Dr. Ugochi Jones – Vice President of Data Science at Benchmark Analytics

“I’ve always been impressed by people who go into service, particularly public service. It’s tough; the things they deal with is not routine – they juggle complex societal issues and stressors across several environments. In my position, I use data science and machine learning to assist officers in their pursuit of being exceptional public servants.”

In law enforcement data science, blending academic insight with real-world application is key to success. The data science team at Benchmark Analytics studies various data points, ranging from officer attributes to arrest records, policy documents, articles, and public datasets. They create machine learning algorithms that can identify data patterns, which can be utilized in fostering safer work environments for officers and the communities they serve. We had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Ugochi Jones, Vice President of Data Science at Benchmark Analytics, to gain insight into the life of a data scientist within the company.

Dr. Jones has always had a clear mission throughout her career: leverage her love for data and technology to assist public servants in providing better support to their communities. However, her path to law enforcement was not a straight line.  She started at Stanford University, where she studied Electrical Engineering in the hope of building the next generation of computers. A pivotal moment came during a summer internship at Intel, where she attended a conference on human-computer interaction that changed the course of her professional journey.

“The whole field was new to me. They were discussing user-centered design and advocating that technology should be designed to fit the context and goals of the user rather than forcing the user to conform to the technology.  It was an angle I had never been exposed to. Honestly, I had always believed that the challenge was in creating the tech itself, but now I realize it’s actually about creating technology that empowers the people using it.”

As a result of this realization, she pursued a master’s degree in Computer Science at Stanford University with a specialization in Human-Computer Interaction. Later, she attained a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences and Technology Design, where she focused on developing technology to support teachers and students in reaching their full potential.

Dr. Jones earned her doctorate degree and then became a postdoctoral researcher and later a faculty member at DePaul University.  While at DePaul, she collaborated with the Digital Youth Network (DYN) and used big data to identify barriers and opportunities to increase participation in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) educational activities for women and underrepresented students. Later, she joined ThinkCERCA, an educational technology startup, where she continued to leverage data and technology to improve learning outcomes for students.

It was during her time at ThinkCERCA that she met Benchmark’s Chief Research Officer, Nick Montgomery, who introduced her to the world of policing. Recognizing the parallels between her background in education and the challenges faced in policing, she accepted an offer to join Benchmark and contribute to their mission of transforming personnel management in policing through research-based, data-driven solutions.

“I remember thinking, ‘You’ve got the wrong person. I don’t know the first thing about law enforcement.’ But after chatting with Nick, I started to see a potential fit. Police officers – like teachers – are public servants who aim to support and create healthy communities.”

For Nick Montgomery, there was never any doubt that Dr. Jones would make a significant impact in her role: “Based on her background and approach, I knew she was the right person for the job.”

Currently, Dr. Jones leads a team of six data scientists dedicated to understanding policing data, its context, and the dynamics involved in creating data-driven solutions that promote effective personnel management policies and practice. As she sees it, her primary objective is maintaining high standards by asking probing questions and encouraging her team to think critically about their methodologies. The team’s guiding principle is straightforward: only products that pass through intensive scrutiny and answer the right questions – born from hours of critical evaluation – are greenlit for release.

Ultimately, Dr. Jones sees herself as a guide and mentor whose approach fosters a collaborative environment where open dialogue and adaptability are the norms.

“I see my role as more of a coach than a direct manager. Our data scientists are brilliant and invested in their work . . . I always make it clear to them that they are the experts. Ultimately, they shape the product. I provide parameters and I am open to pushback. I make it explicit that if they have concerns or differing opinions, they should voice them. My role becomes much easier when the team believes in the mission and is dedicated to producing quality work. “

Under Dr. Jones’s leadership, a notable achievement has been developing First Sign®, Benchmark’s early intervention system (EIS), which can identify off-track officer behavior with 85% model precision. First Sign is the only research-based EIS system that uses machine learning to adapt to the evolving dynamics of risk. Traditional trigger-based EIS platforms have seen sluggish adoption and inconsistent outcomes, with a model precision of 29% – incorrectly flagging officers as “at-risk” five times more often than First Sign. These inconsistent and unreliable results from those systems have cast a shadow over early intervention systems in general, often creating mistrust among those in law enforcement.

Part of Dr. Jones’s role is overcoming that mistrust. Her strategy involves shifting agency shareholder perceptions and the use of EIS systems as punitive systems to one that supports officer improvement. Additionally, she guides agencies away from trigger-based systems, which fail to assess risk accurately.

“It’s about helping officers and their colleagues use data to understand what, why, and where officers need support, and communicating that message in a way that’s constructive and actionable and does not form mistrust in the system or put officers on the defensive.”

Reflecting on her achievements at Benchmark, Dr. Jones takes pride in the advancements her team has made in refining First Sign’s efficacy. She emphasizes that the end goal is never static; success requires customizing solutions to align with the specific demands of the agency. Dr. Jones views her role as ongoing, with unique technical and implementation challenges presented by each new project. Ultimately, she asserts that technology must be flexible to serve its users effectively, a sentiment that echoes the insight taken from the lecture that began her career: technology is a tool to empower and help people achieve their goals.

Dr. Ugochi Jones’ journey is a testament to the transformative power of data science when guided by empathy, commitment, and a deep understanding of the human aspect of technology. Her work at Benchmark is not just about numbers and algorithms; it’s about empowering agencies and the communities they serve — and paving the way for a more equitable future.