical data.

Cut time spent on repeat processes

human-error-data-technologyOne of the best use cases for software is automation. Remember what it was like when you had to dial someone’s number? Now you can just tap a contact’s name. The same logic plays out in the latest technology. You’ll be able to configure any enterprise software to automatically complete your data-related tasks. Whether it’s capturing data in real-time or performing analysis on it, software tackles the drudgery, leaving the critical thinking to you and your leadership team.

Offset technical debt

Technical debt is a concept used in engineering, specifically, when choosing the easier way in the near-term creates long-term consequences either known or unknown. According to the experts, there are three types of technical debt: Deliberate, Accidental, and “Bit Rot.”

The one most agencies come up against is “Accidental” technical debt. This is usually accidental due to outdated systems or software. If, at some point in your department’s history, a decision was made to stick with paper or spreadsheets because the software implementation would be too much in the near-term, then you’re likely dealing with accidental technical debt.

By investing in future-oriented technology now, you’ll need to bear the effort it’ll take to digitize your information, but down the line you’ll be more resilient if new legislature requires additional layers of data transparency.

Make existing data actionable

When data is spread across multiple systems, it takes a Herculean effort to make sense of it. You need to pull reports from each one, leaving time to manually reconcile them.  Not only does this process require time from your technical personnel (or the resources to bring in third-party data analysts), it’s also inherently retrospective. You’re never able to see things in real-time, which means your decisions are always based on outdated information. New technology makes it easy to comply with state transparency laws, and it also makes it easy for you to see holistically what’s going on in your department.

As more laws like SB 1421 make digitizing historical information mandatory, it’s more important than ever before for police executives to understand and embrace new technology. Without it, you and your officers will end up spending more time working on systems instead of working to serve your community.

Interested in learning more? See how cloud technology is helping agencies in California comply with SB 1421 here.