Law enforcement generates extraordinary amounts of data. Every call and dispatch, every arrest, and most interactions with civilians create data an agency can use for analysis. Historically, the practical application of this information has been limited to crime analysis and prevention (e.g., hot-spot policing), but the increasing availability of data and analytics makes it possible for agencies to apply similar strategies to technology-driven personnel management.

Law Enforcement’s Data Ecosystem

Much of an agency’s data is captured through deeply integrated platforms such as Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) and Records Management Systems (RMS). The emergence of CAD and RMS allows police leadership to streamline everyday operations while tracking patterns in historical data to develop sophisticated proactive strategies for crime prevention.

As agencies continue to upgrade to digital systems – including the deployment of equipment like body-worn cameras, dashcams, and V2X telemetry – it becomes easier to derive insights from officer activity. New technologies overlay existing systems to create a digital ecosystem that produces an increasing volume and quantity of data. This growth makes analysis more important, more complicated, and much harder to do well. However, it also creates an opportunity to do more with agency data.

For example, an agency could expand the focus of its data analysis beyond a criminal lens to include performance management of its officers. A recent article by Michael Armstrong, Bill Bratton and Sean Malinowski:

Performance Management has been described as an ongoing process to establish and maintain a high performance culture, focused on aligning individual objectives with the overall goals of the organization. Performance Management is characterized by inclusion and agreement on goal setting, establishing standards of measurement and immediate and ongoing collaboration and feedback. (Armstrong, M. (2006). Performance Management. London: Kogan Page)

In other words, performance management is effectively working with your officers, leveraging strengths and managing weaknesses to improve the overall outcomes of your agency’s police work. This begins with identifying what data to capture, how to effectively do so, and what the data you collect actually means. Most departments have an abundance of officer data but very few have managers trained to conduct meaningful data analysis.

up and to the right

In a previous blog, we connected this analysis of data to agency transformation (see the 5 Stages of Transformative Management for Law Enforcement). We mapped a typical agency’s journey from an undefined process to a transformative one and the distinct stages in between (including analytic). Well-documented processes with automated data collection get agencies pretty far along the path – without this data, you’d have nothing to analyze – though it takes more than just data to transform an agency. Each data point is like a rain drop. When you have a documentation process in place, you can get to the point where you know it’s raining and intuit how much rain is falling. It is Analytics that provides you with the information to decide whether or not you need an umbrella.

Using Analytics to Generate Actionable Insight

In this context, analytics refers to both the approaches and the software that can process massive amounts of varying data types within set parameters (provided by a user) to uncover patterns – achieving a level of insight that would be prohibitively difficult to do without the assistance of a computer. Law enforcement has used analytics to explore tactics to advance the efficacy of policing. This is only possible because of the data created by officers, both digital and not. At this level, an agency is just asking its officers to do paperwork. Necessary, no doubt, if only to have a chain of documents to audit. But agencies could be using this information to help officers get better at their jobs.

For the individual officer, analytics can guide continuous growth and improvement. How you measure this progress will depend on what standards your agency implements, but generally speaking, observable “growth and improvement” is any behavior that moves an officer up and to the right from whatever baseline expectations you set for them. If data indicates an officer is more likely to use force during third watches, you might consider evaluating them for sleep hygiene or avoid assigning them to third watch. It could be this individual is less likely to de-escalate when their natural sleep patterns are disrupted. Or maybe additional training paired with mindfulness coaching could be part of the solution. Instead of policy-driven management – which operates on whether an officer is following the rules or not – we can use data analysis to understand what behavior, coupled with training, leads to the best overall outcomes for an officer and the community.

This is similar to the type of ongoing growth we expect from other industries. Doctors are evaluated by their outcomes as well as subjective factors like bedside manner and perceived empathy. The same could be said for teachers, who receive regular evaluations from students and have access to myriad professional development opportunities. There is a distinct difference between an average doctor and an exceptional one; a teacher with room for improvement, and one voted Teacher of the Year.

Beyond certification for weapon and tactical systems, officers grow and improve throughout their careers. Officers are continuously refining their approach to interacting with the civilian population and each other. Yet this process of improvement is often independent of explicit agency guidance. Officers grow (or not) on their own, absent the same type of regular feedback and guidance from supervisors typically considered table stakes in other professions.

How can supervisors use data to help officers improve?

We can apply analytics to four areas of law enforcement: understanding what types of people tend to be exceptional police officers; identifying an agency’s best officers to help supervisors develop models for professional development; gauging the impact of trauma exposure on officers; and identifying and addressing behavior patterns that are likely to precede adverse events with civilians.

Policing is a difficult job. Successful officers project empathy and power simultaneously while responding appropriately to rapidly evolving situations. In the same way everyone isn’t built to play professional football or achieve Grandmaster status in chess, not every person is wired to be an officer. In theory, anyone can throw a football well or recognize opportunities on a chessboard – some just come by these skills more naturally.

Over time, we can begin to understand why certain individuals get things wrong and how others can learn from it. The stakes are undoubtedly high: mistakes can put an individual officer at risk as well as members of the community. Yet through the use of data, agencies can provide tailored, outcome-specific feedback to individual officers based on their own unique profile so they can improve.

