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.
Evidence-based practice is not unique to policing. In fact, its proponents belong to a variety of professions, including medicine, management and public policy. For example, in the late 90’s, medical educators began to advocate for “Best Evidence Medical Education.” The movement emerged to promote medical training developed through “intellectual rigor” rather than ‘intuition and tradition.’ (Source)
Policing’s Recent Hypothesis
In 1998, American criminologist Lawrence Sherman proposed a new approach to advancing law enforcement that would draw inspiration from the sciences. He called it “evidence-based policing.” (Source)
Evidence-based policing is the use of the best available research on the outcomes of police work…it uses the best evidence to shape the best practice. – Lawrence Sherman
As Sherman saw it, evidence-based policing (EBP) could be explained with three T’s: Targeting, Testing, and Tracking. Targeting, as defined by Sherman, is “the systematic analysis of distribution and rank orderings of the frequency, seriousness, and patterns of persistence or desistance of harm known to police around all units of a certain category: offenders, victims, micro-place ‘hot spots,’ neighborhoods, and others.” Essentially, the success of EBP hinges on data collection.
Data Science for Crime Reduction
Initially, EBP practitioners focused their efforts on crime reduction. Sherman believed information from systematic or scientific research, as well as rigorous crime analysis, should be regularly used and generated by the police to make both strategic and tactical decisions. In partnership with colleagues and agencies, Sherman sought to understand which law enforcement practices and tactics led to the best results. This understanding would allow police executives to better allocate resources, and minimize instances where police officers spin their wheels trying to reduce crime with strategies formed through the gut instinct of previous generations. Today, we’re seeing researchers advocate to push EBP further upstream, to include – and analyze – data produced by officers, from the day they enter the academy.
Closing the Loop with Training
“We know virtually nothing about the short- or long-term effects associated with police training of any type.” (Source).
Throughout life, usually early on, a person develops one of two mindsets about themselves: either fixed or growth. An individual operating with a fixed mindset believes that who they are in terms of potential – intellectually, physically, emotionally – is a known quantity, set from birth, unchanging over time. Every failure or setback represents an innate boundary. Whereas an individual with a growth mindset sees themself as nothing but potential. Every failure or setback is an opportunity to learn. Feedback data isn’t a wall, it’s a staircase.
Evidence-based policing emerged from researchers who embraced a growth mindset about law enforcement. Police executives can use EBP to uncover and shape best practice in policing. And there’s no better to place to start than with your training. What do you need to align your training with EBP?
Commitment to Transparency
A fixed mindset thrives in the dark. The first step to learning from less-than-ideal practices is acknowledging they exist. We train to avoid making mistakes when it counts. However, there’s a broader analysis to be done on training, specifically as it relates to performance in the field. If we track an officer’s training, but not their performance throughout their career, then what do we learn about the training they received? Very little, if anything at all.
Investment in Analytics
Which is why investing in analytics and data capture is essential to deriving the benefits of EBP in your training. Crime reduction was realized by longitudinally capturing and comparing the use and efficacy of common police interventions. It became possible to draw conclusions about which interventions had the greatest impact on crime given a certain set of variables. The same method can be applied to police training if the data exists to support it. Which is why the first step in this process is ensuring your agency has systems in place to both capture and manage data through analysis.
Willingness to Experiment
Data is great on its own, but simply having it won’t yield the insights we’ve seen applied so effectively in other areas of policing. Researchers enjoy working with police departments because they represent a wealth of data. As you consider investing in new training, or revising existing programs, it could be worth reaching out to research-oriented companies or organizations to help you set the framework to evaluate them holistically.
Training that Scales with You
Evidence-based policing is a scientific method for finding the best tool in your toolbox, and recognizing when that tool no longer meets the needs of the job. While people tend to stay the same (at least through a behavioral lens), the environment we inhabit, and the ways in which we inhabit it, seems to be changing with more speed and variability than previous generations. EBP is a means to work with that change instead of against it. By adopting an EBP-mindset you’re preparing your officers to succeed today, while sharing an evaluation model that ensures they succeed in the future.
The first step to evidence-based policing is implementing a system that can intelligently collect and analyze all the data your agency produces. The more information you have, the better your decisions will be, which creates a ripple effect of optimization that increases the likelihood your officers will have a long and safe career.
