This is the third installment of a three-part series that explores the intersections of professional standards, personnel management, and data in law enforcement.
Use of force incidents, often involving weapons discharges, have taken center stage in propelling policing into this new era of reform and renewed emphasis on community relations. Smartphones and social media saturation mean that use of force instances can be documented and transmitted worldwide, often permanently shaping the public narrative long before any investigation is completed. What isn’t new is the principle that transparency and accountability are absolutely critical to rebuilding public trust – areas in which data and personnel management play a vital role.
Documenting and reporting the use of force is critical to giving the public and policymakers a window into how force is applied and in what circumstances. Researchers and policymakers use this data to understand better the conditions leading to a deterioration of public trust – and what strategies can contribute to restoring faith in policing. For these efforts to be effective, this data must be verifiable and trustworthy . . . free from questions of influence . . . and withstand the test of three key measurements:
The success of transparency and accountability efforts hinges on the public and policymakers trusting that the systems and providers they use are impartial when collecting and analyzing data. The demands for transparency and accountability are driven, in part, by distrust in the disclosure of use of force statistics, Internal Affairs investigations, and inconsistencies in misconduct reporting. Impartial reporting can help reshape the narrative around policing – emphasizing the consistent application of policy and professional standards as well as demonstrating positive policing outcomes.
Can a weapons company be genuinely neutral and meaningfully impartial when building systems that document their use?
Due partly to the prevalence of social media and a 24-hour news cycle, high-profile incidents involving the use of force significantly contribute to growing calls for transparency into police operations. Whether justified, outside of policy or accidental, weapons discharges are often at the center of these incidents that contribute to the erosion of public trust in police amidst rising crime rates.
There is a fundamental conflict with a company that markets both weapons and software aiming to enhance accountability and transparency. How could a company that benefits from weapons sales be trusted to be transparent with its data management software? They’re on both sides of the issue, creating a problematic public perception.
Use of force incidents contribute to a breakdown in community/police relations. There is an inherent tension in marketing weapons, whether they’re lethal or “less-lethal,” to increase community trust in police. As the old saying goes, “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” and it seems that weapons are unlikely to contribute to a solution for the problem their misuse has caused.
How will your community respond when they learn a company that manufactures weapons is providing software that attempts to increase trust and transparency? Will this do anything to promote community policing objectives or de-escalate anxiety about incidents of use of force?
Analytics for Change
At Benchmark Analytics, our purpose is guided by data science and evidence-based analysis. We specialize in public safety personnel management – it is our area of unique expertise. When we gather and analyze data sets, we use the product of that work for personnel management, professional standards, and early intervention. Taking this a step further, we work in partnership with our academic research consortium and use this data to contribute to a broader understanding of policing for the public good. We do not use it to market weapons systems or other unrelated products.
Use of force incidents and how the public perceives them are transforming policing. A rising national crime rate, combined with the policy pushes for reform, has created an environment in which a commitment to transparency and accountability are paramount to the success of law enforcement leaders and their agencies. Simply, maintaining the public’s trust is critical. When selecting a personnel management system, don’t open the door to doubts about impartiality, transparency, and trust.