Last year San Diego Police Department joined the ranks of IAPro customers with a successful implementation and “go-live” of IAPro followed by BlueTeam and EIPro.
Our solution plays a key role in supporting the Department’s Early Intervention program, which was recently covered in an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune –
Even good cops get complaints.
So how does a supervisor recognize when on-the-job behavior is a red flag, or a sign that an officer is struggling?
The San Diego Police Department just took the wrapping off a system designed to help zero in on potentially worrisome behavior that, if left unchecked, could spiral into misconduct.
The program — called an early-intervention system — tracks 21 officer behaviors. These include officer-involved shootings, civilian complaints, use of force, and positive commendations.
If the data collected picks up unusual or potentially problematic behavior, it sends up a red flag. Then a supervisor can work with officers to decide if on-the-job stress or personal problems are to blame, and connect them with help.
“Every person responds and reacts differently to the stressors of this job, and it can be hard as a supervisor to keep up with that,” San Diego police Lt. Scott Wahl said. “Now they’ll have access to some data that will help them gauge the wellness of their employees at any given time.”
The program can’t predict what an officer will do next. And the department emphasized that an officer might get picked up by the system even when all is well. But experts say if its employed correctly, it can identify behaviors that, without intervention, might lead to problems.
The department already had an early intervention system but committed to the overhaul after a federal audit found flaws in the way the department identified problematic officers.
Former Police Chief William Lansdowne asked for the audit in February 2014 after a spate of misconduct allegations against San Diego officers including domestic violence, rape and drunken driving.
One former officer, Anthony Arevalos, was convicted of soliciting sexual favors from women during traffic stops.
“In these instances, supervisors were not engaged with the behaviors and actions of their subordinates,” the report said. “Had there been regular dialogue and interaction in the field, these supervisors may have been able to intervene before these behaviors escalated to misconduct.”
With the new program — called IAPro — online, the department has implemented all 40 reforms identified during the yearlong federal review. Other recommendations touched on community partnerships, supervision and training. It was a promise San Diego police Chief Shelley Zimmerman made soon after becoming chief.
“Yes, we implemented every single one after a lot of hard work, but we’re not stopping,” Zimmerman said. “…We will continue to look for best practices in everything we do.”
The department stressed the system is not tied to discipline. Employees who end up meeting with their supervisors will even review a form that specifies they are not being disciplined.
The subject of discipline sparked concerns during talks with officers about the system, said Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association.
Officers also wanted to know if information collected by the system could affect promotions, who was going to have access to it and if they’d be able to review it or contest it.
“The usefulness of the system depends on and is not a replacement for adequate, properly trained and qualified supervision,” Marvel said. “We look at this as another tool in the toolbox.”
Early intervention programs emerged in the late 1970s and early 80s to help prevent police misconduct, said Samuel Walker, who has been studying intervention systems for decades. Walker, an emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha, wrote a number of manuals on early intervention systems for the Department of Justice.
By 1989, a report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police was recommending them as “a means of controlling corruption and building integrity.”
A number of early adopters saw successes. Police departments in Florida, Louisiana and Minnesota saw citizen complaints and use of force fall among officers who received interventions in the early 1990s.
The San Diego department received a grant in 2005 to develop its first early intervention system. That program tracked fewer indicators and was less user-friendly.
The system has matured into a more well-rounded accountability tool that is used by different departments in very different ways, according to the Police Executive Research Forum.
Some agencies embrace it as a management tool and use the data for performance evaluations and when making assignment decisions. Others, like San Diego, primarily use the system to connect officers who may be experiencing personal or professional problems with resources like counseling, peer support or a chaplain.
So how does the department go about identifying these officers?
The agency has set a threshold for each behavior based on average occurrences for particular assignments. A use of force threshold for an officer assigned to the downtown bike detail might be higher, for example, than a patrol officer less likely to get into altercations.
If an officer or civilian staff member crosses a threshold, the data is verified and then sent to a direct supervisor.
That supervisor’s response will vary, depending on each employee’s circumstance. Crossing a threshold, in and of itself, isn’t alarming, police leaders said. An employee could be doing everything right and still exceed one.
“This will track some of those indicators so a supervisor will better be able to decide how best to respond,” Wahl said. “Does a conversation need to be had? Does an employee need some extra support?”
San Diego police Sgt. Daniel Meyer said the department’s wellness unit will be an integral part of every intervention, should one occur.
“Every wellness check will be very specific to that individual and that individual’s needs,” he said. “If, in the process, we determine something that can be done by the department to ease a stress that they’re going through, for example, then we’re going to do whatever we can to make that happen.”
Walker said many officer performance problems stem from personal problems. And while police departments have long-standing systems in place to discipline officers who violate a procedure, there were far fewer systems in place to address the underlying issue.
“Traditional police discipline… often fails to engage an officer,” Walker said. “If personal problems are the root cause, then you need to engage that person. There needs to be a certain amount of social work involved.”