Law enforcement agencies across the nation are implementing data-driven solutions to identify officers at high risk of problematic behavior, before it occurs. One solution being used by law enforcement to address use-of-force issues and officer-involved shootings is a data-based personnel management tool called an Early Intervention System. An EIS (sometimes called an Early Warning System) uses personnel and performance data to identify and intervene with individual officers who are at risk of improper conduct or use of force.1Karen L. Amendola and Robert C. Davis, “Best Practices in Early Intervention System Implementation and Use in Law Enforcement Agencies,” National Police Foundation, November 2018, http://bit.ly/2oWDwqe. EIS is supported by the US Department of Justice to identify behavior patterns, address underlying issues, and promote officer accountability.2Samuel Walker, Stacey Osnick Milligan, and Anna Berke, “Supervision and Intervention within Early Intervention Systems: A Guide for Law Enforcement Executives,” US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, December 2005, http://bit.ly/2J4ziDS.
Studies have found that using an EIS can reduce the number of citizen complaints against a police agency.3Samuel Walker, Geoffrey P. Alpert, and Dennis J. Kenney, “Early Warning Systems: Responding to the Problem Police Officer,” US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, July 2001, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/188565.pdf. After Miami-Dade County, Florida, implemented an EIS, it saw the percentage of officers with zero use-of-force reports increased twelvefold.4Ibid. However, the effectiveness of an EIS can vary based on what behavioral indicators are tracked, how officers are flagged for intervention, and how management handles an officer after they are flagged for support.5John A. Shjarback, “Emerging Early Intervention systems: An Agency-Specific Pre-Post Comparison of Formal Citizen Complaints of Use of Force,” Policing 9, no.4 (March 2015): 314–325.
An EIS has the potential to change organizational culture and promote an overall better system of accountability and performance management. It is also a method for documenting efforts to address police accountability to help reduce liability in the future.6Amendola and Davis, “Best Practices.”
An EIS is a high-maintenance system that requires continuous administrative oversight to be an effective tool. Administrative oversight should ensure that officer data is entered in a timely manner, that data points and flags are analyzed in the regular course of business, and that preventive steps and interventions are available and offered to officers when appropriate. The department must have a computerized record-keeping system in place that catalogs historical personnel data. Successful implementation of an EIS ultimately depends on buy-in from the top down, from police command staff and training officers to personnel service providers and IT personnel.7Samuel Walker, “Early Intervention Systems for Law Enforcement Agencies: A Planning and Management Guide,” US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2003, https://ric-zai-inc.com/Publications/cops-w0085-pub.pdf; Walker et al., “Supervision and Intervention.”
Strategy in Practice
The first step you should take prior to implementing an EIS is convening an internal committee to discuss the relevant scope, design, and policy. Your committee can include officers, first-line supervisors, union representatives, data analysts, command staff, personnel resource experts, and possibly community representatives. The committee will ensure the proper infrastructure is in place, such as performance management tools, reporting/data systems, training, and personnel resources. The committee will play a critical role in recommending system policies and procedures. Policy development for the EIS and training for its users is critical, along with alignment with clear goals and buy-in from agency leadership.
Officer data points can cover a wide range of behaviors. A critical policy decision for the internal committee is the determination of which data points to include in the EIS. Data points may include, but are not limited to, the number of arrests and citations issued, citizen complaints, the total number and type of use-of-force incidents, use of sick leave, shift tardiness, citizen commendations, performance awards, number of officer-involved shootings or weapon discharges, property damage on duty, internal complaints, or referrals. The more data points that are collected in a timely and continuous manner, the more comprehensive the data set will be. A comprehensive data set will increase the accuracy of officer flags. Departments will identify which data points (or combinations of points) will serve as accurate indicators of performance, whether positive or negative, and set parameters for when an officer will be flagged for potentially problematic behavior.
When an officer is flagged as being at high risk for potential problematic behavior, a supervisor with firsthand knowledge of the officer’s performance and behavior is contacted, conducts an administrative review of the circumstances that caused the flagging, and monitors the officer post-intervention, if necessary. If the administrative review determines that an intervention is warranted, rehabilitative options such as supervisor counseling/monitoring, skills retraining, therapeutic counseling, and peer support groups are presented to the officer. These interventions should also be available to officers even without the EIS flag.8Ibid.; Amendola and Davis, “Best Practices.”
The entire process, including the initial officer flagging, administrative review, intervention, post-intervention monitoring, and outcomes must all be extensively documented.
An EIS requires vendor-provided technology that can be expensive (both the system purchase and further IT support are necessary).9Ibid.
Developing and implementing an EIS can take time, perhaps several months or even years. The planning and coordination of an EIS is a necessary and deliberate, data-driven process which will determine what data the EIS will capture, the necessary infrastructure for effective usage, the identification or development of effective interventions, and the creation of an administrative review process. Investing as much time as necessary at the outset of implementation will increase the utility of an agency’s EIS.
Agencies, Organizations, and Other Necessary Partners
An EIS is implemented and managed by the local police agency. If a police agency is under a federal consent decree, the EIS (along with other police activities) will be evaluated by an assigned neutral “monitor.”
What else you need to know
It is critical to acknowledge that an EIS does not predict officer behavior and should not be used as a disciplinary tool. An EIS also is not a replacement for direct supervision by police sergeants and other organizational leaders. Furthermore, some states restrict the usage and dissemination of data related to officer performance, and agencies should review their state’s law prior to policy development and implementation of an EIS. An EIS is only one personnel management tool that, when used proactively, can encourage and promote officer performance. An officer flagging does not automatically indicate misconduct.10Ibid.
Police leadership and command staff should review existing resources, training, and tools to aid officers who are flagged for intervention. If necessary, update and/or expand the resources (e.g., mental health counseling, financial guidance, rehabilitation, additional skills/program training) that the police agency has available to officers.
Early intervention systems are supported by the US Commission on Civil Rights, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, the US Department of Justice, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Police Executive Research Forum, and the National Police Foundation as an effective means to reduce use-of-force violations
Newsroom & Resources
National Police Foundation Best Practices in Early Intervention System Implementation and Use in Law Enforcement Agencies
This guide details various aspects of an EIS for police agencies, as well as practical steps for utilizing such a system effectively (e.g., data input, behavior indicators, flagging mechanisms, available interventions, and policy development).
Supervision and Intervention within Early Intervention Systems: A Guide for Law Enforcement Chief Executives
This guide provides details for creating and managing a successful EIS particularly as it relates to first-line supervision of officers and the types of interventions that can be used to aid officers.
Enhancing Cultures of Integrity: Building Law Enforcement Early Intervention Systems Technical Assistance Guide
This guide follows the San Diego Police Department as it crafts a suitable EIS for the department. The document provides best practices, key considerations, and a step-by-step outline of efforts to design and put into place an EIS. This document was supported by the US Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Early Intervention Systems for Law Enforcement Agencies: A Planning and Management Guide
This guide provides a review of how EISs have been established and used in the past, with examples from agencies who have an EIS. It also walks through specific details on performance indicators and provides insights on potential challenges to implementing an EIS. This document was supported by the US Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.