The annual Midwest Security and Police Conference and Expo (MSPCE) 2019 was recently held at the Tinley Park Convention Center. The conference brought together law enforcement (LE) leaders from across Illinois within a 35,000-foot exhibit hall – and included informational sessions presented by security and LE professionals, professors, psychologists, authors and financial experts.

Benchmark Analytics had the opportunity to exhibit, as well as learn more about the challenges and opportunities in 21st century policing. Here are some of our key takeaways from participating at MSCPE 2019:

Agencies want to track community engagement.

It’s important for law enforcement agencies to establish public trust, and many agencies participate in community engagement activities to support this initiative. Just a few examples of community engagement activities include meeting local business owners, attending meetings and events, or participating in community projects. Many law enforcement leaders at MSCPE were interested to learn more about how they could track these efforts.Community Engagement

Being able to track and manage community interactions provides agencies the data they need to understand what’s contributing to proactive enforcement and community partnerships. It also provides a framework for leveraging that momentum to build sustainable positive engagement with their communities.

As an example, the Benchmark Community Engagement platform tracks and manages the time and effort officers spend engaging with the community, as well as records feedback received. This help agencies collaborate from an informed position and ensure their department is continuously responsive to community-based issues and activities.

Officer wellness goes beyond physical health.

MSPCE 2019 provided an informational session, PTS, Why Cops Experience Traumatic Stress Differently and discussed the importance of building resiliency, managing and treating officers, as well as making positive choices about diet, nutrition and exercise.

Police officers have a wide variety of tasks and duties, which of course can include responding to extreme incidents. So it’s no surprise that these extreme incidents and on-the-job trauma can contribute to higher rates of PTSD, depression and mental illness among officers. In fact, some mental health challenges are more prevalent among the law enforcement population (Statistics are underreported for police):

  • PTSD: 35% for police officers vs 6.8% in general population
  • Depression: 9% – 31% vs 6.7% in general population
  • Suicidal thoughts: 7% of officers have persistent thoughts of suicide

Other associations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and Police Executive Research Form (PERF), have symposiums, toolkits and webinars dedicated to supporting the mental wellness of police officers.

Use-of-force data is critical.

Also a prominent topic at MSPCE was the FBI’s launch of its National Use-of-Force Data Collection. According to their official press release, the database is “in an effort to promote more informed conversations regarding law enforcement use of force in the United States.”Use-of-Force Data

This initiative, which has been discussed at many conferences and meetings this year, has prompted agencies to look at how they document incidents, collect and organize information, review use-of-force reports, and access related data and analytics. By utilizing use-of-force data and analytics, agencies have the opportunity to notice any positive or negative trends, which can create a pathway for agencies to recognize and help their officers accordingly.

What to do next.

These are just three of the key takeaways from this year’s MSPCE, but there is so much more to be discussed. Join us in keeping the conversation going by visiting us at the National Internal Affairs Investigators Association Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as well as at the IACP Annual Conference (Booth #4839) in Chicago in October. Benchmark Analytics will be demoing its Officer Management and Early Intervention platforms, as well as providing insight and informational sessions on officer wellness, 21st century policing and other critical topics in law enforcement today.

(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.

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.

police-green-lantern-historical

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.)

Does your early intervention system allow you to identify potential problems and intervene with customized responses at the very first sign that something could be going wrong? Here are 6 must-haves to look for when evaluating how well your current early warning system is serving you and your department.

1. Research-based

We know that research and analytics play a major role in human capital management across almost all professions and industries. We should be looking outside of law enforcement to inform ourselves on best practices that can be applied to the unique needs and goals of police departments. That means considering an early intervention system that is grounded in research and fueled by an analytics engine.

2. Go beyond simple triggers

If a system is using arbitrary, blanket metrics to indicate when an action is needed, then most likely you’re not getting a true reading or meaningful insight on your officer activity and behavior. Take for example an officer who gets three use-of-force complaints in a 12-month period and then is automatically elevated to an intervention program. Shouldn’t we know the context? Like total number of arrests . . . or the nature of those arrests . . . or historical activity for that officer, to name a few. Look for a solution that provides a window into context, patterns of problematic behavior and officer history.

3. Reduce ‘false positives’

The 6 Must-Haves of an Early Intervention SystemThis goes hand-in-hand with #2. Nothing can be more disheartening than to have an officer who is doing a phenomenally great job incorrectly flagged for off-track behavior. These ‘false positives’ are demoralizing and can be timely and costly by the time you identify and course-correct the flagging. Look for a system that only identifies officers who are truly engaged in a pattern that suggests their behavior might be trending off track, so you can provide them with the support they need to get back on track.

4. Be preventative and proactive

How many times have we heard someone say – or even ourselves have thought – “if only I would have known sooner”? When it comes to off-track behavior, timing is critical . . . and, it goes without saying, the sooner the better to step in and take action. Find a system that identifies and proactively notifies you at the first sign of an officer who is trending off track, and who has a real need for intervention to get back on track. It’s the difference between being preventative vs. reactive.

5. Be compliant

Look for an early intervention system that is configured to protect you from officer misconduct and rising liability costs. Does it comply with the body of standards proposed by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA)? Does it incorporate the best practices and elements of the ethics toolkit developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)? What about the performance guidelines on officer conduct recommended by the Department of Justice (DOJ)? A system that meets all these criteria helps you safeguard against problematic behavior and the staggering price tag of liability settlements.

6. Built to improve accountability

You definitely want a solution that works to the specific operations, needs and goals of your police department. Does it allow supervisors and commanders to review and compare data for individual officers and units – even down to watches? Can you assign intervention actions for problematic behavior in need of correction? What about making recommendations for exceptional performance? Remember, the goal is to enlist a system that helps you improve overall accountability.

Selecting the right early intervention system is so key to the success of your department. Keep this checklist in mind when evaluating your current system and the options available to you.

To learn about First Sign™ Early Intervention, click here.

Thinking of replacing your current early intervention or early warning system — or exploring getting your first one? dominosHere are three essential things to consider as you weigh your options, in support of your professional standards within your agency:

1) Real-world policing experience

Anyone can claim to do anything — and they often do. That’s why when it comes to an early intervention system, you should look for one that’s been built by people who know what it means to walk in your shoes. Were they at one time an officer themselves? Or a member of a command staff? Or perhaps worked in a mayor’s or city manager’s office? Bringing that real-world experience to the table can mean the difference between a limited, ineffective offering to a nuanced solution that’s built specifically for the needs of law enforcement agencies.

2) Best-in-class technology

The greatest software idea can fail miserably before it’s out of the gate if its technological framework doesn’t support your needs. How configurable is it to your department’s requirements, policies and goals? Is it fully automated, simple and secure? Is it built to integrate with your existing systems? How intuitive is it, for user friendliness and ease of use? These are all questions you should seek answers to when searching for a new professional standards early warning system.

3) Research based

Look for a police early intervention system that’s grounded in research. What we know from other professions is that the right data, brought together with the right analyses, intervening with the right support, can make a dramatic difference in how organizations function and operate. The same holds true for law enforcement, where research, data and analytics can drive preventative intervention for trending off-track behavior — before it escalates into a larger, more challenging problem for an officer and your department.

Obviously, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for departments across the board. But these are three critical criteria to consider — so that ultimately you and your officers are supported with a system that is easy-to-use, fair and unbiased . . . and one that can navigate the complexities you and your department faces every day.

For more information on First Sign™ Early Intervention, click here.