By Laura Neitzel, Police1 BrandFocus Staff
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Early intervention systems (EIS) were originally implemented to identify police officers with involved in excessive use of force and other types of misconduct. EIS have since evolved to become powerful tools for getting officers who have been exposed to stressors on and off the job proactive intervention before the officer’s behavior escalates into a bigger problem.
Even the best officers have stressors
Police officers are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to sharing their experiences and emotions. In a profession where officers are supposed to be heroes and good guys, it can be difficult to admit – even to themselves – when the armor is showing a few cracks.
The nature of the job itself introduces stressors that can take a toll on even the conscientious and the brave. While responding to mass casualty events is known to induce PTSD in first responders, often it’s the day-to-day events that can add up.
Charles Craft, a 32-year law enforcement veteran and retired chief of police from Troy, Michigan, recounts the day that one of his most capable and trusted officers reached a breaking point.
“I had a sergeant who had been one of the supervisors of our traffic safety function for many, many years,” Craft said. “He came to me very upset and said, ‘I need to get out. I cannot do another death notification. I can’t take it.'”
The on-the-job death notifications, along with two bereavement leaves taken for family members who had died, had pushed the officer to the point where he was ready to quit.
“The reason he was doing notifications is because he had tremendous interpersonal skills and he was capable of communicating,” said Craft. “We transferred him to a spot in our community services section that dealt with the public and in a much lighter fashion. He thrived, did a really good job for us and retired from that position eventually.”
While this story has a happy ending – a good officer who stayed instead of leaving the profession – Craft feels lucky that the officer came to him at a time when they did not have an EIS in place.
Turn reaction into pre-emption
The earliest EIS were reactive and usually looked at intervention only after an officer’s problematic behavior had drawn unwelcome attention.
Today’s EIS, like Agency Intelligence from Tyler Technologies, actively monitor a wide range of factors that can affect an officer’s performance. These factors range from obvious potential problems – like use of force, vehicle pursuits, firearm discharges or citizen complaints – to the less obvious, like leave usage, worker’s compensation claims or secondary employment.
“For internal usage, an EIS is used to determine if there’s a problem developing or an officer is experiencing some issue that you can intercede with and then prevent,” said Craft.
Police officers are people, too, he says, and are subject to the same kind of stressors as everyone else. Factors like tardiness or excessive use of sick leave can be useful for identifying individuals with potential performance problems.
“Officers go home every day and everything that happens to everybody else in life happens to them. Cars break down, home repairs happen, children misbehave, you have problems between spouses and partners, and all those human things happen,” said Craft. “Anything that’s causing an officer stress or problems are going to cause problems for the department. We can try to work through that.”
An essential system for officer wellness
Another area where an EIS is a critical tool for agency leadership is in officer wellness and suicide prevention. Officers are frequently exposed to traumatic events that can affect not only their job performance but their mental and physical health, as well.
“Law enforcement officers experience job-related stressors that can range from interpersonal conflicts to experiencing traumatic events such vehicle crashes, homicides and suicides. This cumulative exposure can affect officers’ mental and physical health, contributing to problems such as post-traumatic stress symptoms, substance misuse, depression and suicidal ideation.” – National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide
Additional factors like divorce, a death in the family or financial or legal troubles can compound the work stressors and precipitate a mental health crisis. The key is to be alert to changes in an individual’s behavior, and EIS technology can help highlight potential red flags.
“It’s not just your assignment,” said Craft. “You have an individual pattern that develops the way you conduct yourself. When your pattern changes dramatically, there needs to be an alert. That’s where technology is really vital in early intervention.”
An EIS will analyze call records to identify situations when an officer may have responded to a high number of stressful incidents or even a single traumatic incident. By also connecting that call data to personal information, such as leave request or changes to addresses or insurance beneficiaries and other personal information, an EIS can help agency administrators uncover deeper issues and offer resources to support that officer’s mental health.
“As a tool that may help agencies identify officers in need of support and intervention before their performance suffers, EIS can assist agencies as they strive to help their employees reach their full potential,” reads a May 2020 report on Early Intervention Systems published by the IACP Law Enforcement Policy Center.
For both the officer’s sake and for the public’s sake, says Craft, it’s important to look for these indicators that allow agencies to provide their officers with critical support.
“Ultimately that’s going to help us provide better service to the public,” he said.
Visit Tyler Technologies to learn more about early intervention.
Read next: Today’s early intervention systems do more than identify risks and problem officers