Training doesn’t have a sterling record in the business world. Studies have found that after one hour, people forget more than 50% of a lesson.
This isn’t necessarily new information, either. In the 19th century, German Psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus, published research demonstrating “The Forgetting Curve.” He found that humans forget 40% of what they learn within 20 minutes.
After 9 hours, we’ve forgotten about 64%.
And yet we continue to train because we continue to uncover new approaches and new skills that can be critical to influencing how we work. The act of training itself isn’t falling short as much as the tools we use to deliver and reinforce it.
Organizations use Learning Management Systems (LMS) to provide training to their employees at scale. This software is often deployed using a Software-as-a-service (SaaS), or online training, model. Which means you and your team can access the software in the field, at your desk, or at home, without losing momentum.
Know What You Want from Your LMS
efore transitioning to a new LMS, or choosing one for the first time, it’s important to articulate exactly what you hope to get from it. SMART is a helpful framework for goal-setting that’s probably familiar. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
For example, a SMART goal could be:
- 100% of patrol officers will have completed the revised Use of Force training by May 12, 2019.
- By 2021, new de-escalation training will reduce citizen complaints by 25%
If you find you can’t execute against your goals with your current system, work with your team to find out why. Is it due to software limitations or something else? This will help you identify which features will be most important to your team should you choose to implement a new or different LMS.
What to Ask Before You Start Goal-Setting
Once you’ve decided to pursue an LMS, create a rubric to guide your decision making. It should reflect your goals for the system, as well as any internal or external mandates your agency must comply with.
Support the certification of your officers
Certification is a critical part of an officer’s career. For better or worse, many advances in technology entail a certification process: breathalyzers, TASERS, firearms. The list goes on. This can make staying compliant feel like a full-time job, a responsibility that’s only exacerbated by outdated tools like desktop spreadsheets. An LMS can automate much of this process, thus reducing your overall department risk of under-delivering on training (and increasing your exposure to liability) while improving the training experience for your officers. Leveraging this automation lets you comfortably co-exist with the complexity of maintaining certifications across your entire department.
Reduce the burden of data management (literally…and figuratively)
Binders are no one’s friend. Especially when you’re trying to deliver crucial training in use of force or active shooters. Using an LMS lets you deliver courses to your team through a centralized digital classroom that’s easily maintained by your trainers. This enables your department to stay nimble in understanding how to respond to emerging threats while maintaining best practices in other areas.
Confidently review status updates on the progress of officer training
When a salesperson misunderstands or fails to adopt tactics from a coaching session, the worst-case scenario is some prospect enduring a bad pitch. For police officers, the consequences are high-stakes. Using an LMS provides your leadership team with a single view into training adoption and progress. This is especially useful during accreditation processes like the one offered by CALEA, or when maintaining training standards mandated by the state or POST.
Minimize your department’s exposure to risk
If an officer’s performance is ever scrutinized by a third-party external to your department, the last thing you want is gaps in training data (or people data in general). An LMS allows you to easily generate documentation that shows a holistic view of the your officer’s training history, which you can refine to only include data relevant to the case in question. This ease of reporting extends to any request for officer records like those solicited under FOIA.
Provide your officers with the tools to continuously hone and learn important skills
Perhaps most important, an LMS provides the digital infrastructure your officers need to perform at their best. It also provides you with the insight you need to shape future training goals based on performance or knowledge gaps that reveal themselves through your department’s data.
Which Features Support Your Goals?
Once you have the goals for your LMS documented, you can start to identify which features and functionally you’ll need to support them. Here are some examples of options you’ll encounter:
- Tracking adoption and training activity
- Reporting on compliance and officer performance
- Integrations with other technology you use to track Use of Force, Community Engagement activities, as well as performance evaluation
- SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) Compliance, which is a content development standard used by training providers; this is especially important if you rely on a lot of third-party content for training
- User interface (how does it look to your learners and trainers, and how easy is it to use?)
As you think about your current training resources and how you’d like to see them evolve in the coming years, consider whether or not they can support SMART goals to the same degree an LMS can. If not, it’s likely time to consider a new solution.