To get these results, agencies have to familiarize themselves with the limitations of certain types of data processing. It’s a step in the right direction whenever an agency implements a process for objective self-evaluation. However, some methods for using data to manage officers that were once thought to be effective are no longer reliable sources of insight.

Beyond trigger-based personnel management

A primary example of using data more effectively to manage and support officers is the use of early warning systems. Since the 1970’s, agencies implemented early warning systems to flag officers acting outside a predetermined norm. Supervisors configured the system’s “triggers” using a blend of experience and intuition. Research has shown this approach is ineffective: trigger-based systems fail to correctly identify off-track officers. Further, they focus solely on what not to do rather than what officers could be doing to improve.

Data Science empowers us to move beyond these simple mechanics. Instead of intuition, we can use insight generated through rigorous analysis of longitudinal data. This enables an agency to provide tailored management to its officers. This leads to more effective policing and by extension a safer, and engaged, community.

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.

Tasks

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.

Strategies

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.

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.
changing-legislation

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.

If you type “work-life balance” in a search engine, it is often defined as the harmony between personal and professional activities, related to an individual’s job and presence at home.

Continue reading “How to Help Your Officers Establish a Work-Life Balance”

Historically, officer wellness has been viewed as the physical fitness of an officer. Today’s agencies recognize it’s important to show officers how to take care of both their bodies and mind. Emerging technology can help agencies better understand how the stresses of policing affect an officer’s mental health and provide guidance on how leadership can support personnel before the stakes are raised by a critical incident.

Continue reading “Implementing Policing Technology to Make a Difference in Officer Wellness”

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”

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.

You already know your department produces a lot of data. As we shared in a previous post, researchers from the University of Chicago identified seven areas of data that provide law enforcement leaders with actionable insight:

  • Training and Certifications
  • An Officer’s On-Duty Activity
  • Use-of-Force Incidents
  • Internal Affairs Review and Case Management
  • Community Engagement
  • Performance Evaluations
  • Officer Profile – a LEO’s historic and holistic record

Even if you’re still evaluating systems to manage and track all of this data creation, it’s never too early to start thinking about how this data can help you elevate your agency’s performance.

Strategic Applications of Your People Data

1. Cultivate Future Leaders

police-data-helpTomorrow’s police executives patrol today’s streets. These future leaders look to you and your executive team to define what it means to be a police officer, and they will carry that interpretation with them into future management roles. This is why it’s critical to identify these natural leaders sooner rather than later. People data won’t explicitly pinpoint the officers in your agency who have the makings of a future chief, but a combination of intuition and data-backed insight can guide your focus to high-performing officers with the traits and track records that should be recognized and cultivated.

2. Identify Causes of Low Morale

Gauging employee morale is a common use-case for people data. There are certain morale indicators that are profession-agnostic, meaning it doesn’t matter if you’re an accountant or a police officer, chronic underperformance with a history of satisfactory or exemplary work needs to be examined for underlying issues. Low morale is particularly counter-productive when it affects officers who don’t feel supported by management and city officials. By surfacing trends in performance and attendance, people data can help you identify root causes and pre-empt a trend before it becomes a wide-spread issue.

3. Measure the Impact of Your Training Investments

Whether it’s the result of a mandate or simply best practice, continuous training is essential to the careers of your officers.  An officer who isn’t properly trained isn’t set up to succeed in any department. This is what makes training a two-fold objective: not only do you have to make sure it’s delivered in an effective way, but you also have to track whether it’s been integrated into an officer’s routine.

People data can show you where training is adopted and where it’s failing to take root.

4. Pinpoint Barriers to Your Cultural Expectations

As the public and media increase the scrutiny leveled at police departments, how you evaluate and manage your agency’s culture is more important than ever. Though the “bad apple” theory has long been debunked as insufficient, there’s still weight behind organizational culture.

officer-standing-people-dataWhether we notice it or not, our peers shape the way we perceive the world, and in a police department that can be problematic if that world-view doesn’t align with yours or the public’s expectations for your officers. Using people data, you can evaluate what types of behaviors perpetuate across your agency and determine whether those are in line with values you champion as an agency. If they don’t, the data should give you a head start on correcting these issues before the inertia makes it difficult to intervene.

5. Know When (and How) to Intervene with Off-track Officers

Much like historical crime data can be used to guide your policing strategy, people data can be used to inform how you coach officers with a track record of problematic behavior. Increasingly, early warning systems have been recognized as an effective tool to track officer misconduct and citizen complaints. While these systems represent a step in the right direction, they often fall short at solving the problem as they depend on threshold triggers, leading to a situation where excessive false positives make it difficult to meaningfully use the data.

Focus On Insights with Your Data Analysis

The maturation of people data and its underlying technologies makes a different system possible, one that uses the past to proactively shape the future. If it wasn’t before, it should now be clear that data analysis can be a slippery slope. Which is why it’s critical to put frameworks, and technology, in place that offsets our biases and emotions.

If you’re looking for a place to start, check out Benchmark Analytics’ free self-assessment.