New Early Intervention System Best Practices for Law Enforcement

Even though Early Intervention Systems have existed in concept and practice since 1989, most agencies haven’t been able to implement a truly proactive instance of one. Historically, EI systems have been developed using thresholds and simple triggers to identify personnel exhibiting off-track behavior. What results is a necessarily retroactive method of supporting your officers, as the problematic behavior must occur before a supervisor receives an alert to address it. This simple system will always fail to realize the full potential of the Early Intervention programs.

In its latest report, Law Enforcement Best Practices: Lessons Learned from the Field, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) identified Early Intervention Systems as an important issue for law enforcement executives and personnel. Why now? Because computing power has finally caught up to what was required by the original vision for effective EI systems. And because more than ever we need to be providing officers with the right type of research-backed support at the right time.

What Type of Agency Uses an Early Intervention System?

According to the COPS report, “65% of police departments with over 250 officers had [an EI system] in place.” Because simple triggers were the norm until recently, we know these systems are less effective than they could be.

According to research conducted by our partners at the University of Chicago, EI systems using triggers produce 89% false negatives (i.e., officers who are likely to exhibit off-track behavior are not flagged by the EI system) and 71% false positives (i.e., the officers flagged by your system aren’t actually at-risk of off-track behavior).

Put simply, if you’re relying on triggers to flag at-risk officers, it’s unlikely you’ll ever succeed in identifying the right personnel at the right time. Trigger systems produce these results because they treat every officer – regardless of when or where they’re patrolling – in the same way. This doesn’t reflect the real world of policing.

Early Intervention as a Management Process

The COPS report defines an Early Intervention system as “a management process used in law enforcement agencies to monitor employee performance or behavior via administrative data.” The key word here is data. As mentioned, simple triggers won’t provide the insight you really need to have a meaningful impact in supporting your personnel. Without data, you are just taking a shot in the dark. New EI systems, like Benchmark’s First Sign®, take a data-driven approach. Meaning the system is designed to reflect the specifics of your agency’s data, allowing you and your supervisors to draw informed conclusions based on patterns of behavior and risk factors unavailable to those using simple triggers.

The report also emphasizes an EI System is “not designed to be punitive, but rather a proactive tool.” Again, this only becomes possible when you start with the data.

Anatomy of a Successful Early Intervention Program

If you’re starting to evaluate EI systems for your agency – or re-evaluating an existing one – you’ll find the COPS report valuable. In it, they lay out what makes for a successful EI program.

– It identifies personnel in need of support while also identifying the right support, intervention or training to put the officer back on track.
– It helps an agency better audit the types of training and support it currently has in place, surfacing data that enables supervisors to develop better interventions and provide tailored support.
– It necessitates policies and procedures to ensure personnel are trained to use it, thus ensuring a broad awareness of both the benefits of an EI system as well as the types of data factored into its analysis.
– It’s communicated effectively to the rank-and-file. This offsets any fear or apprehension about a system that could easily be perceived as disciplinary, though it’s critical to emphasize the proactive and non-disciplinary nature.
– It’s easily leveraged by First-Line Supervisors (another focus of this report), ensuring adoption and data fidelity to allow the system to provide valuable insights to stave off at-risk behavior in personnel.

The report is full of invaluable perspective for police executives. We’ll continue to share what we think are the most salient points for agencies looking to implement truly proactive, data-driven EI systems. In the meantime, you can read the full report here.