By Laura Neitzel, Police1 BrandFocus Staff
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It’s often said in law enforcement agencies that 90% of the problems are caused by 10% of the officers. This maxim is rooted, in part, in a 1981 study by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights titled Who is Guarding the Guardians? that first documented data revealing that a small percentage of officers generated a disproportionate number of citizen complaints. As a result, the Commission recommended that a system be devised to assist officials in the early identification of violence-prone officers.
Ten years later, the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers was caught on video and broadcast around the world, further cementing the idea of the problem officer. The investigating commission identified 44 officers with extremely high rates of complaints that were “readily identifiable” from departmental records, but the department had taken no corrective action.
Similar investigations – with similar findings – happened around the United States and spurred several agencies to develop early warning or early intervention systems that used criteria like citizen complaints, use-of-force incidents, official reprimands and firearm discharges to identify officers in need of training or counseling.
The Evolution of Early Intervention Systems
Fast forward to today, where the environment law enforcement is required to operate in demands that agencies demonstrate accountability and transparency while also ensuring optimal health, wellness and operations. Technology can help agency leadership accomplish these goals.
Most notably, thanks to the evolution of technology and the integration of computer-aided dispatch, records management systems and other critical tools, today’s early intervention systems do much more than their forebearers. Today’s EISs provide agency leadership with direct access to centralized data that not only highlights pre-set indicators the agency wants to track, but provides the means for supervisors to collect, analyze and act on information.
EISs still accomplish their original objective of identifying potential risks so that problem behaviors can be corrected through intervention and training, but current versions – powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning – allow agencies to also be proactive in supporting officers on and off the job in areas like safety, job satisfaction and mental and physical wellness.
Being alert to the warning signs
“An early intervention system identifies certain indicators that can impact officer performance and then lead to problems for that officer and the organization,” said Charles Craft, a 32-year law enforcement veteran and retired chief of police from Troy, Michigan. “You need to protect against that.”
The last thing any agency wants – which unfortunately happens with some frequency – is for an officer to be involved in an incident and then reports surface that either the agency missed red flags or knew about them and did nothing.
Officer activities that may indicate cause for possible concern include an above-the-norm volume of citizen complaints, vehicle pursuits, use of force or incidents of subjects resisting arrest. These actions, above a certain agency-determined threshold, can trigger alerts via the EIS to police administration to investigate. If the actions were not justified and indicate a mounting problem with the officer’s behavior, the agency will then require remediation for the officer, such as counseling or training.
Is there an underlying problem?
Context also must be considered. One can reasonably expect that an officer working in a fugitive apprehension unit might have a higher number of resisting arrests or uses of force than an officer who works in a community policing unit, for instance. So, an apples-to-apples comparison based on numbers alone might not be sufficient to identify an underlying problem or, conversely, establish that the actions were reasonable and there is no reason to be concerned.
Key personal areas to monitor that might uncover an underlying problem include sick time use; frequent tardiness; a change of address, phone number or email address; garnishment of wages; or bereavement leave, says Craft.
“If you have an officer that rarely, if ever, has an application of force issue and then you find out he’s been coming in late to work and he changed his address and he changed his beneficiary on his insurance, then you start adding that all together,” said Craft. “I think even any reasonable person’s going to say, ‘This officer may have a problem. We need to talk to him and remediate the problem.’ And hopefully through remediation, it doesn’t grow into something that ends up in a tragedy or discipline.”
Where artificial intelligence can help agencies be proactive
In days before computerized EIS an address or beneficiary change would be considered a human resources issue that may or may not ever come to the attention of a supervisor. Potential operational issues typically didn’t surface until a citizen made a complaint, says Craft.
Take traffic citations, for instance.
“We would try to analyze who was Officer X writing tickets to. It was a manual job,” said Craft, “and you only did it on demand. It was not humanly possible to analyze all that data. We have to use technology to do this.”
An early intervention system, like Agency Intelligence from Tyler Technologies, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to draw from existing systems like computer-aided dispatch or records management systems to constantly analyze all citations from a centralized data repository.
“It’s going to be comparing percentages against the agency’s average, or perhaps against the platoon or shift average,” said Craft. “It will note changes in that officer’s performance, and a dashboard is going to give you alerts. It’s also going to prepare reports for you, so you can periodically look at them and see how you’re performing there.”
Armed with tools and data displayed in an easy-to-read dashboard, leadership can then make informed decisions and map out a path to actionable change. Steps taken to remediate the officer’s behavior are then documented and passed up through the chain of command to make sure that nothing goes unaccounted for or unnoticed.
“I think an EIS is absolutely vital – if nothing else, for community transparency,” said Craft. “By monitoring performance on a continual basis, agencies will be alerted to potential problems as early as possible. It’s going to provide the community with the assurance that we are monitoring performance and that we know these things and we’re on top of it.”
Modern early intervention systems do more than help identify and alert administration to possible problem officers – an EIS can also be used proactively to identify stressors that may be interfering with an officer’s performance and get that officer the help they need to be their best.
“We have a responsibility to make sure that the people providing it do it right,” said Craft. “But also, we have a responsibility to make sure they’re well taken care of on the inside so they can do their job right.”
Visit Tyler Technologies for more information on fostering transparency internally and externally.
Read next: How to use an early intervention system to enhance officer wellness